The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to pull the plug on the American Museum of Science and Energy. If we lose that, we will lose one of the central places that we tell the story of the Manhattan Project, the most important breakthrough in international peace in the last 1,000 years.
The American Museum of Science and Energy is the first nuclear-technology museum in the world. It would be a travesty for the world to lose this precious heritage. It would be akin to destroying the Colosseum in Rome or the Pyramids in Egypt. Those were real symbols of development of mankind, but they in no wise ended they cycle of global war. K-25 (a former uranium enrichment plant of the MP) and the Manhattan Project did.
The Manhattan Project was America’s enormous (and super-secret) effort to develop an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany did during World War II. Its success broke the seemingly endless cycle of world wars that has plagued mankind since ancient times.
The K-25 building separated a special form of uranium (U-235) from natural uranium through a pioneering process called “gaseous diffusion.” Most of the world’s experts at the time doubted such a process could be made to work on this scale. The first-of-its-kind building, larger than the Pentagon, was miraculously completed in only 18 months. K-25 was the single most expensive structure of the Manhattan Project. It was so large, workers routinely had to use bicycles to travel from point to point inside the building.
Martin McBride, Ph.D., is an award-winning heritage tour guide for the City of Oak Ridge and author of an extensive chronological time line of the Manhattan Project, which intricately traces its scientific, military and political roots back to 1894 (“55 Years that Changed History, A Manhattan Project Timeline, 1894 to 1949”). McBride has worked in nuclear safety for over 30 years in both the private sector as well as the federal government.
Dr. McBride, a scientist and scholar of all things related to the Manhattan Project, explains: “The DOE wanted to clear the land as part of environmental cleanup. The K-25 Building was one mile in length, larger than the Pentagon and, incidentally, was built by the same individual who built the Pentagon for the Army, General Leslie R. Groves. Over a period of the last decade, but specifically under President Obama’s watch, we lost K-25 and are now in danger of losing the American Museum of Science and Energy.”
Two years ago, McBride appealed directly to the secretary of energy to try to preserve a small part of K-25. “In a few years,” he wrote, “mankind will celebrate a hundred years without a World War III. It would be wonderful for our children and grandchildren to get the experience of entering (even a portion of) the K-25 plant. Currently, the Department of Energy is demolishing K-25. Its total demolition would be a tragic loss.”
“Look at it this way,” his letter continued. “The Pyramids in Egypt are important to the history of our civilization. Yet, they did not signal an end to global warfare. The K-25 plant did. This makes K-25 one of the world’s most historic structures.
“The question is will the Obama administration help save at least a portion of this historic structure as a monument to World Peace?” McBride received no response to the letter. Subsequently, K-25 was completely destroyed.
He continues, “We’ve lost critical components of American heritage across the country because of DOE. They constructed small heritage centers that are not large enough to attract tourism and, therefore, are not large enough to be self-supporting. DOE then walks away, offering the centers to local communities who can’t afford to maintain them. K-25 and the Manhattan Project is America’s key heritage, not local community heritage.”
Because of DOE, future Americans have very little left from the Manhattan Project. “One might hope that an administration that received the Nobel Peace Prize would value this type of world-changing history. The Manhattan Project was the single greatest advance in international peace in the last thousand years – and that advance may not be equaled for the next thousand.”
And now, DOE is threatening to walk away from the first museum on nuclear technology, the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
DOE’s argument is that they are not in the museum business, but that’s nonsense because a museum is simply an educational outreach. The DOE has tons of wonderful educational programs, but America’s heritage of the Manhattan Project is not one of them.
“All we asked for is to preserve a portion of the K-25 building, and all we ended up preserving is a few pieces of equipment to keep on a second floor of an old firehouse. Tragically, few Manhattan Project buildings have been preserved, even in Oak Ridge, the Manhattan Project’s overall headquarters and by far the largest (in terms of dollars spent) site.”
A bill to authorize a Manhattan Project National Park has been approved by the House and awaits Senate action in Washington. Yet even if the bill is passed, there will be little left of the incredible Manhattan Project story for the Park Service to preserve and re-tell. DOE has destroyed most of this precious heritage.
The American Museum of Science and Energy, for example, is a central hub in the proposed National Park. The museum’s loss would be catastrophic. Yet, the Obama administration is accelerating plans to close down the world’s first nuclear museum. Why is that?
The DOE successfully has destroyed an integral part of America’s heritage. The Manhattan Project surpassed anything the world had known, and America eclipsed Germany as the center of the scientific world.
What happens if all of this history is forgotten? Where will international “peace” land then? The Manhattan Project is an important lesson for mankind. The DOE’s destruction of such a vital part of our natural heritage completely undermines America’s place historically and weakens our image as a world power in nuclear safety.
McBride expressed a deep concern that this part of history is completely lost on our youth and hopes to recapture their attention to an era in history that significantly impacts their lives in ways they haven’t imagined. He states, “There are just a few of us everyday Americans struggling to keep this alive so that our children can understand the incredible contribution those hundreds of thousands of Americans made during WWII, when they labored around the clock within the nation’s most secret enterprise: the Manhattan Project.”
Could we even imagine a world without the Manhattan Project?
Thanks to the DOE under Obama’s watch, future generations will barely know it existed.
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