The legislation to create a Manhattan Project National Park that would include Oak Ridge has fallen short in the U.S. Senate, but the representative from Washington state who wrote the House amendment vowed to press ahead next year.
The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. But it was not included in the final text of the defense bill released late Tuesday night, said U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, the Washington Republican who wrote the amendment.
Besides Oak Ridge, the park would include Hanford, Wash., and Los Alamos, N.M. The three cities played key roles in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II.
“I’m disappointed, but not deterred,” said Hastings, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. “To all the advocates for this park: You’ve given great energy, enthusiasm, and expertise to this effort to date, and I know that will continue until our goal is accomplished, which I am confident it will ultimately be.”
Hastings said the defense bill must be passed by the House and Senate before it can be signed into law. The congressman had a separate amendment for a small transfer of Hanford land.
“The annual defense bill represented the best chance to actually achieve these community priorities this year, and it’s unfortunate that the opportunity has been wasted by the Senate,” Hastings said. “The Senate’s failure to even pass an annual defense bill complicated the ability to get this accomplished, but it could have still happened except for the unwillingness of the Senate to simply agree to include the new park in the final bill and complete the land transfer.”
Cindy Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., called the failed amendment a golden opportunity that had been fumbled, the victim of legislative negotiations that got bogged down.
“The process moved on, and we were left on the cutting room floor,” Kelly said Wednesday evening.
Among other things, there had been 507 amendments proposed to the NDAA, and legislators only wanted amendments that came up through the Armed Services Committee.
“Ours was kind of a casualty, at least on the Senate side,” Kelly said.
But the good news is that there is a lot of support for the legislation in both the House and Senate and in the committees of jurisdiction, she said.
Hastings has already promised to get the bill in next year’s NDAA, Kelly said. It’s been ruled germane to that legislation because of the Army’s role in the Manhattan Project and because the top-secret wartime effort led to nuclear weapons.
The bill also failed last year, but that was an end of a session.
“We’re a lot closer this time around than last year because it did go through the House,” Kelly said.
The current session of Congress continues next year, so the bill won’t have to be reintroduced or go back through committees, Kelly said. She said the House and Senate versions of the bill are 97 percent the same.
“This setback is just a minor blip,” Kelly said. “We have all the support that we need.”
Hastings said the House will begin work on its 2015 National Defense Authorization Act in the next few months, and he will keep pushing ahead next year to “again include these priorities in the House bill and provide the Senate another opportunity to do the right thing and get this done.”
In Oak Ridge, the park could include the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Beta 3 Building and 9731 at the Y-12 National Security Complex, and the K-25 site at East Tennessee Technology Park. ORNL, Y-12, and ETTP are U.S. Department of Energy or National Nuclear Security Administration sites. The NNSA is an independent agency within DOE.
The park could also include the B Reactor in Hanford, and the Oppenheimer House, V-Site, and Gun Site in Los Alamos.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Note: This story was last updated at 9 a.m. Dec. 12.