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Oak Ridge, TN: The Manhattan Project National Historical Park

“I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Unlike most units in the National Parks, the Manhattan Project encompasses three sites in collaboration with the Department of Energy. The unit that I am at is the one in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the other two are far across the country – Hanford, Washington and Los Alamos, New Mexico. I’m no expert in the atomic bombs, so some information might be completely wrong. From what I knew as an engineer, Oak Ridge was the site where uranium was enriched by removing impurities, including plutonium. Oak Ridge National Lab continues to serve as an active site for scientific research, especially for neutron diffraction scattering. Los Alamos was where the first atomic bombs were researched and developed, and still function as a leading national lab in the country. It seems like Hanford was just a manufacturing plant for more atomic bombs and I have never heard of them before coming here.

As the park contains active research centers and are highly secretive in nature, this park does not conduct tours. In fact, there isn’t much to see at the visitor center, which is only open a few hours a day and located in a children’s museum. The science museum of Oak Ridge provide paid tours into some of these sites – they are around 3 hours and only U.S. citizens are allowed. I do not think they would be very interesting (it is just another lab) and it would take too much time, so instead, I drove to a nearby monument that commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

International Friendship Bell

The International Friendship Bell was made in Japan and is meant to serve as a reminder for freedom, peace and internationalism, and especially the friendship between the United States and Japan. The drive to the park is very short, but it is extremely hot. The sun beat down on me, even on the 5 minute walk to the extremely large bell. Unlike traditional bells common in East Asia, this bell contain images of Tennessee and Japan. There are no dragons, but the symbol for atoms. The dates and words are in Japanese and English, on the attack on Pearl Harbor and the dates where the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs. The Peace Pavilion, completed less than a year early, now shelters the bell. It looks slick and ultra-modern. There is a large wooden striker to ring the bell, but I’m not going to disturb the silence in the park. Next to the Pavilion lies a tiny Japanese rock garden, but I’m way too hot to sit and silence to contemplate.

The new pavilion

If you have to get your National Park cancellation, come visit the visitor center. Otherwise, there isn’t much to see unless you spend a day at the science museum. Similar to many other nuclear weapon sites (such as the Trinity Site in White Sands), access can be difficult and frustrating. The worst of all, they are as interesting as reading about them in a textbook. These events might have changed the world and left their mark – just not physically.

Date: September 15, 2019
Address: 461 W Outer Dr

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