NATIONAL PARKS:

Anti-nuclear groups protest proposed Manhattan Project park

A plan to create a multi-state national park dedicated to the top secret project to develop an atomic bomb during World War II has drawn the ire of anti-nuclear groups that believe the government shouldn't be in the business of celebrating the creation of a weapon of mass destruction.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week offered his support for the establishment of a Manhattan Project National Park, and top leaders on Capitol Hill have already vowed to move a plan developed by the National Park Service through Congress in the coming months. But Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Maryland-based Nuclear Information Resource Service, said today that the effort runs contrary to the goals of the national park system.

"National parks are national treasurers, and glorifying a weapon of mass destruction is certainly not among the purposes of a national park," Mariotte said.

Greg Mello, of the Los Alamos Study Group in New Mexico, shares those concerns.

"We have to bracket a healthy historical interest with our moral sensibilities and with common sense, and that's what's not happening here," said Mello, whose group has been lobbying against the effort for several years as the National Park Service has conducted a feasibility study ahead of making its official recommendation.

"What we risk is harming the national park system as a whole and the idea of national parks just when we need to protect the environment the most," Mello said.

Mello and Mariotte said honoring the atomic bomb with its own national park would set a poor precedent.

"Once you open the gate ... a national park can be anything," Mello said. "Why don't we have a Disneyland national park or NASCAR national park; what's the limit?"

In the Interior Department release last week, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said the story of the creation of the atomic bomb is one that should be shared with future generations.

"There is no better place to tell a story than where it happened, and that's what national parks do," Jarvis said. "The National Park Service will be proud to interpret these Manhattan Project sites and unlock their stories in the years ahead."

If approved by Congress and President Obama, the new park would be made up of sites and facilities located in Los Alamos; Hanford, Wash.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn. The park would be run through a special partnership that would allow the Department of Energy to manage and operate the facilities, while the National Park Service would provide educational and interpretive services (Greenwire, July 13).

Yesterday, in an interview with the Associated Press, NPS spokesman David Barna responded to the concerns that have been raised by anti-nuclear groups in the week since NPS sent its proposal to Congress.

Barna said the NPS manages several parks that are "viewed by some people as not part of our glorious past," such as Civil War battle and Native American battle sites.

Barna said facilities that would make up the new Manhattan Project parks "are significant parts of our national cultural history. And before they get bulldozed over, we are in favor of preserving these places so future generations can study these events, for good or bad."

"I don't have a problem with honoring people who served the country," Mariotte said today. But "honoring an inanimate object that creates such so much destruction that we vowed to never use it again boggles my mind."

Mello said his group intends to begin a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to convince legislators to vote against creating the new park.

"We hope sanity will prevail and the tight federal budget will make it more difficult for truly bad ideas to grow," he said.

A spokeswoman for Senate Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) -- who co-sponsored a bill that allowed Interior to study the creation of a Manhattan Project park -- said today that NPS has provided a strong argument for why the Manhattan Project deserves its own park and that "we're taking their advice."

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