Division of Construction Photographs

These photographs document the dramatic expansion of the Atomic Energy Commission throughout the 1950s.

In 1946, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) inherited from the Manhattan Engineer District a vast complex of government-owned laboratories, manufacturing plants, and community facilities that had been built during World War II. By the early 1950s, a new Cold War reality prompted a vast expansion of AEC facilities for producing special nuclear materials and weapons. With the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the AEC assumed additional responsibility for regulating private participation in the development and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, requiring additional expansion.

To carry out its many, diverse, and geographically dispersed activities, the Commission adopted a decentralized form of organization. Planning and direction of major programs followed an uninterrupted line from the policymaking top of the organization to the operating level where projects were carried out.

In the 1950s, the bulk of the AEC’s construction efforts focused on supporting ten operations offices, which executed the work of five operating divisions and focused on: uranium and plutonium production, mining and processing of raw materials, development of military applications, reactor development, and biological and medical research.

The Division of Production directed the activities of numerous production plants, laboratories, and two government-owned communities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Richland, Washington. Activities under the Division of Production were carried out largely through three operations offices:

  • The Oak Ridge Operations Office administered the production of feed materials, certain special nuclear materials (e.g. uranium 235 and plutonium) and other radioactive and stable isotopes, and related engineering and construction.
  • The Hanford Operations Office administered the production of plutonium and other special nuclear materials and related process development, engineering and construction at the Hanford Works.
  • The Savannah River Operations Office administered the production of plutonium and other special nuclear materials, heavy water, and related research and development, engineering and construction.

The Division of Raw Materials was responsible for the procurement, both in the United States and abroad, of source materials, including uranium, thorium and certain special materials.

  • The Grand Junction Operations Office procured domestic ores and concentrates, carried on the Commission's exploration activities in the United States west of the Mississippi River, and operated facilities for ore processing, sampling, and assaying.

The Division of Military Application directed the research, development, testing and production of atomic weapons, managed related Commission installations and communities, and assisted in maintaining liaison between the Commission and the Department of Defense, through two operations offices:

  • The Albuquerque Operations Office was responsible for the research, development, testing, and production of atomic weapons, and for related engineering and construction. These activities were carried on at 12 major locations. In addition, this operations office managed the government-owned community of Los Alamos, New Mexico through its Los Alamos Area Office.
  • The San Francisco Operations Office administered contracts for research and development and related engineering and construction at the University of California's Radiation Laboratory and its Livermore Extension, and at other installations.

The Division of Reactor Development directed the development of reactors for use in research, the production of civilian electric power, and various military applications, through three operations offices:

  • The Chicago Operations Office administered reactor development, research, and related engineering and construction at nine major locations.
  • The Idaho Operations Office administered reactor development work, the operation of research and development, chemical processing, and service facilities, and related engineering and construction at the National Reactor Testing Station on the Snake River desert, about 40 miles from the city of Idaho Falls.
  • The Schenectady Operation Office was responsible for various programs for research and development and related engineering construction.

The Division of Biology and Medicine directed programs of research and training in biology, medicine, agriculture, and biophysics at government-owned facilities and through direct contracts with educational and other private institutions.

  • The New York Operations Office administered major contracts for research and development at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Rochester (N. Y.) Atomic Energy Project, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Japan, and other Commission-owned facilities. The Health and Safety Laboratory, located at this Operations Office, provided assistance and consultation in the control of radioactive air pollution and radiation exposure, conducted a radiation instrument development program, and performed special services in connection with nuclear weapons tests.

Additional information on the decentralized form of organization; operations offices; operating divisions; and construction sites can be found in a 1957 publication titled " Atomic Energy Facts," TID-7010, which is representative of the AEC complex around the time most of the construction photos were taken.

Responsible Operations Office (During 1950's) Construction Site (As Named In the 1950's)
Oak Ridge Operations Office Oak Ridge Operations Office
Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Portsmouth, OH
Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Oak Ridge, TN
Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Paducah, KY
Feed Materials Production Facilities (St. Louis, MO)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN
Y-12 (Production and Development Facilities), TN
Feed Materials Production Facilities (Fernald, OH)
Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies
Technical Information Service Extension
Albuquerque Operations Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, NM
Pantex Plant, TX
Burlington Plant, IA
Rocky Flats Plant, CO
Supporting Facilities, Nevada Test Site
Hanford Operations Office Hanford Works, WA
Grand Junction Operations Office Raw Materials Sampling and Assaying Facility
Uranium Ore Processing Plant
Division of Raw Materials, Washington Headquarters Raw Materials Laboratory
Savannah River Operations Office Savannah River Plant, SC
Dana Plant, IN (Heavy Water Plant)
San Francisco Operations Office University of California Radiation Laboratory, Berkeley, CA
University of California Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, CA
Atomics International, Santa Susanna, CA
Chicago Operations Office Bettis Plant, Pittsburgh, PA
Ames Laboratory, Ames, IA
Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, IL
Pressurized Water Reactor Project, Shippingport, PA
Radiobiology Laboratory, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Idaho Operations Office National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho Falls, ID
New York Operations Office Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY
Rochester Atomic Energy Project, NY
Lake Ontario Ordnance Works
Middlesex Sampling Plant
Atomic Energy Commission, Headquarters Atomic Energy Commission, Germantown, MD

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