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The Manhattan Project

Discussing the development of the Secret City includes a lot of information about The Manhattan Project which made the city's existence necessary.

This information, therefore, focuses on the scientific aspects of the project: the three facilities built in Oak Ridge and their contributions to the project and the development of atomic weapons. This information, considering its specific and partly scientifically exact nature, is taken directly from the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site.


The three Oak Ridge plants:

  1. Y-12: "The Y-12 Plant was built to separate the uranium 235 isotope from natural uranium in sufficient quantity and quality to produce the fissionable material for atomic weapons. It was the first to accomplish this goal. This plant utilized an electromagnetic process developed at the University of California at Berkeley and had the unusual distinction of using $300 million worth of silver borrowed from the U.S. Treasury. The silver was used as a substitute for copper in the fabrication of equipment for the plant. Uranium separation by the electromagnetic process ended in 1947 at the Y-12 Plant. However, research & development and specialized production continue today at this facility which is still identified by its wartime code name."

  2. K-25: "Another enormous facility, the K-25 Plant, was built to separate uranium 235 by a more economical method. This plant was one of the largest scale-ups of laboratory equipment in history and involved process systems of unprecedented vacuum tightness and cleanliness. The original K-25 Plant covered more than 1,500 acres and was the forerunner of similar facilities in Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio. Today, these plants are a source of enriched uranium which is used to fuel both military and civilian nuclear power reactors."

  3. X-10: "A third facility, X-10, was the site where a graphite-moderated nuclear reactor was constructed as a pilot facility for the larger plutonium production complex in Hanford, Washington. This reactor, later used to produce radioisotopes, was closed in 1963. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public. The X-10 area became the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 1948. ORNL has gained worldwide recognition for its research in the basic sciences, energy systems, environmental technology and safety."

Along with thousands of workers, dozens of scientists toiled to complete this research and production. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who has been called "the father of the atomic bomb" was the scientific director of The Manhattan Project and served at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. While he completed his work in Los Alamos, Oppenheimer worked intimately on all aspects of the Project, including the Oak Ridge facilities. For example, he worked with General Groves on the city design for Oak Ridge.


With the atomic weaponry developed in the Manhattan Project, the United States was able to end World War II. The advances and accomplishments of this project from Oak Ridge and elsewhere are indispensable in American history, and today the knowledge continues to be used in peaceful and progressive ways. Read more under “ORNL Today.”