Turning The Manhattan Project Into A National Park

on February 24, 2015 at 5:00 PM
Building of the T Plant

This photo shows the construction of the T Plant — the world’s first large-scale plutonium separation facility — in Hanford, Washington. The T Plant is one of the facilities the Department plans to open as part of the Manhattan Project National Park. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

 

One of America’s national secrets is about to become a national park.

The Manhattan Project was an unprecedented, top-secret government program implemented by the United States during World War II to beat Nazi Germany in the race to construct a nuclear weapon. By the end of the war the project had grown to employ 130,000 workers — a labor force comparable to the auto industry at the time — with a budget of to $2.2 billion, about $26 billion in present-day dollars.

In December 2014, the President signed the Defense Authorization Act, which authorized the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The new Manhattan Project National Historical Park will tell the story of people, events, science and engineering that led to the creation of the atomic bombs that helped end World War II. It will also explore how the creation of these weapons changed the world and the United States’ role in the world community. The park will span three sites in three states — Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The new park will be managed as a partnership between the Department of Energy — which owns and manages the properties — and the National Park Service, which will provide interpretation, visitor information and assistance in the management of the historic buildings at the sites. Last week, officials at both agencies begin the process of working out the details of how they will share responsibilities.

While the goal is for the park to be established by December 2015, full implementation will take time. In the interim, the Department of Energy currently offers tours of Manhattan Project facilities at two of the three sites. Expanded access is planned at all three.

OAK RIDGE

At Oak Ridge, the Department of Energy will continue to offer summer bus tours of the X-10 Graphite Reactor, which supplied the first significant amounts of plutonium that influenced bomb design, and the footprint of the demolished K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant, which produced enriched uranium and, when built, was the world’s largest building under one roof.

The Department of Energy’s long-term goal is to open the 9731 Pilot Plant, which served as a testing ground for electromagnetic separation and a training center, and the 9204-03 building. Building 9204-03 houses full-scale Beta 3 separation units, which were key to the development and implementation of the electromagnetic method of uranium separation. The Department is also developing a history center and a reconstructed equipment building at the K-25 site.

HANFORD

At Hanford, bus tours that include the B-Reactor — the world’s first large-scale plutonium production reactor — and the pre-Manhattan Project Hanford and White Bluff town sites will continue to be offered. The Department of Energy hopes to eventually open access to the T Plant, the world’s first large-scale plutonium separation facility.

LOS ALAMOS

At Los Alamos, all 17 of the Manhattan Project-era properties are currently closed to the public. The Department of Energy is working to identify ways to allow public access to key sites, including the V-Site — a cluster of wooden buildings for high explosives handling, where the world’s first nuclear bomb, the Trinity device, was assembled — and the Gun Site, where scientists performed ballistic tests for the gun method used to detonate the uranium bomb. Several pre-Manhattan Project properties in the community of Los Alamos, including the Fuller Lodge, are open to the public.

The Department of Energy and the National Park Service look forward to working together to protect these historic resources and enhance opportunities for people from around the world to gain a deeper understanding of the importance and world changing events that happened as part of the Manhattan Project.

To learn more about the Manhattan Project, check out the Department of Energy’s History webpage and Manhattan Project Resources, which include The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History and the Manhattan District History.