Department of Energy

Turning the Manhattan Project into a National Park

February 23, 2015

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This photo shows the B Reactor -- the world’s first large-scale plutonium production reactor -- in Hanford, Washington, part of the Manhattan Project National Park. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

This photo shows the B Reactor -- the world’s first large-scale plutonium production reactor -- in Hanford, Washington, part of the Manhattan Project National Park. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

Editors note: This blog has been edited to clarify offerings at specific sites.

Once one of America’s national secrets, the Manhattan Project is now on its way to becoming a national park.

The 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 $2.2 billion, about $26 billion in present-day dollars.

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

The new 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 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 preservation of the historic buildings at the sites. Earlier this month, officials from both agencies began 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.

OAK RIDGE

At Oak Ridge, the Department of Energy will expand its Oak Ridge Reservation summer bus tour program. The tour includes the X-10 Graphite Reactor, which created the world’s first gram quantities of plutonium that influenced bomb design; the footprint of the demolished K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant, which enriched uranium and, when built, was the world’s largest building under one roof; and the New Hope history center at the Y-12 facility, which offers visitors a unique interpretation of Y-12’s role in the Manhattan Project.

HANFORD

At Hanford, bus tours to the B Reactor -- the world’s first large-scale plutonium production reactor and a National Historic Landmark -- will continue to be offered by the Department of Energy. The four pre-Manhattan Project facilities left from before the government’s occupation in 1943 -- Hanford High School, White Bluffs Bank, Bruggemann Warehouse, and the 1908 Allard Pump House and farmstead -- will be the focus of a new historic tour set to debut in 2015. The Department of Energy will also complete the rehabilitation of the historic White Bluffs Bank in 2015, enabling visitors to go inside this turn-of-the century facility for the first time.

LOS ALAMOS

At Los Alamos, all 17 of the Manhattan Project-era properties are currently closed to the public, including V-Site, where key components of the Trinity device were assembled, and Gun Site, where scientists performed ballistic tests for the gun method used to detonate the uranium bomb. Several historic properties within the County of Los Alamos are open to the public, including Fuller Lodge, an important community building in use during the Manhattan Project. 

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.