Note: This story was last updated at 9 a.m. Nov. 11.
After more than a decade of work, the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Interior formally established the Manhattan Project National Historical Park on Tuesday. The new park, which includes Oak Ridge, commemorates one of the signature scientific achievements of the 20th century. It was formally established when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signed a memorandum of agreement, or MOA, in Washington, D.C.
The unique, three-site Manhattan Project National Historical Park includes Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s the nation’s 409th park.
The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic bombs during World War II—before Germany could. It was an unprecedented national program, a world-changing event that harnessed the atom, and the largest industrial project ever, employing 130,000 people at just the three park sites. Whole cities and gigantic industrial plants were built in just a few short years, and Oak Ridge quickly swelled to a population of 75,000. Plants like the B Reactor at Hanford, the world’s first large-scale plutonium production reactor, were built in 11 months, still considered a marvelous feat today. The Manhattan Project is credited with helping to end World War II through its creation of the two atomic bombs dropped over Japan in August 1945.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, officials said the Manhattan Project was a groundbreaking scientific and engineering achievement that helped end the war, ushered in the nuclear age and new discoveries, and determined how the Cold War would be fought. But it also raised important moral questions about the devastating consequences of nuclear weapons. Officials vowed to tell all sides of the story during the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning.
“You can trust us with this story,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “We will be fair to all.”
NPS staff in Denver will oversee a document that will outline the next steps and then plans for each site. There will be very active public involvement, Jarvis said.
In March, Vic Knox, NPS associate director of park planning, facilities, and lands, said officials were still early in the planning process.
“It’s going to take some time to get this right,” Knox said. “This is a very complex park.”
Local officials and volunteers, including from the City of Oak Ridge and Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, were among those who lobbied for the new park for years, including in testimony before Congress by former Mayor Tom Beehan and Y-12 National Security Complex historian and newspaper columnist D. Ray Smith.
Two events in Oak Ridge will commemorate the establishment of the new park on Thursday, November 12. A community celebration with be held at the Oak Ridge High School auditorium beginning at 2 p.m, and a second event at 4 p.m. in Jackson Square will feature a ribbon-cutting at the new fountain, followed by a “Community Photo” to commemorate the day.
The goal this year was to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park by December 2015 with the MOA, but officials said that full implementation will take time. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy currently offers tours of Manhattan Project facilities at two of the three sites.
In March, officials said the next step after the MOA would involve planning for such issues as how to expand public access and the public experience. Some of the potential park facilities, including in Oak Ridge, are inside guarded, secured sites that require special access. In March, Knox said there will be short-term planning over the next few years and then long-term planning to expand on what’s already occurring.
The MOA signed Tuesday in a ceremony attended by Oak Ridge officials preserves and protects historic sites that led to the creation of the atomic bombs, a press release said. The agreement governs how the National Park Service and the Department of Energy will work together to preserve, protect, and provide access to the historic resources associated with the Manhattan Project at the locations in Oak, Ridge, Los Alamos, and Hanford.
Among other things, Oak Ridge built uranium enrichment facilities for the Manhattan Project at the former K-25 site and Y-12 and the pilot facility for plutonium production at the Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which was then known as X-10. Earlier this year, officials said there are four DOE sites in Oak Ridge that are eligible for inclusion in the new park: the former K-25 Building in west Oak Ridge, which was once the world’s largest building under one roof; the Graphite Reactor, which created the world’s first gram quantities of plutonium that influenced bomb design; and Building 9731, a pilot plant, and Building 9204-3, also known as Beta 3, at Y-12. Uranium enriched at Y-12 was used in the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
“Through the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project, the National Park Service will share with the world the story of one of America’s most transformative scientific discoveries that fundamentally altered the course of the 20th Century,” Jewell said Tuesday. “Visitors will soon be able to see the contributions of more than 600,000 Americans who played a role in this significant chapter in history. The park will also serve as a reminder that these actions and discoveries must be handled with great care, for they can have world-changing consequences.”
The Alexander Inn, a historic two-story hotel built during the war but a non-DOE site, is also eligible to be included in the new park.
“The Department of Energy traces its origin to the innovative scienists and engineers of the Manhattan Project and the work that followed through the Atomic Energy Commission,” Moniz said. “This park will commemorate one of this country’s greatest scientific and engineering achievements. It also celebrates the contributions of communities that were created for this purpose and have continued as partners for DOE’s mission. The Manhattan Project laid the groundwork for our national lab system, which has led to countless scientific breakthroughs that benefit humanity.”
The park will be managed as a partnership between the Department of Energy, which already oversees and administers the properties for the United States, and Interior’s National Park Service, which will provide interpretation, visitor information, and assistance in the preservation of the historic buildings at the sites.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act directed the establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which tells the story of people, events, science, and engineering that led to the creation of the atomic bomb, the role these weapons played in World War II, and how the role of the United States in global affairs has evolved in the nuclear age.
NPS Director Jarvis; senators Maria Cantwell, Lamar Alexander, Tom Udall, and Martin Heinrich; and local officials from the park’s three sites also attended Tuesday’s signing ceremony.
“With the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the National Park Service is committed to working with our partners at the Department of Energy to tell the complete and complex story of one of the most consequential projects in our nation’s history,” Jarvis said. “As the National Park Service turns 100 next year and prepares for a second century of stewardship, this new addition to the National Park System will preserve and share one of our nation’s great stories of ingenuity and scientific endeavor, as well as the consequences of nuclear technology use.”
The National Park Service convened a forum of scholars and experts from across the country and from the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that represent a wide range of expertise including scientific, historical, political, social, environmental, and ethical perspectives. The scholars met November 9-10 in Washington, D.C., for an open and candid discussion of the issues and themes that should be considered for the park’s interpretive plan.
Over the past year, NPS and officials from the Department of Energy have traveled to the three Manhattan Project locations, including Oak Ridge, to consult with local elected officials, community members, and area tribes on management of the new park. The agreement signed Tuesday reflects those consultations and provides a framework that will guide NPS and DOE cooperative management efforts, the press release said.
The purpose of the agreement is to identify the facilities and areas under the DOE’s administrative jurisdiction that will initially be included in the park, and to establish a broad framework for the management and interpretation of those facilities and areas.
See the Manhattan Project website here.
Learn more about the Park here.
To learn more about the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, visit the National Park Service and Department of Energy’s information page for the project.
To learn about the history of the Manhattan Project, visit the Department of Energy’s interactive website featuring images, essays, and other resources.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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