June 2011
Fire Threatens Los Alamos
Deciding the Fate of K-25
From the 40's to the Future
New Biographies of Richard Feynman
Quick Links



Just before the outbreak of the Las Conchas fire that still threatens Los Alamos (see story below), the Atomic Heritage Foundation hosted its third annual New Mexico Teacher's Workshop on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico (June 19 to 23, 2011).  With outstanding presenters and teachers, the workshop was the best ever.


Thanks to generous contributions from the Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Bank and Los Alamos National Security, twenty-two teachers were able to learn from experts about the history of the Manhattan Project and the science behind the atomic bomb. Teachers enjoyed tours of the Bradbury Science Museum, 109 East Palace and other Santa Fe sites, Oppenheimer's house, as well as a special tour "behind the fence" to see the V-Site and other historically significant sites from the Manhattan Project.  In addition, teachers enjoyed a performance at the Teatro Paraguas of Joey Chavez's Manhattan Glass.

Teachers Workshop
Teachers and AHF staff at the New Mexico Teachers' Workshop

Curriculum exchange supplemented the expert lectures as teachers were able to create and discuss lesson plans for their students using the new knowledge acquired at the workshop. Lesson plans created for the workshop will be hosted online by the Atomic Heritage Foundation so that teachers can bring a variety of new materials to their classrooms in the coming year.


The responses from teachers in post-workshop evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. One teacher wrote that it was "the best workshop I have ever attended," while others praised it as "well-organized," "unmatchable," and "superbly done."


Looking to the future, we have applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to run two week-long workshops in the summer of 2012 for teachers from across the country. With the possibility of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, we hope to introduce some eighty teachers to the history of the Manhattan Project and its legacy for today. In the meantime, we hope that the firefighters can protect the laboratory and Los Alamos from the devastating Las Conchas fire.

 Fire Threatens Los Alamos

los alamos fire
Smoke rises up just a few miles outside of Los Alamos on Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Drew Logan)

The Las Conchas fire has been spreading rapidly in New Mexico and threatens both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the town of Los Alamos, forcing a mandatory evacuation of its 12,000 residents. Over 61,000 acres have been burned to date.  With winds gusting up to 60 miles an hour and sparks flying, fires have started on the boundaries of the property of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 


LANL officials have assured the public that the bulk of its nuclear materials are well protected. Of potential concern are some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-bearing waste stored on a mesa just outside of White Rock, N.M. The laboratory grounds also include at least one canyon that was used as a dump in the early years of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. To help address the possible release of contaminated materials, the National Nuclear Safety Administration is sending teams to help the Laboratory deal with the fire and its aftermath.


The blaze brings back memories of the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 which burned 48,000 acres and caused $1 billion damage, destroying 400 homes and other structures in Los Alamos County. The Cerro Grande fire also destroyed important Manhattan Project structures including four of the five buildings at the V-Site which had just been awarded a Save America's Treasures grant for their restoration.


The Atomic Heritage Foundation sends its best wishes to the citizens of Los Alamos County and heartfelt thanks to the fire fighters who are risking their lives to bring an end to this crisis. Visit this site for up-to-the-minute reports on the firefighting effort.



Deciding the Fate of K-25


K-25 demolition
Can we save a portion?

The Department of Energy (DOE) at Oak Ridge is moving towards a decision on the fate of the K-25 plant, an icon of the Manhattan Project.  The K-25 plant was instrumental in producing the enriched uranium that fueled the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. For years afterwards, K-25 was a workhorse for the Cold War and produced fuel for both weapons and nuclear power facilities. 


In a memorandum signed by Acting Deputy Manager John Eschenberg on June 13, 2011, DOE affirms its commitment to preserve the North Tower until the ETTP Site Interpretation Memorandum of Agreement is made final later this year.  Recently, DOE has enlisted a new contractor, Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc., to draft a preferred mitigation plan for K-25.


Cultural Resource Analysts will consider the studies conducted last year and comments from consulting and interested parties.  Specifically, Informal Learning Experiences, Inc. provided a feasibility study of how to interpret the Manhattan Project heritage at Oak Ridge (December 10, 2010).  Degenkolb Engineers provided four alternatives for preservation and interpretation of the K-25 North End based on structural and cost analyses. Comments were provided by stakeholders for DOE's consideration.


Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. will assist in drafting a mitigation plan.  DOE plans to circulate the draft to consulting and interested parties in late summer or two weeks before meeting with them. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 2011.


In the meantime, no action will be taken to further demolish K-25 North Tower. DOE will continue to accept written comments throughout the summer. While time is running short, the Atomic Heritage Foundation will continue to advocate for preserving a portion of this important historic property. Knowing that there may be a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Oak Ridge, having an authentic piece of the original plant for future generations to experience is more important than ever.



From the 40's to the Future


The proof that the general public is interested in learning about and

secret city festival

seeing Oak Ridge's history is the tens of thousands of people who attend the annual Secret City Festival.  Since 2003, the festival has highlighted Oak Ridge's secret World War II history with exhibits and tours of Manhattan Project sites.  AHF congratulates the City of Oak Ridge, the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association and other partners on the success of its most recent festival, June 17 and 18, 2011, whose theme was "From the 40's to the Future."



 New Biographies of Richard Feynman

Feynman and Oppenheimer
Feynman (facing camera) and Oppenheimer (right with cigarette) converse at a social event at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project

Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman is beloved among countless students and teachers of science for his efforts to popularize physics education.  The Feynman Lectures on Physics has been a classic for teaching physics since 1964.  Feynman's sense of humor, curiosity, rebellious attitude toward authority and bongo drum playing make him a colorful and endearing figure. However, his role on the Manhattan Project as a young man is less well known.


Two new Feynman biographies may work to change that--Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science by Lawrence M. Krauss and the graphic novel Feynman by Jim Ottaviani, with art by Leland Myrick and coloring by Hilary Sycamore. Krauss' book focuses on Feynman's scientific output, including his analytical thinking process. Feynman's friend and colleague Freeman Dyson writes, "[Krauss] takes the reader inside Feynman's head and reconstructs the picture of nature as Feynman saw it. This is a new kind of scientific history, and Krauss is well qualified to write it."


Ottaviani's Feynman takes a different approach, depicting critical scenes from the physicist's life from his childhood to his death from cancer at 69. Fans of graphic novels and Manhattan Project buffs alike may recognize Ottaviani, a nuclear engineer and the author of Fallout, also a graphic novel.  Fallout recreates the Manhattan Project, focusing on J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and the tensions between the military and the scientists over the atomic bomb.


For more information on both works, see Freeman Dyson's recent article in The New York Review of Books. Quantum Man is available now, while Feynman will arrive August 30, 2011.  According to Dyson, these books raise the question of whether Richard Feynman is rising to the status of superstar akin to Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Though programs such as our teachers' workshop have proved successful, we are constantly working to expand these programs to reach more people in more places. Only through this constant outreach can we succeed in rallying the public support needed to preserve the historic Manhattan Project sites. Your contributions help us continue to raise awareness about this chapter of American history and the danger facing its most important sites. Thank you very much for your support!


Atomic Heritage Foundation