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Congress votes to turn Manhattan Project sites into a national park

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Flickr / knorby

The sites where J. Robert Oppenheimer and others developed the atomic bomb could soon be put in the company of Gettysburg, Yellowstone, and the California redwoods. Late last week, the Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a section establishing the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The park will preserve places where bombs were designed, manufactured, and tested in the 1940s, as well as the cottages and dormitories where their creators lived.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group that's lobbied for the bill, has published a guide to what the park will include. It will span three states, covering 30 sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington. This includes plutonium-producing reactors in Oak Ridge and Hanford, Oppenheimer's cottage in Los Alamos, and the Quonset hut where scientists assembled the first "Fat Man" nuclear bomb — the type dropped over Nagasaki at the end of World War II, killing tens of thousands of people and injuring many more. The total death toll, combined with a second bomb dropped on Hiroshima, is closer to 150,000.

It's already possible to see some parts of America's atomic legacy. This includes the Trinity nuclear test site, where the first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1945. The bill gives a one-year deadline for officially establishing the park, and The New York Times notes that President Obama is expected to sign the bill next week.