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The Manhattan Project -- Its Operations


The Manhattan Project -- Its Operations

Major operations for the Manhattan Engineer District (Manhattan Project) took place in remote site locations in the states of Tennessee, New Mexico, and Washington, with additional research being conducted in university laboratories at Chicago and Berkeley.

At the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago, Enrico Fermi's experiments at the CP-1 pile took place to determine the exact amount of neutron reduction needed for a safe and controlled sustained nuclear reaction.  A second pile (CP-2), with external cooling, was built at Argonne in order to move the continuing experiments away from populated areas.

Under the umbrella of Clinton Engineer Works near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the X-10 experimental plutonium pile and separation facilities, the Y-12 Electromagnetic Plant, and the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant were constructed. 

In February 1943, ground was broken at X-10 for an air-cooled experimental pile, a pilot chemical separation plant, and support facilities.   On November 4, the pile went critical and it produced plutonium by the end of the month.  The chemical separation plant completed the steps needed for producing pure plutonium by extracting the plutonium from the irradiated uranium.  Chemical separation techniques were so successful that Los Alamos received plutonium samples in the spring of 1944.

Because of security requirements, fear of radioactive accidents, need for a long construction season and abundant water for hydroelectric power, an isolated area near Hanford, Washington (Site W) was chosen for the production plants.  Three water-cooled piles and three chemical separation plants were constructed.

At Y-12, using a design that was based upon research at Berkeley Lab, the first electromagnetic plant began to take shape in 1943.   By the end of February 1944, 200 grams of twelve-percent...

Related Topics: 70th Anniversary, atomic bomb, DOE Research & Development (R&D) Accomplishments, electromagnetic, gaseous diffusion, Manhattan Project, nuclear chain reaction, plutonium, uranium, World War II


Powering Curiosity; Exploring New Horizons - DOE's MMRTG


Powering Curiosity; Exploring New Horizons - DOE's MMRTG

DOE's RTG is doing it again. The Department's Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) is providing continuous power to the Mars rover Curiosity.  This radioactive power source is "essentially a nuclear battery that will operate the rover’s instruments, robotic arm, wheels, computers and radio. It is fueled with plutonium-238 that gives off heat as it naturally decays. No moving parts are required to convert this heat into electricity."1

The MMRTG "can go farther, travel to more places, and power and heat a larger and more capable scientific payload compared to the solar power alternative NASA studied. The radioisotope power system gives Curiosity the potential to be the longest-operating, farthest-traveling, most productive Mars surface mission in history." 1

With the Curiosity safely on Mars, it begins its mission to explore and investigate "whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and [to] preserve clues it finds in the rocks. Curiosity will analyze dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover."1

"For 50 years, radioisotope power sources have safely and reliably fueled dozens of U.S. missions to explore seven planets in the solar system, including the [current] New Horizons mission to Pluto as well as Apollo, Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions. Radioisotope power systems have a record for reliability and longevity unmatched by any other NASA spacecraft power system."1

The New Horizons spacecraft is about half way between Earth and Pluto with...

Related Topics: Curiosity, DOE Research & Development (R&D) Accomplishments, Mars rover, MMRTG, New Horizons, Pluto, plutonium, Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, RTG, space battery


The Manhattan Project -- Its Establishment


The Manhattan Project -- Its Establishment

On August 13, 1942, the Manhattan Engineer District, whose name was based upon the geographical location of its headquarters, was established.  In September, the Army appointed Colonel Leslie R. Groves to head the effort.  Groves held that the exigencies of war required scientists to move from laboratory research to development and production in record time.  Though traditional scientific caution might be short-circuited in the process, there was no alternative if a bomb was to be built in time to be used in the current conflict (World War II).

Various isotope separation methods (uranium enrichment) to produce uranium-235 were being researched at this time.  One was gaseous diffusion being done at Columbia and another was the electromagnetic method being done at Berkeley under Ernest O. Lawrence.  Based upon the success of the electromagnetic method, the S-1 (The Office of Scientific Research and Development Section On Uranium) Executive Committee recommended building plants in Tennessee at Site X (now Oak Ridge).

During this time, construction was taking place on the Stagg Field pile -- CP-1 (Chicago Pile Number one) at the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago where Enrico Fermi was conducting his research on chain reactions .  Also occurring was Glenn Seaborg's inventive work with plutonium, particularly his investigations on plutonium's oxidation...

Related Topics: 70th Anniversary, atomic bomb, DOE Research & Development (R&D) Accomplishments, electromagnetic, fission, gaseous diffusion, Manhattan Project, nuclear chain reaction, plutonium, Roosevelt, uranium, World War II