A vote is possible today in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, after Congressman Dennis Kucinich vigorously argued against it Wednesday.
The bill, written by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would make Hanford's B Reactor and other historic sites at Hanford, Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., part of a multi-site national park.
B Reactor and other structures that tell the story of the race to build atomic bombs during World War II and the remarkable engineering and scientific feats accomplished already belong to the federal government, Hastings said Wednesday during the debate on the bill.
Without the bill, B Reactor and other facilities likely will be destroyed at taxpayer expense, Hastings said.
B Reactor was the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor, creating plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and helped launch the atomic age.
"Start to finish, it was built in less than one year with technology that is not even proven," Hastings said. The bill would open it up "to schoolchildren and others to see what we did to preserve freedom."
Kucinich, D-Ohio, said the technology used to create the bomb cannot be separated from the horror of its effects.
"The bomb is about graveyards, not national parks," he said.
More than 200,000 people were killed instantly in the bombs dropped first on Hiroshima, Japan, and then Nagasaki, with more dying later, Kucinich said.
He quoted Dwight Eisenhower, who served as a WWII general, as saying he had grave misgivings about the bombings because he believed Japan already was seeking a way to surrender with dignity.
"It is just not disputable that this technology was not necessary," Kucinich said.
In the aftermath of the war, nuclear weapons have hung over the world like the sword of Damocles, he said.
"We act as mini-gods who can endlessly tinker with .... life itself and then name a park," he said.
Hastings countered, "Let's talk reality at the time. ... We were in a war for survival."
The United States was forced into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and President Harry Truman had reason to fear that Nazi Germany also was working on an atomic bomb, Hastings said.
"I cannot even imagine how difficult a decision it was for Truman," he said.
Truman was forced to make the decision shortly after President Franklin Roosevelt died. In the new president's judgment, more lives would be saved by using atomic weapons than not, Hastings said.
Supporters of preserving B Reactor as a museum have emphasized that the National Park Service would use its expertise to explain the Manhattan Project, telling all sides of the story.
The bill was debated Wednesday under a suspension of the rules, a process used to save time on bills not expected to be controversial. The procedure permits a debate of up to 40 minutes, then a voice vote with at least two-thirds in favor for passage.
However, Kucinich successfully called for a roll call vote, which likely will be held today. A companion bill has yet to come before the full Senate.