Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Lawmakers want the sites of the Manhattan Project preserved as historical parks.
In August 1945, 67 years ago, the U.S. devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by dropping then-newly created atomic bombs, killing more than 100,000 people and effectively ending World War II. The city of Hiroshima recently marked the anniversary of the bombing in that city in an annual ceremony of reflection and remembrance. In the U.S., where thousands of workers and scientists spent years developing the bombs that enabled that destruction, lawmakers are pushing a different sort of plan to reflect on its legacy. A bill working its way through congress is seeking to turn the main sites where those bombs were developed into new national parks.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act would turn three of the project's most important locations into parks "administered for preservation, commemoration, and public interpretation." The sites include reactors, labs, buildings and residences at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington. This recent article from New Scientist claims that only U.S. citizens would be allowed to visit the sites and that call phones and cameras will not be allowed. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing before the full House of Representatives, but if passed the parks could be established within a year.
It's an interesting proposal, considering the complicated legacy of the development of nuclear weapons. On one hand the Manhattan Project enabled one of the most important scientific developments of the 20th century, but on the other it enabled a destructive and deadly technology that has had long-lasting impacts on international relations and politics.
There are more than 100 National Historical Parks and National Historic Sites in the U.S., and they tend to be places like battlefields or the sites of significant court battles or, most commonly, the birthplaces or homes of famous and important people like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Adding a nuclear bomb lab into this list would be a bit of a departure. But in terms of historical impact, the birthplace of the bomb is probably far more consequential than the birthplace of a man.
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