The Manhattan Project
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Nazi Germany was starting work on developing the world's first atomic bomb. As this became a very worrying factor to the United States and its allies, the US Army Corps of Engineers initiated a program, with the United Kingdom and Canada, in June of 1942, to develop their own atomic bomb for use during the Second World War. America and its allies were under pressure to build the bomb before Germany or Japan could succeed. And so, the race to build the world’s first atomic bomb began, and became known as the Manhattan Engineering District Project, or simply The Manhattan Project.
The Creation of The Manhattan Project
After completing the Pentagon, the world’s largest office block at the time, General Leslie R. Groves, Deputy Chief of Construction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was appointed as director of this top-secret mission. General Groves at first objected to the directorship, as he initially hoped for an overseas appointment and did not want to head up a project he doomed to failure before it even started. Groves eventually took charge as Brigadier General, which saw him take charge of all the senior scientists on the project. He renamed the project the Manhattan District, as it was common practice to rename districts after their headquarters. Groves soon proved himself by solving most of the project’s most urgent problems.
The Search for The Manhattan Project Location
The search for the perfect location to build the necessary facility to work on the development of the atomic bomb took researchers down the Colorado and Columbia Rivers in California, Oregon, and Washington. The site at Hanford on the banks of the Columbia River measured approximately 500,000 acres and offered the necessary security for operations of this nature, due to the site’s isolated location. The mild climate also allowed for construction work throughout the year and with ample electricity and cooling water available, the site offered the perfect location.
Richland was Chosen for The Manhattan Project
When the facilities were developed, the area comprised mostly farmland and encompassed the three small agricultural towns of Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland. To build the facilities all three towns were reduced and 1500 people were relocated in the process. The total area of almost 500,000 acres was purchased for a mere $5.1 million and renamed after the riverside villages. The Hanford Engineer Works, as it then became known, was responsible for the production of sufficient fissile material of sufficient purity to build the first two atomic bombs that were dropped during the war.
The Manhattan Project, The Bombs That Ended the War
Little Boy, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, was based on uranium-235, a minor isotope of uranium that has to be physically separated from more prevalent uranium-238, which is not suitable for use in an explosive device. The separation was affected by gaseous diffusion of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and was mostly done at Oak Ridge. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb, known as Fat Man, primarily consisted of plutonium-239, which was mostly produced and purified at the Hanford site.
The Manhattan Project and the Cold War
These efforts started during the Second World War and continued well into the standoff between the east and west experienced during the Cold War. Today the site of the Manhattan Project is being cleared at a cost of $2 billion a year, to restore it to its near original state. A $6.5 billion Waste Treatment Plant is currently under construction and will help transform and stabilize various types of nuclear waste into glass logs for long-term storage.