New legislation has been introduced to Congress that could make three sites that played a vital role in creating America’s nuclear weapons program during World War II into national parks. If passed, the legislation would provide resources to preserve the sites and make them accessible to visitors for the first time.
The three sites include the national laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, as well as the Hanford Nuclear Reactor in Washington. Each of the locations played a key role in the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program tasked with developing the first atomic weapons. For instance, Oak Ridge was used to enrich uranium for the project while Hanford produced plutonium. The two bombs that were dropped on Japan prior to their surrender were assembled at Los Alamos.
Over the years, portions of each site have fallen into disrepair and have been slated for demolition. They have also remained under a veil of secrecy that has kept them off the radar for many Americans and downplayed their significant role in ending the war, not to mention shaping global relations in the decades that followed. By turning them into national parks the sites will be preserved for their historical value and allow the general public to enter for the first time.
The earliest vote on the legislation could come later this week. If the bill is eventually passed, and the locations do indeed become parks, the emphasis will be on their significance in American history and not the glorification of nuclear weapons. It is true that the Manhattan Project managed to create the world’s first atomic bombs but perhaps more importantly it also helped to usher the U.S. onto the world stage as a post-war superpower.