Making the Atom Bomb: A brief history of Oak Ridge city

June 21, 2020
The eastern part of Tennessee (a state in the US) once housed a mysterious city, behind high fences, where the Manhattan Project was secretly going on, far away from the prying eyes of the world. Even the name of the city, Oak Ridge, was chosen from amongst the countless suggested names from the people involved in the project. Oak Ridge city, or the secret city, still stands there with its interesting history.

When in 1942, the area was chosen by the federal government for their Manhattan Project, an American, British and Canadian joint endeavour to develop the atom bomb during World War II, the military head of the project, Major General Leslie Groves, had his own reasons. The low population made acquiring land easy and affordable, and the area could be accessed by both roads and rail, with an unbridled supply of water and electricity. All these factors made the making of a city relatively easy. The K-25 uranium separating facility, which spread out over 44 acres, was once the largest building in the world! The site with its innumerable badge-wearing workers, all tight-lipped and secretive, and the guard towers and fences, was called the Clinton Engineer Works. The schools, restaurants, a public library, gave it the familiar aura of an ordinary American city, except for the fact that everybody was very secretive, and there were billboards with signs like- Let's keep our traps shut, as Louis Falstein's 1945 article disclosed. Even coffins were opened at the will of those in command, for security purposes! Oak Ridge, despite its facade, was a top secret base to develop the atom bomb, after all!
Eventually, the United States Army Corps and Engineers acquired around 60,000 acres of land by 1942 itself, and evacuation notices were issued to the residents. By the next year, they successfully cleared the area, and it was managed by the Manhattan Engineer District (of the corps'). Plants like K-25, S-50 (liquid thermal diffusion plant) and Y-12 (used for electromagnetic separation of uranium) were being built around Oak Ridge. This massive operation involved the separation of the fissile isotope uranium -235, from the natural uranium, as natural uranium consists of the isotope uranium -238, and to make the atom bomb, you need the former. You can well imagine the budget of this high-profile project, as a major chunk of revenue was devoted to it.
When the processes were going on to turn Oak Ridge into this secret base, Prentice Cooper, who was the then governor of Tennessee, tore the proclamation which stated that it would be a military district, and not controlled by the state. It was in 1943, and despite Cooper's reluctance, we all know what happened to the chosen city. As of now, the city's economy still depends on scientific development. After the war ended, the military ceased to control Oak Ridge, and it eventually shifted to civilian control. Most of the sites, like S-50 and K-25 were taken down, while X-10 is now the Oak Ridge National Library. Oak Ridge, which was once the city chosen to develop the atom bomb, a weapon of mass destruction, and hidden from the whole world, now stands there, 40 km west of Knoxville, carrying a part of its past with it.

Post Written by - Lopamudra

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.