The Manhattan Project National Historical Park came a little closer to reality Tuesday when the National Park Service and the Department of Energy released their agreement for jointly managing the park to commemorate the top-secret World War II program that developed the atomic bomb.

The new park will have three sites: Los Alamos, where the bomb was designed and tested; Oak Ridge, Tenn., where enriched uranium was produced for the Manhattan Project; and Hanford, Wash., where the plutonium was manufactured.

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who got the ball rolling in 2004 with a bill to study the possibility of creating the historical park, said Tuesday, “My view is it’s a very important chapter in the history of our country and the world. It’s hard to think of any initiative the federal government undertook that had more impact, other than going to war. And a lot of people growing up today have little knowledge about it. This national historical park is a way to educate people and keep them informed about what did occur.”

Not everyone in New Mexico supports the project.

Greg Mello, a co-founder of the anti-nuclear watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, called it a “debasement of the national parks idea.”

Bingaman acknowledged the antipathy, but said, “Obviously, there are a lot of things to debate about what was done — what should have been done. The national historical park designation will help preserve that.”

Heather McClenahan, director of the Los Alamos Historical Society, said the new park is a “valuable project for the entire world. Its history changed the world. We can always bury our heads in the sand, but it’s better to look at controversial history from as many perspectives as there are, then ask ourselves how we move forward.”

As the nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service “will look at multiple perspectives, broad stories that really aren’t told anywhere,” McClenahan added.

After site visits, the Department of Energy and National Park Service officials decided which properties under federal authority should initially be included in the park. In Los Alamos, they include Gun Site Facilities, where the uranium gun-type bomb, “Little Boy,” was designed and developed; V-Site Facilities where the “Gadget” or plutonium-based implosion device was tested; and the Pajarito Site.

The Quonset Hut Assembly Building, TA-22-1, where the first Fat Man bomb was assembled, is not included because it is needed to support the current Department of Energy mission. The Fat Man bomb was the type tested at Trinity Site in July 1945 and later dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

Work on the park is being paid for with existing funds from the two agencies. President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request for the National Park Service includes $180,000 for the park.

Next year, foundation documents will be developed, identifying the park’s resources, values and history. No decisions have been made yet about the location of visitor centers or how the three sites will be exactly managed.

Owen Pagano,program director for the Atomic Heritage Foundation, said, “The development of atomic energy was probably one of the most significant events of the 20th century. Nuclear proliferation is in the news a lot. Preserving the history, and understanding of how it all began, is important.”

The legislation establishing the new park was included in the National Defense Authorization Act approved last year. A number of the Manhattan Project buildings included in the park were scheduled for demolition in 1997 but got a last-minute reprieve.

Public comment on the federal agencies’ cooperative agreement to manage the park closes Aug. 28.

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or aconstable@sfnewmexican.com.