Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

7-3 A Nuclear National Park?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Should our nation establish a nuclear national park? The answer is in the affirmative, for several of reasons.
The development and use of the first atomic bombs was voted the top news story of the last century. There are Manhattan Project sites still standing in New Mexico and several other locations around the country.
This new source of energy is now supplying power to millions of people and curing others of dread diseases. And to me, at least, the Manhattan Project was considerably more awe inspiring than some of the other 58 national parks around this nation.
Obviously, there are those in this world who feel there should be no recognition accorded the most destructive weapon mankind has created thus far.
But the reality is that it happened and it is relevant. Understanding what happened just might mean a better ability to avoid looking for other ways to destroy the world.
A team from the National Park Service has just completed visits to many sites which could be considered for a far flung nationwide park. The study is being conducted as a result of legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, along with cosponsors from other states with nuclear sites.
New Mexico clearly should be the focal point of the national park. This is where the project came together and where the first nuclear explosion on Earth occurred.
The jewel of all locations is Trinity Site, where the first detonation occurred, and the McDonald ranch house, a few miles south, which was headquarters for the Trinity operation.
The test was conducted in the northeast corner of the Alamogordo Bombing Range, now the White Sands Missile Range. Although the site has nothing to do with the current mission of WSMR, the Army is loath to part with any of its secret haunts. So Trinity Site is not even under consideration as a part of the Manhattan Project National Park.
The people of Los Alamos and the national laboratory have preserved key sites deserving to be part of the park. Los Alamos County owns and maintains Fuller Lodge, which was the hub of the Manhattan Project.
The town Historical Society has purchased the home of Robert Oppenheimer, the laboratory's first director. The lab itself has long maintained the Bradbury Museum in downtown Los Alamos. It also has recently identified for preservation the remaining buildings on lab property that housed wartime research.
In Santa Fe, tour guides point out the two buildings that were used for checking in military and civilians assigned to the project. Those chosen to work at Los Alamos knew nothing of its location and little more of its mission. They merely were told to come to Santa Fe.
Many sat around the lobby of the La Fonda waiting to be claimed or went to the post office and hung around Box 1663, the return address on the orders they received.
Other sites being considered for the national park are in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where uranium for Los Alamos was enriched; Hanford, Washington, which produced plutonium for one of the bombs and Dayton, Ohio, which developed the trigger for one of the bombs.
Missing from the sites studied was the area under the tennis stadium at the University of Chicago, where the first controlled nuclear reaction was conducted. Without that, the Manhattan Project was not ready to proceed.
These communities are excited about the possibility of being part of the Manhattan Project National Park. Each presents its own problems as far as inclusion is concerned, often due to the cost of renovation.
And cost is the big problem. The National Park System has historically been underfunded, despite lip service to the contrary. And the current federal administration has been the worst.
Without the inclusion of Trinity Site and with the prospect that this will stretch the park system even more, my vote goes for leaving preservation in the hands of local communities for now.
MON, 7-03-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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