House passes Manhattan Project national park bill that would include Oak Ridge

X-10 Graphite Reactor

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park would include the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Submitted photo)

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday took an essential step toward establishing a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that could include Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, N.M., and Hanford, Wash., a nonprofit organization said.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act was included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House passed Friday, the Atomic Heritage Foundation said in an e-mail.

“The new national park will be the first to recognize the top-secret project in World War II that changed the course of world history, science, and society,” the foundation said.

Here is more information from the e-mail:

A Project That Changed the Course of History

The park will feature three sites where work on the world’s first atomic bomb took place: Los Alamos, N.M.; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Hanford, Wash.

The establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will ensure that Manhattan Project sites will be preserved and interpreted for present and future generations. At Hanford, the B Reactor, where plutonium for the atomic bombs was produced, is already a popular tourist attraction. Since 2009, more than 35,000 tourists representing 50 states and over 60 countries have been to the B Reactor, filling the tours available. With the proposed national park, the number of tourists to visit the B Reactor could increase to 50,000 and more within a few years.

In Los Alamos, “the jewel in the crown” of the new park could be the Oppenheimer House, where Los Alamos Laboratory director J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family lived. Helene Suydam, now 93, bought the house with her husband in 1951 and “has not changed a thing” since the Oppenheimers lived there. Under a living trust agreement, Ms. Suydam donated the cottage to the Los Alamos Historical Society but will continue to live there as long as she chooses.

Several properties now owned by the Los Alamos National Laboratory will also become part of the park. The V-Site, where the first plutonium-based atomic bombs were assembled, was restored in 2007.

The Gun Site, where the “Little Boy” bomb was developed by Manhattan Project scientists, is now under restoration. With the coming park, both sites could be open to tourists in the next few years.

In Oak Ridge, the park will feature the X-10 Graphite Reactor, built after the experimental “Chicago Pile I” at the University of Chicago. X-10 was a pilot plant for the full-scale plutonium production reactors that were being built at Hanford.

K-25 Building Aerial View

Now mostly demolished, the former mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building is pictured above. The site could be included in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

The K-25 site and recreation of a portion of the original plant will be another highlight. The K-25 gaseous diffusion plant extended a mile long and was one of the first large-scale fully automated factories. It was so large that workers rode bicycles to get around the plant.

Touring such scientific and engineering relics is often a source of inspiration, leading some young people to develop a serious interest in science, engineering, and history. The park designation ensures that these sites are preserved for Americans and visitors from around the world.

Strong Bipartisan Bicameral Support

The legislation to establish a park for the Manhattan Project has strong bipartisan and bicameral support. The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, who represents Hanford and worked tirelessly to ensure the bill’s passage during this Congress. Congressmen Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat, and Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican, co-sponsored the legislation in the House.

Senators Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, have sponsored a companion bill in the Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Energy on Energy and Natural Resources, visited the B Reactor in February and pledged his support for the park, explaining that these historic sites “need to be preserved so future generations understand what went on here.” Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both New Mexico Democrats, and Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, are co-sponsors of the bill.

Also Friday, the Senate Committee on Armed Services completed its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for Fiscal Year 2014. Next, the full Senate must pass the bill.

Once the Senate acts, a House-Senate conference committee will be appointed to reconcile differences between the two versions of the NDAA. The bill that emerges from the conference committee must then be passed by the House and Senate before being sent to the president for his signature. At that point, the legislation becomes law.

We are most grateful to Representative Hastings, Senators Cantwell and Alexander, and the staff members of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for their enthusiastic support of the legislation.

Educating Future Generations

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act requires the secretaries of Energy and Interior to enter into a memorandum of agreement within one year of the bill’s enactment to provide how the park would be administered. The bill allows the Secretary of Interior to accept donations to the park, an important clause in light of the donors who have already expressed interest in contributing to the preservation of Manhattan Project sites.

The National Park Service will interpret the history of the Manhattan Project as well as its legacy. Bringing the history to the present, the story will help people understand the continuing role of nuclear weapons and innovations in nuclear medicine, energy, material science and other fields.

The Manhattan Project was a great work of human collaboration. America’s leading universities and dozens of corporations contributed extraordinary talent, resources, and managerial expertise. Working on the frontiers of science without computers or modern electronics, the project solved immensely complex problems with breathtaking ingenuity. The scope, resourcefulness, and determination of the 125,000 men and women involved in the Project were remarkable.

Preserving and interpreting this important piece of our nation’s history is vital to educating the American public and students about the Manhattan Project and its complex legacy for our lives today.

Please contact your Senators to urge their support of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act!

The Atomic Heritage Foundation, founded in 2002 to preserve the history of the Manhattan Project, has made establishing a national historical park a primary goal. Over the past decade, AHF has worked with Congress and the Department of Energy, National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, Energy Communities Alliance, local historical societies, Manhattan Project veterans, and individuals to achieve this.

We will keep you updated on further developments!

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  • Doug

    The Senate passed their version of the NDAA on Friday – now we are waiting on a date for the conference committee…

    • Doug

      Actually, spoke to soon, looks like the Senate has yet to act on the bill.

  • Steve

    Correction – Maria Cantwell is a Democrat Senator from the state of Washington, not New Mexico.

    • johnhuotari

      You’re right. Sorry about that. I made the change.

  • Helen Standifer

    Yes, we’ll see if they choose to fund it.

    • Ellen Smith

      As I understand it, although it’s part of a funding bill, this bill is just to authorize establishment of the park, not to fund it.

      • Helen Standifer

        Well, I don’t know what all is involved in establishing a national park, I assume it will take money. I hope it all works out but I’ve become so skeptical about anything having to do with the government. I wish that wasn’t so.

        • johnhuotari

          Cindy Kelly, founder and president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., has previously told me it could cost an estimated $21 million during a five-year period for the National Park Service to administer the three different sites, or a little more than $4 million per year.

          But if the U.S. Department of Energy had to tear down the properties that could be saved, the cost could be closer to $200 million, she said.

          That information was included in this story from January: http://oakridgetoday.com/2013/01/28/dead-for-now-manhattan-project-national-park-bill-could-be-reintroduced/

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