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Honoring the Past

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Obama administration announced this week that it will ask Congress to establish a national historic park to commemorate the Manhattan Project, including sites in Los Alamos and around the country.

In 2009, a National Park Service study supported the idea of an NPS site in Los Alamos, but rejected including other Manhattan Project-era locations – in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Hanford, Wash., and Dayton, Ohio – due to size, ownership and management issues.

Under this week’s recommendation from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the Dayton sites would be excluded. The new park would have units at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford.

“The secret development of the atomic bomb in multiple locations across the United States is an important story and one of the most transformative events in our nation’s history,” Salazar said in an announcement.

New Mexico’s two U.S. senators support the project.

“The Manhattan Project was one of the most important events in our nation’s history,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who introduced the legislation that resulted in the park study. “I believe it is important for us to acknowledge its legacy, and a National Historical Park is the best way to achieve that goal.”

Sen. Tom Udall said, “Telling the story of the Manhattan Project will serve as a useful educational tool – especially for those generations who didn’t live through World War II or the Cold War.”

Cynthia C. Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, which has long advocated for the historical park, said, “We are delighted with the recommendations and optimistic that Congress will designate the park.”

But not everyone believes a national park about the creation of the atom bomb is a good idea.

“Are we really poised to make a national park out of a few shabby ruins where we built instruments of mass murder, delivered to statesmen the instruments of universal destruction and destroyed the marriage between science and human values?,” asked Greg Mello of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group.

“This is a monument to the hubris of the victors, a blow to the human conscience. It is slap at the better angels of Manhattan Project scientists, some of whom are surely turning over in their graves.”

Mello added in an email message: “If the Manhattan Project is our model of greatness, there is little hope for us as a nation.”

Under the proposal, according to Bingaman’s office, the Department of Energy would continue managing and operating facilities associated with the Manhattan Project within the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the National Park Service would provide interpretative and educational services in connection with those resources.

NPS also would work with the community and others to help preserve Manhattan Project sites in the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Historic Landmark District in the town of Los Alamos, such as the Oppenheimer House on “Bathtub Row.”

Operating from December 1942 until September 1945, the Manhattan Project was a $2.2 billion effort that employed 130,000 workers at its peak, but was kept largely secret and out of public view. It resulted in the creation of the atomic bombs dropped on two Japanese cities at the end of World War II.

Los Alamos sites that would be part of the park include the “V Site,” where work was done on the plutonium implosion bomb and which was restored with a 2006 grant, and the Gun Site, where the uranium-gun bomb was tested.

The Fuller Lodge, the social center for the Manhattan Project, also would be a park resource.