WASHINGTON – More than 70 years ago scientists working in secret created the atomic bomb that ended World War II and ushered the world into the nuclear age.
On Tuesday, at a ceremony near the White House, in a federal building where clandestine plans for the bomb were developed, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz formally established the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The park preserves three sites where work on the bomb was completed: Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Jewell, Moniz and other officials said the park will not glorify war or nuclear weapons, but will tell the story of the three historical sites from a range of perspectives, including the cities in Japan where two nuclear bombs were dropped in 1945.
“It certainly is a celebration that we will be telling the story of these three important historical sites,” Jewell said. “It’s not necessarily a celebration of the consequences of that, but rather an opportunity to tell that story to a broader audience.”
The new park will bring greater awareness of the development of nuclear energy and weapons to a worldwide audience, Jewell and Moniz said.
Part of that audience was present at Tuesday’s ceremony, as reporters and photographers from around the world — including more than a dozen from Japan — attended the event at the Interior Department’s South Auditorium. The building, a few blocks from the White House, is where plans for the bomb were first developed in an isolated wooden structure on the roof.
Jewell, who oversees the National Park Service, said officials are acutely aware of the need to “tell the complete story” of the Manhattan Project, “listening to all sides.”
The park will include the voices of people who experienced devastation in Japan, as well as those “whose lives were spared because the war came to an end,” Jewell said. The park also will tell the story of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who were recruited to work in secret — often far away from home — on a project they were told was vital to the war effort, but was never clearly defined.
“It did mark the end of the war, but it left devastation in its wake,” Jewell said.
Jewell briefly teared up as she described her mother-in-law’s work as a nurse in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two Japanese cities where atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945.
“It was a powerful experience for her,” Jewell said, noting that her mother brought home shards of pottery damaged by the bombs.
While Japan is now one of America’s closest allies, that country “felt the consequences” of the Manhattan project, Jewell said. “Your story needs to be told as well,” she said, addressing Japanese citizens in the audience.
Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an anti-nuclear watchdog group, called the new park “pure propaganda for Los Alamos National Laboratory and its enduring mission of creating weapons of global destruction.”
“This park is not exactly about the past because the Manhattan Project never ended,” Mello said, noting that nuclear work continues at all three sites commemorated in the new park.
Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC .