On September 26, 1944, the B Reactor, the world's first full-scale plutonium reactor, started up at Hanford. The next day, it mysteriously shut down. "The reactor went dead, just plain dead! Everybody stood around and stared," physicist Leona Woods Marshall recalled.

After working all night, scientists led by Enrico Fermi (above) calculated that the problem was being caused by Xenon, an element produced during the nuclear reaction. Physicist John Wheeler had warned that Xenon and similar elements which absorb neutrons could "poison" the reaction. Fortunately, DuPont's engineer George Graves had insisted on leaving room for extra fuel rods in case of such an emergency. 

Thanks to the radioactivity from an additional 500 rods, the reactor started up again and continued running. "That was the thing that saved us," Crawford Greenewalt remembered.

Take our "Ranger in Your Pocket" online tour to learn more about the B Reactor, how it worked, and its mysterious failure or listen to John Wheeler's account of the "fantastic" theories proposed to explain what happened.

MPParkUpdate on the Manhattan Project NHP
It has been a busy few months for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
 
Late this summer, the National Park Service announced that Kris Kirby will serve as the Park's new superintendent. Kirby, who officially takes charge on October 16, brings to the position 20 years of experience with the National Park Service. Most recently, she served as Chief of Business & Revenue Management at Yosemite National Park. 

The Atomic Heritage Foundation recognizes Tracy Atkins and Charlie Strickfaden for doing a great job as interim superintendents and welcomes Kris to her new post. We look forward to working with the new team!
 
In addition, the Park Service has recently completed a draft foundation document for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Every national park has a foundation document that addresses the park's purpose, significance, resources and values, interpretive themes, and special mandates or commitments. The document establishes a baseline for park planning and interpretive activities, and guidance for planning and management decisions. The draft foundation document can be accessed here. Public comments on the draft are due by October 10, 2016.
 
Meanwhile, the National Park Service has a presence at each of the three sites. At Los Alamos, ranger Kirk Singer holds talks for visitors, explaining the history of the Manhattan Project and putting it in the larger context of World War II history. A former Marine, Singer is particularly knowledgeable about World War II in the Pacific.
 
Niki Nicholas serves as the manager of the Oak Ridge park unit, in addition to her duties as the superintendent of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Along with ranger Robbie Meyer, Nicholas brings great energy and enthusiasm to the job, recruiting volunteers and orchestrating a recent program on "Secrecy, Security and Spies." Oak Ridge has organized a ranger-led bike ride that explores Oak Ridge's history and a walking tour featuring Jackson Square, the Alexander Inn Guest House, and the Chapel on the Hill. On September 24, the NPS partnered with the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra for a season-opening concert celebrating the National Park Service's centennial.
 
Hanford, too, is playing host to a musical event. The Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will be holding concerts in the historic B Reactor on September 30 and October 2. Other upcoming events at Hanford include an October 1 open house for the Hanford Collection Repository, which preserves a variety of artifacts from the U.S. Department of Energy related to Hanford's history.
 
The Atomic Heritage Foundation applauds these developments, some of which have also been covered by the Tri-City Herald and Oak Ridge Today. As presented in its foundation document, the National Park Service promises to engage visitors in learning about the "secret cities," appreciating the Manhattan Project's revolutionary scientific and engineering advances, and reflecting on the dawn of the nuclear age and its legacy for today. With many initiatives underway, NPS is off to a great start.
StudyTourJapanese Students Participate in US Study Tour
The students at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
Six Japanese students recently visited the United States as part of a study tour on the experiences of American prisoners of war and the use of the atomic bombs during World War II. 

Kinue Tokudome, founder and director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs and a member of AHF's Advisory Committee, organized the trip. The students, from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, visited museums and engaged with former POWs and experts on World War II.

The students began by visiting the National American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum in Wellsburg, West Virginia, where they met with former POWs and their family members. They also toured the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, where they considered President Truman's role in the atomic bombing of Japan. Clifton Truman Daniel, President Truman's grandson, organized the visit. In Los Angeles, they visited the Museum of Tolerance and the Japanese American Museum. In addition, they received a lecture from Professor Michael Bazyler, a leading authority on the use of American and European courts to redress genocide and other historical wrongs.

They also met with 96-year-old veteran Lester Tenney, who survived the Bataan Death March and endured years of slave labor in a coal mine. In addition, the group met with former civilian POWs of the Japanese in the Philippines, whose wartime experience is not well known in Japan.

On August 29, the group visited retired physicist and AHF Advisory Committee member Clay Perkins. Perkins showed them a full-scale replica of the "Little Boy" atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and described the technical details behind the atomic bombs. The students then participated in what Perkins called a "serious discussion" about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the implications of nuclear weapons today.

"I hope this kind of study tour, where Japanese young people can learn the American perspective of the Pacific War on a human level, will help them better understand the history of the dropping of the atomic bombs," Tokudome stated. By all accounts, the students returned home impressed by their experiences and eager to continue their studies. We hope the tour will inspire more student exchanges and spark further dialogue between the U.S. and Japan on our shared World War II history.

To read more about the tour, click here.
ParsonsManhattan Project Spotlight: "Deak" Parsons
William "Deak" Parsons
"We've really caught a spy! A guy down here is trying to get in, and his uniform is as phony as a three dollar bill. He's wearing the eagles of a colonel and claims that he is a captain."

These were the words of the MP on guard when Captain William "Deak" Parsons arrived at Los Alamos in June of 1943. Despite his inauspicious welcome, Parsons soon proved himself an invaluable member of the Manhattan Project, bringing both organizational skills and ordnance expertise.

Parsons became an intermediary between the military and civilian sides of the project, respected by both General Leslie Groves and Los Alamos laboratory director J. Robert Oppenheimer. Indeed, the Parsons family maintained a close relationship with the Oppenheimer family. Parsons and his family lived next door to the Oppenheimers on Bathtub Row, and his daughter Peggy would occasionally babysit Oppenheimer's son Peter.

As leader of the Ordnance Division, Parsons was initially entrusted with overseeing the assembly of the gun-type uranium bomb. After the Los Alamos laboratory's August 1944 reorganization, Parsons was named associate laboratory director and was assigned the task of transforming the designs for both the uranium and plutonium bombs into combat weapons. 

In March of 1945, Parsons took charge of Project Alberta, which was responsible for planning and carrying out all the necessary steps for the bombs' combat use. This process included overseas operations at Tinian Island in the Pacific for the assembly and delivery of both bomb types.

Parsons's responsibilities extended to the bombing missions themselves. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay departed for Hiroshima with Parsons on board as weaponeer. He was responsible for arming the "Little Boy" bomb in flight, as well as authorizing the release of the weapon over the Japanese city.

Click here to read more about Parsons's life. You can watch an interview with Parsons's daughter, Peggy Bowditch, on the " Voices of the Manhattan Project" website.
Doomed"Doomed to Cooperate"
Dr. Siegfried Hecker
On Tuesday, September 27, Dr. Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (1986-1997), spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC about his new book, Doomed to Cooperate. 

T he book captures 25 years of working collaboratively with the Russians on a lab-to-lab basis, and includes some 30 accounts written by American and Russian participants. The scientific exchanges were prompted by the end of the Soviet Union and concerns that "loose nukes," weapons materials, and experts would fall in the hands of terrorists or rogue regimes.

In the words of journalist David Holloway, the collaborative effort "helped Russia and other former Soviet states cope with an inheritance from hell." As Hecker described, the exchanges were transformative for Russian scientists, who were able to end their Cold War isolation and work with their American counterparts. 

The joint efforts secured the nuclear weapons and materials dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union and avoided a nuclear disaster. The process also built a reservoir of good will. As Lev D. Ryabev, former Russian First Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy, said, "We are doomed to cooperate."

The two-volume book, published in 2016 by the Bathtub Row Press of the Los Alamos Historical Society, is available for purchase here.
NorthKoreaNorth Korea and the History of Underground Nuclear Testing
Test craters at the Nevada Test Site. Image courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory Archives.
On September 9, North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test to date at its Punggye-ri underground test site. Estimates for the device's yield range from 10 kilotons to as high as 30 kilotons. 

The test provoked worldwide condemnation and renewed fears about North Korea's nuclear capabilities. In an article for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Lewis contrasts North Korea's nuclear weapons development with the progression of the American, Soviet, British, French, and Chinese nuclear programs. Lewis argues, "In this context, the country's boasts about building nuclear weapons small enough to arm missiles and making use of thermonuclear materials don't seem outlandish at all."

Atlas Obscura's Sarah Laskow uses the North Korean test as a jumping off point to explore the history of the underground nuclear testing. She describes how underground testing began after the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, and focuses in particular on the 1971 Cannikin test in Alaska, the largest underground U.S. nuclear test.

To view footage of underground nuclear tests, visit AHF's YouTube channel. The "Cold War Nuclear Tests" playlist includes video of two underground tests that were carried out at the Nevada Test Site in 1968, Shot Buggy of Operation Crosstie and Shot Schooner of Operation Bowline. The tests were also part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes. The U.S. conducted its last nuclear test, codenamed Divider, at an underground facility in Nevada on September 23, 1992.
Voices"Voices of the Manhattan Project"
Here are some oral history interviews we have recently added to the  Voices of the Manhattan Project website

Jean Bacher was born in 1907, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married fellow Ann Arbor native and leading Manhattan Project scientist Robert Bacher in 1930. Jean was a "computer" at Los Alamos during the Project. In this interview, she describes the friendship she and her husband shared with the Oppenheimers, and their interactions with other scientists and their families at Los Alamos. Bacher recalls how observers who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "appalled and stunned" at the destruction there, and explains how J. Robert Oppenheimer and others at Los Alamos tried to come to terms with their work on the bomb. She recounts Oppenheimer's anxiety about being under surveillance in the lead up to his security hearing. She also recalls Edward Teller's habit of playing the piano late at night, and shares her impressions of Kitty Oppenheimer.
 


Robert Bacher - Part 1: Bacher was an American physicist who was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1943 to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher directed the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as "Fat Man," that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls the initial conference of Los Alamos laboratory leadership in 1943 and describes Oppenheimer's relationships with Enrico Fermi and General Leslie Groves. He recounts how Oppenheimer improved as a lecturer, and remembers the excitement caused in the physics community by the development of quantum mechanics and the discovery of the neutron.





Norris Bradbury - Part 2: Bradbury worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project and served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1945-1970. In this interview, he recalls the challenges of running LANL and how he admired the way J. Robert Oppenheimer had managed it during the war. He explains the decision behind moving ahead with developing the hydrogen bomb, and why Oppenheimer opposed it. Bradbury recalls how the transfer of nuclear weapons control from military to civilian hands went, and how he and his staff interfaced with the Atomic Energy Commission. He also discusses the personality and legacy of Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, and Edward Teller.




David Hawkins - Part 2: Hawkins served as an administrative aide at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943 and as the Manhattan Project's historian in 1945-46. In that role, he had free access to all the top people involved, including project director J. Robert Oppenheimer and physicist Edward Teller. In this interview, he discusses the nature of Communist activity among the intellectual community in Berkeley, California, which included a number of future Manhattan Project scientists. He describes his experiences working directly under Oppenheimer during his stint at Los Alamos, noting his charisma as well as his hubris. He describes that work and the copious and all-encompassing research that was required from his position as project historian. Finally, he concludes by discussing the years after the war, and his and his wife's relationships with Clifford and Virginia Durr.
 


Louis Hempelmann- Part 2: Hempelmann was the director of the Health Group at Los Alamos. He and his wife Elinor became close friends with J. Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer. In this interview, Hempelmann discusses the lives of Peter and Toni Oppenheimer, Robert and Kitty's children. He recalls visiting the Oppenheimer home on St. John's in the Caribbean, and explains that all the Oppenheimer homes were decorated in a rather focused, austere manner. He remembers Oppenheimer's concern that he was being followed or secretly recorded after the war, as well as Oppie's incredible ability to speed read. Hempelmann also recalls going horseback riding with Oppie and having dinner at Edith Warner's home by Otowi Bridge.




Verna Hobson - Part 2: Hobson  worked as a secretary to J. Robert Oppenheimer during his time as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Her tenure as secretary coincided with Oppenheimer's security hearing by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In this interview, she discusses the impact of Oppenheimer's AEC hearing on his life at the Institute. She expresses frustration with the strategy adopted by his legal team, which she felt was far too lax. Hobson recalls how Oppenheimer navigated the often heated internal politics at the Institute, and his relations with the Institute's professors and fellows including Albert Einstein, Oswald Veblen, and Andr√© Weil. She also gives her account of Oppenheimer's distinctly poetic writing style.

 

Robert Serber was an American physicist. He was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project. Serber was tasked with explaining the basic principles and goals of the project to all incoming scientific staff. Moving to Los Alamos in 1943, he gave lectures to members of the Manhattan Project about the design and construction of the atomic bomb; these lectures came to be known as the "Los Alamos Primer." In this interview with Martin Sherwin, Serber talks about Oppenheimer and the physics community at Berkeley before the war. He recalls Oppenheimer's relationships with his graduate students, and his own friendship with Oppie. Serber also gives his thoughts on Oppenheimer's relationship with Jean Tatlock and Tatlock's psychological issues.
Thanks to all the Manhattan Project veterans, their families and many others who have supported our efforts over the past 14 years.  The "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website now contains more than 400 oral history interviews. We are continuing to interview Manhattan Project veterans, family members, and experts around the country, this month in New Mexico.

Your  donation will make a difference! Please consider taking a minute to support our efforts. Thanks very much!

Sincerely, 
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President
Atomic Heritage Foundation 
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