The National Park Service director spoke in favor of preserving Hanford's historic B Reactor by creating a new national park Thursday, despite tight federal budgets.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., asked director Jonathan Jarvis about the proposal at the Senate Committee hearing to consider the $11 million maintenance backlog at America's national parks.
Some senators have opposed forming a Manhattan Project National Historical Park when the park service lacks money to take care of existing parks.
"My theory on new units is that history doesn't stop just because you have an economic challenge," Jarvis said at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.
"The National Park Service has been challenged and charged by this body for almost 100 years to take care of not only the extraordinary, the crown jewels such as the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, but also historical sites that are representative of the full American experience," he said.
Those stories remain incomplete, and B Reactor is a perfect example of that, he said.
"It tells an incredibly important story about this country and its leadership and the development of the atomic bomb and its role in ending World War II," he said.
The Manhattan Project National Park would differ from many older parks because the park service would start with partners, such as the Department of Energy, he said. DOE would continue to own B Reactor and other property in the park. It would include additional historic facilities in Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., that were part of the secret Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb during the war.
In the case of B Reactor, the park service also would have community support, Jarvis said.
Tri-City advocates have worked to save B Reactor as a museum for two decades.
It was the world's first production-scale reactor, ushering in the atomic age. It produced plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end WWII.
By looking for partnerships for new parks, the park service may minimize its responsibilities that would add to its maintenance backlog but still allow it to tell the stories of the American experience, Jarvis said.
Cantwell, who led work on the current bill to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, said she "was not going to have the attitude that we're not going to do any new park until the maintenance backlog is caught up."
"Our generations' challenge is to be good stewards," she said.
Options discussed in the hearing to clear the park service's maintenance backlog include public and private cost sharing and raising entrance fees for non-U.S. citizens to keep up with an increasing number of foreign visitors each year.
Jarvis also said the park service is looking at ways to establish a national endowment for the park system, as well as endowments for individual parks to allow Americans to give back to the parks they enjoy.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews