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article number 639
article date 02-23-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
All Brains Together—First to Develop the Atom Bomb, Part 6: $2 Billion Plants and 300,000 People
by William Laurence, Reporter, New York Times

From the 1946 book, Dawn Over Zero.

* * *


IT was not until the beginning of 1943 that work actually began on the construction of the giant plants for the mass production of U.235 and plutonium. As stated earlier, the amounts of these substances available at that time could barely be seen under the microscope. By the summer of 1945 they were being manufactured in amounts sufficient, in the words of President Truman, “to destroy Japan’s power to make war.”

Those few who, like myself, had the privilege of visiting these plants, scattered over vast areas throughout the land, found it hard to believe the evidence of their senses. Even leading scientists, intimately connected with the project from the beginning, still found themselves in a state of wonderment. This was revealed to me in a conversation with President Conant several months before Hiroshima.

“They won’t believe you,” he said, “when the time comes that this can be told. It is more fantastic than Jules Verne.”

“They’ll believe it if it works!” I replied.

During the course of my journey I discovered that in less than three years our scientists and engineers, backed by our great industries, had built an Atomland-on-Mars, a scientific Never-Never Land, where the accepted “impossibles” of yesterday had become actualities of staggering dimensions, in both space and time.

If a Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep at the turn of the century and awakened to behold modern airplanes, radio, television, and radar, he could not have been more surprised than I was when I first visited the mammoth plants in which U.235 is being pried loose from U.238, or the great atomic piles in which U.238 is being transmuted into plutonium.

In the Spring of 1940, as I have said, the highest yield of U.235 by the best apparatus then known was at the rate of one tenth of a millionth of a gram (0.1 microgram) per day. At that rate it would have taken ten billion days (27 million years) to produce one kilogram. To concentrate a kilogram in one day, ten billion individual units of the apparatus would have been required.

Since the amount of the material for one atomic bomb has been stated to be between one and one hundred kilograms, and since President Truman has revealed that in August 1945 we were “prepared to obliterate every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city,” it is reasonable to assume that by the summer of 1945 we were producing U.235 in amounts measured by the kilogram. This is an increase in less than three years by a factor of many billions.

The work of 27 million years had been telescoped into a time scale measured in terms of minutes, hours, or days, as the case may be.

The same was true with the atomic piles producing plutonium. The original chain-reacting pile at Chicago liberated atomic energy, through the fission of U.235, at a maximum rate of 200 watts. Now, it is known that the fission of one kilogram of U.235 releases a total of 25 million kilowatt-hours of energy, so that if one kilogram of U.235 were to be split per day, it would mean an energy release of 25 million kilowatt-hours over a period of twenty-four hours, or an average steady power level of more than a 1 million kilowatts.

On the assumption that each atom of U.235, when split, provides one neutron for converting one atom of U.238 into Plutonium, so that each kilogram of U.235 split would yield one kilogram of plutonium (which, of course, is not necessarily the case), then a production rate of one kilogram per day would call for the building of a pile that would operate at a steady level of a 1 million kilowatts, or a power level 5 million times higher than the original Chicago pile.

When the construction of plutonium-producing piles was planned in 1942, even before the Chicago pile had been completed, it was estimated that to produce one kilogram of plutonium per day, a chain-reacting pile would have to release energy (through the fission of U.235) at 500,000 to 1,500,000 kilowatts, the rate, of course, depending on the number of free neutrons available for the conversion of U.238 into plutonium. The estimated power level was thus from 2,500,000 to 7,500,000 times higher than the optimum 200-watt rate of the Chicago pile.

By way of comparison it may be pointed out that the ultimate capacity of the hydroelectric power plants at the Grand Coulee Dam is expected to be 2 million kilowatts, so that, at the higher rate, a pile producing one kilogram of plutonium a day would yield nearly as much energy as all the power plants operated by the world’s greatest dam.

Construction: Oak Ridge.

Since it was estimated that a single atomic bomb would require from one to one hundred kilograms of plutonium, it would have taken the Chicago pile from 7,000 to 700,000 years to produce a single bomb on the basis of the 500,000 kilowatt rate, while at the 1,500,000 rate it would have taken from 20,000 to 2,000,000 years.

Evidently the Chicago pile, while it served its purpose of demonstrating the possibility of a self-perpetuating chain reaction, was not the answer for the production of plutonium in quantity. It was further evident that in order to produce plutonium in the proper amounts, in time for use in the war, it would be required to work out the design for piles several million times more efficient than the Chicago pile, which, of course, meant piles of radically different design.

It was realized that such piles would have to be gigantic in dimensions and would cost —hundreds of millions. Moreover, they would have to be built as a calculated risk, for no one could guarantee that, once built, they would actually operate as expected.

The quantities of fissionable material estimated to be required for the job, which give us a clue to the ultimate goals aimed at by the top men of the project, are hinted at in the historic third report by the Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, submitted on November 6, 1941.

“If the estimate is correct,” the report stated, “that 500,000 tons of TNT bombs would be required to devastate Germany’s military and industrial objectives, from one to ten tons of U.235 will be required to do the same job.”

The report goes on to state that “if all possible effort is spent on the program, one might, however, expect fission bombs to be available in significant quantity within three or four years.”

From this it can be seen that those in charge of the program were aiming at a production rate high enough to provide from one to ten tons, or 1,000 to 10,000 kilograms, of U.235 in a reasonably short time, so that it could be used “to devastate Germany’s military and industrial objectives.”

From the President’s statement we also know that by August 1945 we had enough to obliterate Japan as a military power.

We can obtain a further estimate of the magnitude of this achievement by examining the time factors involved. Construction of the first large plant for separating U.235 began on February 2, 1943, and the first units were placed in operation on January 27, 1944. Construction of another giant plant for the same purpose, using a different process, began on September 10, 1943, and the first units began operating on February 20, 1945.

Work on the first plutonium-production pile was begun on June 7, 1943, and it was put in operation in September 1944. A second and a third pile were in full operation by the summer of 1945, producing plutonium on a scale described as “very large”—large enough to produce atomic bombs of one to one hundred kilograms.

In two and a half years’ time we had thus advanced from a rate of production that would have taken 27 million years for a kilogram of U.235, and 7,000 to 20,000 years for a kilogram of plutonium, to a rate at which enough was produced in the course of a few months to end the war in a matter of days, or, had we so chosen, minutes.

As President Truman put it:

"We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history—and won. But the greatest marvel is not the size of the enterprise, its secrecy, nor its cost, but the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men in different fields of science into a workable plan.

"And hardly less marvelous has been the capacity of industry to design, and of labor to operate, the machines and methods to do things never done before so that the brain child of many minds came forth in physical shape and performed as it was supposed to do.

"Both science and industry worked under the direction of the United States Army, which achieved a unique success in managing so diverse a problem in the advancement of knowledge in an amazingly short time.

"It is doubtful if such another combination could be got together in the world. What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure."

Secretary of War Henry Stimson confers with President Truman.

The surprises that meet the visitor to the various plants are not confined to the plants as a whole, their enormous dimensions, their novelty in design, their Olympian grandeur, their unique processes, and their awesome products.

Individual surprises relating to the multifarious components and apparatus in each of the plants await the visitor at every turn. He no sooner recovers from one than he is confronted by another equally if not more startling.

And when he thinks he has reached the saturation point, he soon discovers that he has barely scratched the surface.

For example, he enters one of the great buildings in which U.235 is being concentrated by the electromagnetic method. He no sooner passes through the door than he finds himself confronted by a monumental structure that practically fills the entire space of the building.

Merely the appearance of this inner structure is impressive enough, but suddenly he learns the incredible fact that practically the entire monumental mass, occupying many tens of thousands of cubic feet, constitutes one gigantic electromagnet. Nothing approaching a magnet of this size was even considered possible before the war.

As though that were not enough, the visitor soon learns that this is only one of many such magnets, scattered in various other similar buildings of this one plant, sprawling over an area covering five hundred acres.

He then finds that these magnetic mastodons form but a part of a colossal isotope separation apparatus, descendant of a device known as a mass spectrometer, which, before the war, occupied a small space in a physics laboratory.

The visitor then enters the main building of another plant, several miles away, where U.235 is concentrated by the gaseous diffusion method.

He hears a roar from behind the massive walls and is informed that it is the sound of the molecules of a gaseous uranium compound racing through a barrier that separates the U.235 from the U.238.

The barrier, he learns, is an entirely new product that had never existed before. It contains myriads of holes, each no larger than two fifths of a millionth of an inch. Casually he is told that this barrier consists of nearly ten thousand miles of porous tubing, encased in more than a million cubic feet of equipment, practically none of which existed before the war.

And then he finds out that the entire system of more than a million cubic feet is operating in a vacuum.

While this is by far the greatest continuous vacuum on earth from the point of view of dimensions in space, the vast number of individual units of the electromagnetic plant, the incredulous visitor learns, operate in an “atmosphere” so rarified that it is the nearest to nothingness ever attained. To find anything approaching it, one must take a journey into interstellar space.

Naturally, to produce a vacuum of such dimensions requires powerful diffusion pumps in great numbers. Such high-vacuum diffusion pumps are comparative newcomers to industry, and in 1940 new types were developed that were considered revolutionary. Compared with those at the plant in question, these 1940 high-vacuum diffusion pumps are crude, antiquated models.

Not only are the pumps producing the vacuum vastly more powerful than any in operation in industry, but their number, compared with that in other industries, is astronomical.

Since the plants operate in a vacuum behind heavy walls, unprecedented systems of automatic controls had to be devised. Here one comes upon the ultimate in technological wonders, gadgets upon gadgets, each performing a special job and recording its findings on a special control panel.

There are the gadgets for detecting the slightest leak from or into the vast system. Other gadgets print on a tape where all the various fractions of the gaseous uranium are, and tell the watchful operator exactly what is going on anywhere in the several million square feet of the plant at any given moment.

Still others tell how the uranium isotopes are being separated at any one of the thousands of stages in the complex process.

To examine the gaseous diffusion plant’s “brains,” the visitor would have to take a ten-mile walk to look at every control panel on just one floor.

Giant Control Room of Oak Ridge, K-25 facility.

All this may help to clarify some of the confusion that has been plaguing the public mind as to whether or not there is an atomic bomb “secret,” and if so, whether the secret could be kept.

The answer is that there are not one, but hundreds, possibly thousands, of secrets, each of which will require engineering know-how of a high order to solve.

The secrets begin right at the start in the production of pure uranium and graphite. Each of these may take a nation with less industrial know-how many years to work out.

All the multifarious gadgets and processes mentioned above had behind their development the combined engineering skill and secret processes of all our great industries, passed down from generation to generation, with improvements all along the line, for more than a hundred and fifty years. These will not be easy to duplicate.

We produced fissionable material by three different major methods. The number of secrets may be reduced if a nation decides to concentrate on only one; but each single method involves scores of new processes, new technologies, and new devices, as well as great improvements in the employment and design of older methods and apparatus.

This does not mean, of course, that we can keep these secrets indefinitely, nor that some simpler methods may not be developed in due time.

Nor does the question of whether or not there is a secret have anything to do with the real issue of international control of atomic energy, for it is obvious to anyone that unless measures for such control are taken, we shall be sowing the seeds of a suicidal war with atomic bombs.

The problem goes much deeper than the trivial question about a secret. For even if we could keep the secret for centuries, some form of international control would still be essential for the good of ourselves and of mankind.


THE two great plants for concentrating U.235, covering a total of 1,100 acres, are part of a subdivision of the Manhattan Engineer District known as the Clinton Engineer Works, located on a 59,000-acre Government reservation eighteen miles to the northwest of Knoxville, Tennessee.

In addition, the Clinton Engineer Works designed and built:
• a plant for concentrating U.235 by the thermal diffusion method, which takes advantage of a difference in the rate of diffusion of light and heavy atoms in the presence of a gradiant in temperature;
• an experimental plutonium pile that served as a pilot plant for the larger piles and for the study of the fission products of uranium;
• a number of research laboratories; and one of the world’s largest power plants.

The three great atomic piles for producing plutonium, as well as three chemical plants at which the plutonium is separated from its uranium parent and other impurities, are known as the Hanford Engineer Works. They are located on a huge Government reservation, comprising more than 400,000 acres, at an isolated semi-desert site fifteen miles to the northwest of Pasco, Washington.

A third major site, at Los Alamos, New Mexico, twenty-five miles northwest of Santa Fe, served as the research and development center at which the products of Clinton and Hanford were shaped for their ultimate objective.

Here, around a nucleus of a few buildings that had been used by the Los Alamos boys’ school, the greatest laboratory in the world, with a staff composed of scores of the world’s outstanding physicists, chemists, mathematicians, metallurgists, "weaponeers,” and leaders in other related fields, was organized by Dr. Oppenheimer.

At this laboratory, to which our major universities contributed their fundamental research apparatus, the experimental work, as well as the design and construction of operable atomic bombs, was carried out. This included fundamental theoretical studies on the nature of the nucleus and the behavior of neutrons, the final purification of U.235 and plutonium, and the fabrication of the auxiliary material that goes into the assembly of the bomb.

In addition to the three principal sites operated directly by the Manhattan Engineer District, scores of new plants and expansions of existing plants, from New York to California, were erected to effect the rapid manufacture of specialized equipment, the refining of uranium and graphite, and the development and production of essential new materials.

Besides the three great centers at Columbia, Chicago, and California universities, research was also carried on, under contract with the District, at twenty-seven other universities, four Government bureaus, and three research foundations.

The total number engaged in the work, including those employed by contractors with the project, was considerably above 300,000, of whom only a small number were aware of the nature and purpose of what they were doing.

"The total number engaged in the work, including those employed by contractors with the project, was considerably above 300,000 . . ."

Since for reasons of security and safety the plants had to be located at isolated, sparsely settled sections of the country, the plans had to include living accommodations for the large number of construction workers and operating personnel.

This led to the building, in a matter of months, of four hidden cities, each as secret in its way as Shangri-La. The largest of these, officially named Oak Ridge, but known as Dogpatch, or just the Patch, to its inhabitants, is located on the Clinton Works reservation. In less than two years it became the fifth largest city in Tennessee, with a total population of 79,000.

The second largest was Hanford, on the banks of the Columbia River in the state of Washington. Built as a construction camp for the Hanford plants, it grew in the course of one year to a city of 60,000 inhabitants, the fourth largest in the state, and dwindled down to zero in another year, as the construction job was finished.

Several miles down the river was built the city of Richland, inhabited by the operating personnel of the Hanford plants and their families, with a population of 17,000 in the summer of 1945.

A small Government-owned and operated community, with a population that reached 5,800, was built at Los Alamos. It included so many world-famous scientists that it no doubt had the highest average I.Q. of any city in the world.

Oak Ridge was the administrative center of the atomic project, as well as the residential section of the Clinton Engineer Works.

In many respects Oak Ridge was unique in history. There have been other hidden cities, but never one of its size that grew so swiftly.

What was probably most remarkable about it was the fact that the inhabitants themselves, with the exception of a few key men, knew nothing about the city’s purpose or what its giant plants were producing. The work was so compartmentalized that each worker knew only his own job and had not the slightest inkling of how his part fitted into the whole.

Only certain top-ranking scientists, engineers, and Army officers had inside knowledge of the project, but even among them there were limitations. The head of one plant, for example, was kept completely insulated from other plants where different processes were used.

On my return from the bomb test in New Mexico, I was not permitted to tell even Colonel Nichols what I had seen.

Not only did the workers not know what they were producing in the mammoth plants, which consume tremendous amounts of electrical energy; the vast majority of them could not even be sure they were actually producing anything.

Since there are only fourteen pounds of U.235 per ton of uranium metal, and of course much less proportionately per ton of uranium compound, they saw huge quantities of raw material coming into the plant, but hardly anything coming out. This created an atmosphere of unreality, in which giant plants operated day and night to produce nothing that anybody ever saw, for the products were shipped in small amounts by special couriers with the greatest secrecy.

The secrecy frequently led to tragicomic situations. A trusted courier was dispatched by automobile to deliver a small box of material, the nature of which he was not told, to a certain locality several hundred miles away. He was cautioned that at the first sign of any unusual behavior inside the box he was to abandon the automobile in a hurry and run as far away from it as his legs would carry him.

Our courier asked no questions and went his way, taking frequent glances at the strange box behind him. Things went well until he came to the middle of a long bridge.

Suddenly, from directly behind him, came a terrific boom. Out of the car he dashed like one possessed, running faster than he had ever run in his life. Out of breath and exhausted, he stopped to examine himself to make sure that he was still in one piece. Meantime a long line of traffic had gathered behind his driver-less car and the air was filled with the loud tooting of impatient motorists.

Slowly he made his way back to his automobile and found to his amazement that it was still all there. Peering cautiously inside, he was even more amazed to find his precious box on the same spot as before. He was used to strange things, this courier, so he took his place at the wheel and was about to continue on his mission when once again he heard a loud boom directly behind him.

Once again he made a dash for his life, heedless of the angry horns that by this time were sounding from a line more than a mile long. Still exhausted from his previous mad dash, he nevertheless managed to put a considerable distance between himself and his mysterious box.

Eventually he made his way back, to find his car and his box in the same spot where he had left them. This time, however, he found an irate traffic officer waiting for him. Beyond showing the officer by his credentials that he was a Government employee, there was nothing he could tell him.

It turned out that there had been blasting going on underneath the bridge.

The average worker at Oak Ridge and elsewhere, when asked by some newcomer what he was making, might reply: “I’m making a dollar thirty-five an hour.”

Working controls at Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant.

Many believed that the whole thing was actually one gigantic boondoggle. Some were convinced they were engaged in the manufacture of a “death ray.”

There was considerable banter, often approaching the ribald, about the nature of the product. The stock jest among anti-New Dealers was that they were making “front ends of horses to be shipped to Washington for assembly.”

There were a number who believed they were manufacturing a chemical to convert blacks into whites, the whole thing being a pet scheme of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.

There is the story of the high-ranking Army officer who had been wined and dined regally by the Chamber of Commerce of a near-by community. After the customary after-dinner eulogies by the leading citizens, the officer, an engineer not much given to oratory, rose and made his acknowledgments to his hosts.

This over with, he said: “And now, gentlemen, in token of my deep appreciation for your very kind hospitality, as a sign of the confidence and respect I have for you, I have asked and been granted permission to tell you what we are making in these plants which have meant so much to your community. I am now going to reveal to you the war’s top secret, the greatest secret of all time.”

He paused and waited for the suspense to heighten. “We are making,” he said, and paused again, “wheels for miscarriages.”

Life in the secret cities was a study in contrasts. As R. L. Duffus stated in the ’New York Times,’ “the centuries jostle each other.” Only a few years back, the people at Oak Ridge, and at near-by Happy Valley, most of whom come from stock that has lived long in these Tennessee hills, were existing on their worn-out land under conditions not very different from those of centuries gone by.

“Now, by a stupendous leap,” to quote Mr. Duffus, “they have been projected into the twenty-first century. On one side of a certain highway there are tall stacks to dissipate the radioactive fumes from atom-splitting. On the other side is a plain log cabin, chinked with clay and whitewashed—and lived in less than three years ago.”

The story of Dogpatch would make an interesting study for the sociologist, the medical economist, the public health authority, the criminologist, and many others.
• It has a medical insurance plan, on a voluntary basis, that pays for itself after a subsidy for the first six months.
• It has a high health standard and a low crime record, with hardly any crimes of violence.
• Its population, with the exception of Richland and Los Alamos, is the youngest in the country and has a very high birth rate, believed to be among the highest in the United States.
• At one time it had seventeen different religious bodies, all worshipping, at different times, at one little colonial-style church on top of a hill.

With the bulldozers, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians also came books, musical instruments, artists’ paints and brushes, and all other paraphernalia of American culture, reflecting every section of the country and all strata of American life, for Dogpatch, as well as Richland and Los Alamos, were extremely cosmopolitan communities, their residents coming from virtually every state in the Union.

In Los Alamos, the population also included a number of American Indians and Spanish Americans, descendants of the early Spanish settlers in New Mexico. Simultaneously with the construction of roads and streets, sewers and waterworks went the building of schools, theaters, a library, a hospital, a dental clinic, recreation centers, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and other facilities. Cultural activities began almost as soon as the first residents moved into their homes.

Los Alamos living facilities and playground.

Industrialists and labor leaders could profit by a careful study of the labor relations in the District. There were no strikes, no jurisdictional disputes, no sit-downs. Members of AFL and CIO unions worked together side by side; union men and non-union men performed their various tasks in harmony.

By a special arrangement with the chiefs of the AFL and CIO and the heads of the unions all grievances were submitted to arbitration through a scheme worked out by the Army authorities.

The labor leaders further agreed to refrain from sending organizers to the sites.

While the Army was the final authority, the communities in Tennessee, Washington, and New Mexico had complete local autonomy to run their affairs. There were many playgrounds, and the shouting and laughter of happy youngsters could be heard everywhere. The homes were pleasant and comfortable, the atmosphere in many of them reminiscent of that in a college town.

There was one strict rule: no mention was ever made of the work going on in the plants, and, as far as one could determine, the women did not have the slightest inkling of what their menfolk were doing. When Colonel Nichols invited me to his home for dinner, he reminded me not to mention anything I had seen, as Mrs. Nichols had no knowledge of the nature of the project.

Oak Ridge, Richland, and Los Alamos were communities of green lawns and flowers. Men and women, most of them from cities, puttered around in their gardens, planting flowers, mowing lawns, discussing seeds with their neighbors, showing great pride in their newly learned horticultural skills. It did not take long for city and tenement dwellers to develop a love for the soil and for things that grow out of it after one has planted them with one’s own hands.

The student of human values may be interested in the following episode:

There were more than five thousand trailers in Oak Ridge, probably the greatest trailer camp in the world. Great care was taken to make their occupants happy and comfortable, yet there was noticed a feeling of social isolation, as though they were living on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

It was soon discovered that their principal complaint was a sense of loss of identity, which was remedied by providing the camp with street names and an individual number for each trailer. Until they had an address they had considered themselves gypsies. A street and number gave them a sense of belonging.

It apparently is not enough to have a roof over one’s head. A roof is not home until it has an address.

The problem of carrying the workers to and from plants scattered over an area of more than ninety square miles presented a serious transportation challenge. So one day Colonel Nichols presented himself at the Office of Defense Transportation and asked the official in charge for five hundred busses.

The official was aghast. “Five hundred busses!” he repeated. “Impossible. Preposterous. What could you need that many busses for?”

“We have a big war project,” said Colonel Nichols. “No project can be big enough to need five hundred busses,” the official replied. But he soon got word from higher up to provide the busses as quickly as possible and not ask any questions.

As it turned out, the 500 busses filled only 66 per cent of the need. By the middle of 1944 there were 350 busses operating on the area, while an additional 500 carried non-resident workers to and from their homes. From July 1944 to June 1945 the on-area busses alone carried 22,252,479 passengers. During June 1945 they carried 2,401,070.

"As it turned out, the 500 busses filled only 66 per cent of the need."

The Clinton Engineer Works is bounded on the east, south, and west by the tortuously winding Clinch River for a total distance of thirty-six miles.

Within the reservation there are five main ridges, running east and west. The northernmost is Black Oak Ridge, from which the town took its name. Next in order come East Fork Ridge, Pine Ridge, Chestnut Ridge, and Haw Ridge, all wooded with oak and several species of pine.

The variety of vegetation in this region is said to be wider than anywhere else in the United States, the area constituting a meeting ground between Northern and Southern varieties of flora.

The reservation is not far from the Great Smoky Mountain area, which lies east and southeast of Knoxville. To the west are the Cumberland Mountains.

The largest towns in the area, besides Knoxville, are Clinton, from which the works derives its name, Harriman, and Lenoir City. The project covers part of two counties, Anderson and Roane, the greater part being in Anderson.

The project lies in the heart of the TVA country and is situated about twenty miles from Norris Dam, which provided one of the principal reasons for the selection of the site, the others being accessibility to water, remoteness from the coast, and isolation.

The town of Oak Ridge is in the northeastern part of the reservation, about eight miles from Clinton. One production plant is situated between Pine and Chestnut ridges. Another large plant is at the extreme western part of the reservation, fifteen miles from Oak Ridge proper.

The experimental pile is at the southwestern part of the area between Chestnut and Haw ridges. Another process plant is in the area of a huge steam plant.

The total amount of lumber used by the Clinton Engineer Works from the latter part of 1942 to May 1945 was in excess of 200 million board feet, almost the output of the state of Minnesota for an entire year.

Around 400,000 cubic yards of concrete were used for foundations and some of the structural frames in the plant areas, or one eighth the amount of concrete used in Boulder Dam.

Around 55,000 carloads of material and equipment were shipped to the Clinton Works from November 1942 through June 1945, and these were only a fraction of the whole.

“Two years ago,” said Colonel Nichols in the early summer of 1945, “I didn’t know what a billion dollars could buy.”

At the time the Manhattan District took over, there were about 3,750 residents on the land that was taken into the reservation They were scattered over the entire 59,000 acres, which included the hamlets of Robertsville, Wheat, Scarboro, Happy Valley, and a large number of small farms on a total of over 800 separate tracts of land.

The area was among the first in Tennessee to be settled, and great pains were taken to resettle the uprooted families. Many of them took jobs on the site.

Old-timers on the reservation recollected a long-for gotten old man, dead for about fifty years, who had lived in the vicinity and whom the natives had regarded as a bit “touched.”

There are some who still remember that old man telling all who would listen of the visions that had come to him of a great city rising on their land, and great smokestacks of huge plants belching smoke to the sky. The memory of that old man’s long-forgotten prophecy helped to persuade many of the natives to part willingly with ancient homesteads.

In this great American saga many a drama was enacted on the scene, in Tennessee as well as in Washington, when families refused to give up their old homes, even though they had been offered sums that to them must have seemed fabulous.

They had lived on the land for generations, and though it was very poor land, which gave them only a meager livelihood for their toil, it was the land of their fathers and they did not want to part with it at any price.

Army officers in charge were loath to move them, but in many instances they had no choice.

“We had to move burning fires from their fireplaces,” Colonel Franklin T. Matthias told me in reminiscing about the early construction days at the Hanford Works. “Those fires had been burning for a hundred and twenty years, and they had to be carried out bodily.”

The ancient fires from molecules had to make way for the greater fire from atoms.

Hanford reactor where plutonium, used in the Nagasaki bomb, was manufactured.
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