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August 2014

Thanks to our excellent summer interns, we have many more interviews for you on our "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website.  Be sure to listen to Nobel Prize winners Glenn Seaborg and Hans Bethe. Seaborg's interview is with journalist Stephane Groueff in 1965 and Bethe's is a fascinating conversation with Richard Rhodes in 1993. We also have many others, as noted below. Immerse yourself in the Manhattan Project!
In This Issue
69th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Fat Man's implosion sphere is nearly assembled and ready to be placed inside the casing














This month was the 69th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The much contested history of the bombings raises many questions. Should the atomic bombs have been dropped? How many lives may have been saved by avoiding an invasion of Japan? What were the economic, political, social and cultural impacts of the nuclear arms race that followed? These issues will no doubt continue to be examined and debated for decades to come.


Many of the tens of thousands of people who worked on the Manhattan Project had no idea what they were working on, and only found out after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. After the Trinity test in July 1945, the top scientists and military personnel, however, knew what the stakes were.

Loading the bomb onto the airplanes was a very delicate matter. Admiral William "Deak" Parsons, who served as weaponeer on the Enola Gay, was so concerned about the possibility of the B-29 crashing on takeoff and setting off the bomb that he decided to insert the detonation charges in flight. Click here to view photos of scientists and soldiers loading the Little Boy bomb very carefully into the Enola Gay; click here for photos of Fat Man being loaded into Bockscar.


Fat Man is lowered into the bomb pit.







But General Leslie R. Groves remained confident that the bombs would work as planned and never doubted the project would be a success. In a 1965 interview, General Groves recalled, "I never had any trouble sleeping. I even went to sleep at the most critical time from my standpoint, which was waiting for news from Hiroshima. I got the news of the dropping and then I wrote the report. This was about 11:30 at night. I wrote the report that I was going to make to General Marshall the next morning and then I gave it to Mrs. O'Leary, who wasn't going to sleep--she couldn't. And I said, 'Now I'm going to sleep in here, and when the next message comes in, which will be the message after the plane gets back to Tinian, I want you to wake me up and we'll go over this report.' I just had a cot in my office and I went right to sleep."

Little Boy about to be loaded into Enola Gay, covered by a protective tarp for security reasons.


Some scientists, such as James Franck, were unhappy that their recommendation that the bomb be demonstrated for the Japanese before use in war had not been adopted. Other scientists and engineers, such as Lawrence Litz, were busy getting more bombs ready, should the Japanese refuse to surrender even after a second atomic bomb.


The scientists, engineers, and personnel who knew the secret of the bombs cared about one thing only: ending the war as soon as possible, whether by a demonstration of the bomb's power or its use over a city. Their concern for American lives pushed them to solve challenges on the frontier of physics and create an atomic bomb that transformed the world forever. 



Why We Should Preserve
the History of the Manhattan Project 
The V-Site at Los Alamos

 On August 25, the National Park Service celebrated its 98th birthday. We wish "America's Best Idea" a very happy birthday, and hope that we will be celebrating the addition of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park before the National Park System turns 99.

On August 14, Denise Ryan, Director of Public Lands Policy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, published an excellent op-ed in the Huffington Post on Why We Should Preserve the History of the Manhattan Project. Ryan explains, "As a nation, we need to grapple openly and objectively with the Manhattan Project's complex legacy. To do so, a place for reflection, education and interpretation is needed... Opening up and preserving these sites as a national park would provide an opportunity for Americans to consider the Manhattan Project in its full scope and complexity."


Ryan goes on, "Few events have affected as many aspects of American life as deeply as the Manhattan Project. It irrevocably altered the global standing of the United States and set the stage for the Cold War. It sparked innovations in medicine, science, and technology. And, of course, the deadly force of the atomic bomb humbled us all. A new national park, managed by the Department of Energy and the National Park Service, would encourage visitors to consider the Manhattan Project's many ethical, cultural and scientific implications." 


The B Reactor at Hanford

Ryan concludes, "We did more than split the atom at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Hanford. We stepped forward into a new era, one in which science granted us extraordinary power to improve our world -- or to destroy it. The novelist Herman Wouk, whose best-known works were inspired by his service in World War II, noted that 'the beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance.' The beginning of wisdom lies there too."

We wholeheartedly agree and encourage you to join the National Trust for Historic Preservation in urging Congress to pass the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act this year. Please click here to send an email to ask your Senators to preserve this history for future generations.


Manhattan Project Spotlight: Hans and Rose Bethe

Hans and Rose Bethe, 1967 Nobel Prize Ceremony
Two of the most recognizable figures at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project were Hans and Rose Bethe. Hans Bethe and Rose Ewald both fled Nazi Germany during Hitler's rise to power and arrived in the United States in 1935. Hans, who would later go on to win the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the production of energy in stars, was selected by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the prestigious Theoretical Division at Los Alamos. In March 1943, Rose joined her husband at Los Alamos.

Now, for the first time, you can listen to Hans and Rose share their reflections on Los Alamos and the Cold War in two interviews on AHF's "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website. The Bethes discuss a number of interesting topics, including secrecy, espionage, and life on the Hill.

Hans and Rose also discuss their relationship with Edward and Mici Teller, with whom they shared many "good times" before and during their days at Los Alamos. According to Rose, "The split came when Edward insisted on the hydrogen bomb and insisted that America needed to develop it." Though Hans eventually worked on the "Super," he hoped that his research would prove that it was impossible to create.
Hans and Rose Bethe (1995)

According to Hans, his contribution to the hydrogen bomb project was rather insignificant: "I did very little. I think my main contribution was that I said in one of the meetings that one-inch is 2.54 centimeters, not 2.5. The engineers had gotten themselves all tied up by using 2.5, so the centimeter dimensions and the inch dimensions just never would agree. So, I solved that problem."

After the war, Hans returned to teaching physics at Cornell while Rose focused on raising the couple's two children, Henry and Monica. For their reflections on Los Alamos and much more, listen to the lively interview of Hans Bethe that Richard Rhodes took in 1993 and the wonderful interview with Rose Bethe taken by Cindy Kelly in 2014.

Secrets Leaked


In 1944, General Leslie Groves commissioned a history of the Manhattan Project. The Department of Energy has just released the 36-volume, declassified history. There are many interesting stories in the texts, from the science to counterespionage programs. Science blog io9 did a story on the "Manhattan District History," focusing on the security leaks investigated during the project. "Since September 1943, investigations were conducted of more than 1,500 'loose talk' or leakage of information cases and corrective action was taken in more than 1,200 violations of procedures for handling classified material.... Complete security of information could be achieved only by following all leaks to their source."

Some of the leaks were among family members. A young secretary at Oak Ridge wrote her uncle that the war would soon be over when "the product" was finished. She forgot the letter on a bus, where it was discovered and she was fired.

A billet of uranium

A religious pamphlet, "Startling Power," led to several inquiries. The pamphlet read, "Uranium 235, extracted from natural uranium ore, promises to make all of our power sources mere child's toys by comparison...[But] we must not overlook the far more vital and assured fact that God has given to Christians the gift of the Holy Spirit with energies far more dynamic than those of exploding atoms or mysterious elements." An engineer and a pastor both got in trouble for asking for more information about U-235 after reading the pamphlet.

Despite the "What you see here, let it stay here" billboards extolling secrecy at Hanford, Los Alamos, and Oak Ridge, clearly some workers were anxious to give family and friends an idea of what they were doing. Others were simply careless such as a contractor on the project in New York who left a classified file at the train station. 

Fortunately, most of the small slips were innocuous. But the real spies, including Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass, and Ted Hall, went unsuspected. In Hall's case, the truth about his work as a spy for the Soviet Union was only revealed more than fifty years later. One of the great ironies of the secrecy and intelligence programs of the Manhattan Project is that while 1,500 small fry were caught, the big fish got away.


The Drama of "Manhattan"


We have been enjoying the WGN American show "Manhattan," which aired its fifth episode last Sunday. The show has done an excellent job conveying the tension that infused the wartime project with its scientific rivalries, espionage and counterintelligence operations, and challenges of life in the secret city. 


The two groups charged with designing a plutonium-based bomb clash over their theories and who gets access to the micrograms of plutonium available. The group under Reed Akley, including the brilliant young Charlie Isaacs, are working on a fairly straightforward "Thin Man" gun-type method.  Frank Winter is desperately leading his team, including white-bearded Glen Babbit, to create a much more complicated implosion-type bomb. 

The ever present military police and frequent interrogations of suspected spies has damaged both groups. Wives are upset with their stressed out, secretive husbands and the lack of professional opportunities for them at Los Alamos. Dark pasts are coming back to haunt some of the scientists and further complicate their lives. The show has certainly been dramatic so far! For more information, check out our reviews of Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, and Episode 5.

We live-tweet each episode, highlighting the real stories behind the show's fictional premise. Follow us on Twitter at 10 PM EDT each week! 


"On My Own" by Dimas Chavez

In 2012, AHF President Cindy Kelly interviewed Dimas Chavez for "Voices of the Manhattan Project." Dimas was a young child when he moved to Los Alamos with his family where his father went to work for the Zia Company on the Manhattan Project. His life took him from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the CIA. His interview, told with a good sense of humor and a quick wit, is one of our most popular.

Dimas has just published his memoirs, "On My Own," which provides insight to the Hispanic community at Los Alamos as well as his own life. If you enjoyed his interview, you will definitely like the book!

Recent Additions to "Voices of the Manhattan Project"

Harold Agnew was a veteran of the Manhattan Project, an observer to the bombing of Hiroshima, and served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970-1979. Agnew discusses the science behind the hydrogen bomb, along with production and research conducted under the Atomic Energy Commission (later the DOE) and the Air Force. He describes the Soviet program and the espionage involved, his clash with the government and military when trying to receive funds for laboratory research, and innovations that resulted from the nuclear program.


Ray Generaux was design project manager for the chemical separation facilities at Hanford. He was responsible for designing the massive buildings and innovative machinery that separated the plutonium from the irradiated uranium fuel elements after they were taken from the reactors. Using a television camera mounted on a crane, Generaux enabled operators to see fifty feet below where they manipulated the highly radioactive fuel. It was the first industrial application of television.



Robert E. Hayes worked as an airplane mechanic on Kwajalein Island, maintaining Boeing B-29s. He talks about life in the Pacific during World War II, being trained to use a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, maintaining complicated airplane engines, and witnessing the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests.





Vera Kistiakowsky is an American physicist and the daughter of physical chemist George Kistiakowsky, who directed the Explosives Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Vera visited her father at Los Alamos during the summer months in 1944 and 1945. In her interview, she discusses the freedom she felt in the secret city and fun she had horseback riding with her father. After the war, Vera finished college and earned her Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry under Glenn Seaborg at the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the MIT faculty in 1963 and has been an advocate for the advancement of women in science. 



John Manley was one of Oppenheimer's principal assistants at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Manley helped Oppenheimer manage the Los Alamos laboratory. After surveying the landscape around the Trinity Test site before the test, he witnessed the explosion from inside a wooden bunker. In this interview, he recalls the Trinity detonation, as well as working with men like Leo Szilard and General Leslie Groves.



Glenn Seaborg, winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and co-discoverer of plutonium, was in charge of the separation process for removing plutonium from irradiated uranium slugs at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. In his interview, he discusses the pressure to obtain high yields of plutonium and how he decided on the bismuth phosphate process which turned out to be very successful. Seaborg also describes the difficulty of recruiting leading scientists without being allowed to explain the work until they agreed to join.



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