What Happened at America's Secret Atomic City?

BrainStuff
|

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Putin. Today's episode was brought to you by the new Capital One saver card with which you can earn four percent cashback on dining and entertainment. That means four percent on checking out that new restaurant everyone's talking about and four percent on watching your team win at home. You'll also earn two percent cashback at grocery stores and one percent on all other purchases. Now when you go out you cash in what's in your wallet? Welcome to brain stuff. Production of iheartradio. Hey, brain stuff loin Vogel bomb here in September of nineteen forty two US army, Lieutenant General Leslie groves commander of the Manhattan project. Those secret US crash effort to develop the atomic bomb faced a critical decision. The project needed to produce uranium-235 an isotope of uranium who's unstable nucleus could be easily split trigger efficient chain-reaction and release enormous amount of destructive energy, but that would require a massive complex manufacturing process involving tens of thousands of workers which needed to be kept secret to thwart interference from spies and saboteurs. But the question was where those priscilla's possibly be hidden U S officials had already identified potential sites in several parts of the country, but all of them had drawbacks Shasta dam in California. For example, was too close to the Pacific coast and this Volna rebel air attack in several locations in Washington state would have required construction of long power lines to provide the massive amounts of electro. Needed for the work site in Illinois near Chicago was also out officials didn't want to be close to a big population centers since the potential health risks of the work were not clear, and it would have been easier for enemy Asians to blend in around a city. So instead groves quickly settled upon fifty two thousand acre. That's twenty one thousand Hector site in rural eastern, Tennessee later expanded slightly not only would it be inconspicuous to anyone outside of the sparsely populated area. But it was also close to hydroelectric plants operated by the Tennessee valley authority, which could supply the enormous amounts of electrically that the plans would require it was the perfect place to build both the Clinton engineer works, which would be the atomic complex and secret city to house the workers the government decided to call the secret city oakridge because it sounded quote, sufficiently bucolic and general according to an article in a nineteen sixty nine government review of the project, not long after choosing the area, the US government quietly started moving small farmers who had land on the site paying them compensation, but not telling them why then came trainloads full of construction equipment and building materials construction crews quickly erected the buildings that would comprise the nondescript we named campus as well as. Thousands of houses for scientists and workers. Many of the homes were be one flat tops, a designed fashion from prefabricated panels and roofing to save construction time building the secret industrial facilities and housing for workers cost around one point three two billion dollars. That's about eighteen point five billion in today's money that amounted to sixty percent of the Manhattan, project's total budget over the next few years oakridge grew into a community of seventy five thousand people. We spoke with de Ray Smith, a retired historian for the UAE twelve national security complex who also is the historian for these city of Oak Ridge and a columnist for the Oak Ridge or a local newspaper Smith explained people came from all over the world. Many of the scientists were Hungarians a lot came out of Germany and Great Britain. He explains that others were recruited for the Clinton engineering works by big US companies working on the Manhattan project who scoured campuses if US colleges and universities for bright students with needed science and technical skills. For example, a young chemist named Bill Wilcox who was approached by an Eastman Kodak recruiter in nineteen forty-three later recalled that he was only told that the job was some sort of secret war work. He said I asked where I'd be working. He wouldn't say it was secret. I asked what sort of work. I'd be doing. He wouldn't say it was secret Wilcox eventually ended up at the Clinton engineer works. According to Smith, those who turned down jobs might end up being drafted into a special engineering detachment of the US army. And sent to Tennessee anyway. Those atomic workers arrived at a place shrouded in secrecy, locals knew something mysterious was going on at the site. But only those who are part of the mission were allowed inside past. The guarded gates on the access roads, the atomic facilities themselves were surrounded by digital security. The work itself was highly compartmentalized. So that most people knew only about the small portion of the effort that they themselves were working on. And only a select few new. The overarching mission was to help make the atomic bomb access to buildings other than the one you were working in was highly restricted to keep information from getting out oakridge became a self contained community with most everything that its workers needed secret city had stores movie houses, a high school a Bank, a three hundred bed hospital, tennis and handball courts and even its own Symphony Orchestra led by a Manhattan project. Scientists people who live there tended victory gardens raised families, and led what was pretty much normal American existence. That is except for the secrecy that surrounded them in their work. A billboard reminded workers. Let's keep our traps shut. They knew they had to be cautious. Not to say anything about their jobs to anyone even their own spouses, a young scientists told one of the first reporters tried about the subject when Louis Feldstein would sit around the dinner table, and the strain was terrible. But it was all in the difficult effort of producing uranium-235. There's only a tiny amount of the stuff zero point seven percent in uranium or most of which is uranium two thirty eight which doesn't fit in as easily and above such as little boy. The one dropped on Hiroshima required. One hundred and forty one pounds. That's sixty four kilograms of uranium-235. You have to separate a lot of material to get that much to thirty five to solve that problem. The Clinton engineer works y twelve plant used special devices called Cal trans which utilized the electromagnetic separation process developed by Nobel winning physicist Ernest Lawrence, the university of California, Berkeley, the Cal trans used heat and powerful magnets to separate the two isotopes and then to collect just the uranium-235 isotope because it's so much lighter in weight together. Enough uranium-235 for the projects purposes, the y twelve facility employed twenty two thousand workers to run one thousand one hundred fifty two Kalua trans literally around the clock. Meanwhile, another part of the works. The x ten graphite reactor. Used neutrons emitted from uranium-235 to convert uranium two, thirty eight into an isotope of a different element. Plutonium two thirty nine another easily fissionable material suitable for making Tomek bombs as myth explains after x ten demonstrated that the process could work the actual plutonium used to make Fatman the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was produced in the b reactor at the Hanford engineer works near Richmond, Washington. Finally on August. Sixth nineteen Forty-five the world witnessed the results of the secret cities. Labor's when the United States dropped an atomic bomb containing uranium-235 produced there on the Japanese city of Hiroshima the Knoxville, Tennessee, new sentinels front page headline proudly proclaimed atomic super bomb made it oakridge strikes Japan that wasn't completely correct though, the uranium-235 came from Tennessee parts, the bomb were made it three different plants. So that none of them would have the complete design the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific, and it was a or perhaps the turning point of the war. After the war. The various parts of the once secret, Tennessee, atomic complex were split up part eventually was reborn as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which helped pioneer the field of nuclear medicine present isotopes for use intriguing cancer and as diagnostic tools in addition to doing cutting edge research areas ranging from nanotechnology to wireless, charging of electric vehicles and other portion became the twelve national security complex, which produced components for tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons in the us arsenal during the Cold War and leader helped disassemble US and former Soviet nuclear weapons third part is now the site of the east Tennessee technology park, though, there's no evidence that German or Japanese spies ever managed to infiltrate the Clinton engineer works. A Soviet spy named George co Ville did manage to get a job there. And apparently passed along information about the atomic work to the Soviets in two thousand seven he was honored posthumously with a hero of the Russian federation medal. The nation's highest honor I Russian President

Coming up next