Soon you may be able to walk into the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
The National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of Energy are working to make that happen at three Manhattan Project sites around the country.
The three sites, Oak Ridge, Tenn., Hanford, Wash. and Los Alamos N.M, were all part of the Manhattan Project, the program that created the atom bombs. Although the atomic bombs were used against Japan in 1945, the Manhattan Project was initially started in a race against the Axis powers during World War II.
Charles Strickfaden, Manager of NPS' Los Alamos Site said the New Mexican sites where were scientists were designing and building the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Strickfaden said that although scientists allgedly discussed the ethics and morals of such a powerful weapon-- but ultimately, they were trying to find a way to beat the Nazis.
Bill Hudgins worked at the Los Alamos site mixing chemicals in science labs in the 1940s. He didn’t know he was helping to create the first atomic bombs when he started working, but he didn't mind at the time because the pay was good and he knew he was helping the war effort.
“I look at this as one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me,” said Hudgins. “I was doing the best that I probably could have anywhere in helping the war effort.”
Though the National Park Service is in the process of creating the historic sites for tourists, the project is not meant to be a statement about whether the atomic bomb was good or bad. The parks are simply meant to commemorate an indisputably important part of World War II-- and America's history.
“We don’t go back to rewrite history, we just tell from the historical documents, from government documents, and from our communities what the nation and the public was feeling then. And we leave it up to our public and our visitors to determine their own version on how the feel about the atomic bomb them and how they feel about nuclear technology today,” said Strickfaden.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is different from the other parks, because the NPS doesn’t own the land. Instead the NPS is working with the current landowner, the Department of Energy, to get these once-secret spots open for public tours. Today, there are only tours available for historians and NPS experts, but park service officials hope to make limited public tours available at the Los Alamos site in three to five years.
The buildings aren’t up to code and have asbestos, but radiation is not an issue for the quiet New Mexico town.
“Allowing public tours into a lab which still has an active mission is really going to be up to the lab and the Department of Energy," said Strickfaden. "And we just consult them on the types of experiences that might work if it met within their mission.”
While many areas included in the Los Alamos portion of the national historical park are not open, there are many important places of significance already available. The home of world-renowned physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer is visible right next to the Cold War Museum.
Visitors can also see Ashley Pond, the site of many former laboratories and Fuller Lodge, where many scientists ate and slept. It’s estimated that at least six Nobel Prize winners used Fuller Lodge as their cafeteria.
For those that work at Los Alamos, the historic sites are a constant reminder of the significant contributions made just decades ago.
Said Heather McClenahan, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Historical Society,“What sort of formulas would they have written down on their napkins, what their scientific discussions would have been about?”