Manhattan Project sites may become national parks by 2013

Between 1942 and 1946, the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada spent the equivalent of $26 billion and employed 130,000 people to create the very first atomic weapon. The Manhattan Project changed the world, and three of the major sites involved may be about to get turned into national parks that you can go visit.

A bill currently in congress will, if passed, make sure that Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Hanford nuclear reactors in Washington state, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee get handed over to the National Parks Department and the Department of Energy for renovation, preservation, and public accessibility. All three of these sites will technically become part of one single park, although top students of geography will note that they're nowhere near each other.

The focus of the park for most people will likely be Los Alamos in New Mexico. This is where the first atomic test in history took place, and where the bulk of the scientific development was performed. Los Alamos is still operational and doing science, but a lot of the structures from the Manhattan Project era are in danger of being condemned, including bunkers that once housed the first atomic bomb (nicknamed "the gadget") as well as the residence of Manhattan project director J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Oak Ridge, in Tennessee, was where uranium 235 (which is fissile) was separated from uranium 238 (which isn't). To do this required a massive gas diffusion cascade inside a 2,000,000 square foot building, which now sounds like it's going to be preserved (at least in part) instead of getting torn down. Meanwhile, out in Washington, Hanford was the place where plutonium was produced inside nuclear reactors. Both the uranium and the plutonium were then shipped to Los Alamos for use in testing and, eventually, weapons.

Getting the new park(s) up and running will cost $21 million over the next five years, but if congress approves the idea, you could be visiting these sites as early as next year.

Via New Scientist

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