During World War II, scientists working for the Manhattan Project secretly developed the world's first nuclear bombs. Now, under an agreement between the National Parks Service and the Department of Energy, three Manhattan Project sites will be preserved and partially opened to the public in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
"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," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. "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 park will be managed by the National Parks Service and the Department of Energy, which owns the three sites. According to Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the goal of the park is to educate the public on the Manhattan Project's history without glorifying its consequences. Though the new park is intended to raise awareness of the history of nuclear technology, it will also include a variety of perspectives including those from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press, as well as the families of the scientists who worked on the project.
The three sites were originally built to secretly conduct research and manufacture materials for the Manhattan Project during the early 1940s. Much of the theoretical work and testing took place at the Los Alamos facility, while workers and engineers at the Oak Ridge and Hanford sites manufactured the individual components and the plutonium eventually used to build the first nuclear weapons. Today, Oak Ridge and Los Alamos are home to National Laboratories, while the Hanford Site is mostly decommissioned.
"It's a great way of telling one of the most significant historical events that happened in our last generation," Oak Ridge City Councilman Chuck Hope tells Mark Bergin and Kelsey Pape for WBIR. "It's going to be a big factor in letting everybody know how important East Tennessee and Oak Ridge was to that endeavor."
The park has been in the works for roughly a decade and was officially signed into law last year. This agreement sets a framework for how the park will be built, managed and maintained across the three sites, Bergin and Pape report.
Not everyone is happy to commemorate the sites where some of the world's most destructive weapons were first built. Greg Mello, director of the anti-nuclear Los Alamos Study Group tells Daly that he believes the park is "pure propaganda for Los Alamos National Laboratory and its enduring mission of creating weapons of global destruction." But Jewell acknowledged the difficulties in honoring the Manhattan Project's legacy, while trying to reckon with the destruction wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "It did mark the end of the war, but it left devastation in its wake," she tells Daly.