Senators Push to be Home to Manhattan Project Park Headquarters

By:  The Tri-City Herald – Annette Cary
Source: Tri-City Herald

The National Park Service will treat each of the three sites in the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park as equally important, a park service official said Wednesday as he was pressed about which of the sites would play host to the park’s headquarters.

Both Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D- N.M., raised the issue of where the headquarters should be located at a hearing of the Senate Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks.

The new park will include historic areas at Hanford, Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., three places with key roles in the race to produce an atomic weapon during World War II.

A decision on which of the three states would have the park headquarters has not been made and is not likely to be made soon, said Victor Knox, the park service’s park planning, facilities and lands associate director and leader of the implementation team for the Manhattan Project park.

But the parks will have relatively equal staffing levels in each state and each will have equal importance in the new park, Knox told Cantwell.

Each site has a different part of the Manhattan Project to tell and each is equally important to the story, he said. Hanford produced the plutonium used in the world’s first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert and in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

An early study of the possibility of creating a Manhattan Project park recommended Los Alamos for the park headquarters, Heinrich said.

A draft study by the park service released in 2009 considered making only Los Alamos part of a new national park. The park service was concerned at the time about safety, liability and ownership of the nuclear facilities.

However, in 2011, the park service proposed a three-state park after the Department of Energy said it would be willing to continue to own the property and play a strong role in the new national park.

Heinrich asked if the park service would consider possible cost savings of locating the new national park headquarters with a nearby existing headquarters, such as the one for the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

Knox said that is one factor that would be considered for the organizational structure of the park. It was discussed in the 2009 draft study.

Cantwell also asked Knox about plans to include multiple historic areas at Hanford in the new national park.

Legislation passed in late 2014 requires that the new park include B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor. It listed other places at Hanford to be considered for inclusion — the Bruggemann stone warehouse, the White Bluffs Bank, the Hanford High School and the Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

They are among the few remaining buildings that tell the story of the sacrifice of early settlers evicted to make way for the secret nuclear reservation during WWII.

T Plant, where uranium irradiated at B Reactor was processed to remove plutonium, also is eligible for inclusion.

“We are working with the Department of Energy for all of the DOE-administered areas to take a hard look at which of those sites should be part of the park,” Knox said.

The public should know more in a few months when an agreement between DOE and the park service is released for public comment, he said.