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Manhattan Project park aims to portray inclusive history of Atomic Age

Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 7:00 pm | Updated: 1:05 pm, Wed Nov 11, 2015.

By Staci Matlock
The New Mexican

MPNHP bldg

National Park Service staffers tour potential Manhattan Project National Historical Park buildings on Los Alamos National Laboratory property in June. Photos courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory

MPNHP signing

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz shake hands Tuesday after signing a memorandum of agreement to establish the Manhattan Project National Historic Park at the Interior Department in Washington. Standing in the back row, from left, are National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/The Associated Press

MPNHP statues

From left, statues of Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie R. Groves stand on the south side of Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos. A new national historic park will be opening in Los Alamos and other sites to commemorate the Manhattan Project and its contributions to winning World War II. Clyde Mueller/New Mexican file photo

One of New Mexico’s most significant and secretive projects is about to get a fresh dose of attention more than 70 years after its inception.

A ceremony marking the opening of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Veterans Day at the park visitor center, 475 20th St. in Los Alamos. It is one of three sites commemorating the processes that went into making the nuclear bomb. The others are in Hanford, Wash., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“The national park is long overdue and will provide Americans with an important opportunity to understand the Manhattan Project and its complex legacy for the world today,” Cynthia C. Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, said in a statement.

At least a few protesters, including anti-nuclear activists Greg and Trish Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, are planning to be on hand — and not to celebrate.

“We would prefer that the ‘park’ become a site of enduring protest, and a worldwide symbol of what is wrong here,” Greg Mello wrote in an email inviting people to join a march to the grand opening ceremony dressed in funeral garb.

He is skeptical that the park will fully articulate the lasting negative effects of the Manhattan Project. “Make no mistake: The sole purpose of this park is to celebrate the ‘achievements’ of the Manhattan Project,” Mello said.

Others describe the park as a way to present the complete legacy of the Manhattan Project.

“The Manhattan Project National Historical Park will ensure that future generations can understand the full impacts, both positive and negative, of a project that changed the world and ushered in the Atomic Age,” said Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Luján, who represents the Pojoaque Valley and Los Alamos.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed an agreement Tuesday that sets out the responsibilities of the Department of Energy and the National Park Service for the historical park.

The Manhattan Project resulted in the creation of the world’s first nuclear bombs, which were tested in New Mexico and later dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. At its peak, an estimated 600,000 people around the United States worked in some capacity on the Manhattan Project.

The legacy of the project lives on in advanced nuclear science, which has benefited medicine as well as the military. It also left behind extensive piles of radioactive and hazardous waste that Manhattan Project sites, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, continue to deal with today.

Jewell said at Tuesday’s signing of the Manhattan Project park agreement with the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., that “we are a country that strives to tell the complete story.”

Park officials estimated it will take two more years to plan the park and up to five years to ready the sites for the public. The Park Service already offers virtual tours of Hanford and the B Reactor through the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s Ranger in Your Pocket website. The foundation has developed an array of educational resources to help interpret the new park.

Other programs already available through the Atomic Heritage Foundation include a Manhattan Project Veterans Database with 10,000 profiles, at atomicheritage.org, and an online collection of more than 340 oral history interviews through the Voices of the Manhattan Project, at manhattanprojectvoices.org.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.


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