General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer are pictured here at the Trinity Test site in New Mexico, 1945.
Sixty-eight years ago today, on an isolated corner of the Alamogordo Bombing Range in southern New Mexico, the atomic age began. At precisely 5:30 a.m., a device fueled with about 13½ pounds of plutonium, in a weapon test named Trinity by Robert Oppenheimer, director of the super-secret Los Alamos laboratory, detonated with an explosive yield of approximately 21 kilotons. The pre-dawn New Mexico sky was suddenly brighter than many suns. From the orange and yellow fireball about 2,000 feet in diameter, there emerged a narrow column that rose and flattened into a mushroom shape, providing the atomic age with a visual image that became imprinted on the human consciousness as a symbol of power and awesome destruction. After three years and more than $2 billion, the Manhattan Project effort to develop an atomic bomb had succeeded.
Within a month, World War II was over, and the world changed forever. In a national survey at the turn of the millennium, both journalists and the public ranked the dropping of the atomic bomb and the end of World War II as the top news stories of the twentieth-century.
The Department of Energy is the direct descendant of the Manhattan Project. The Department, through the National Nuclear Security Administration, continues to manage the Nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Department continues to own the Federal properties and oversee activities at most of the major Manhattan Project sites, including Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico. As Secretary Moniz recently noted, today our Department and our National Laboratories are on the front lines of the effort to stop nuclear proliferation and ensure a peaceful nuclear future for the world.
The Department, as Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman noted in 2011, “is proud of its Manhattan Project heritage.” The Department has sought to be a good steward of its material inheritance, committed to preserving for posterity the Y-12 Beta-3 Racetracks and X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge, the B Reactor at Hanford, and the V-Site Assembly Building and the Gun Site at Los Alamos. Beginning in 2006, the Department partnered with the National Park Service to explore the possibility of creating a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. In 2011, the Secretary of the Interior, with the Department of Energy’s concurrence, recommended to Congress that a three-site Manhattan Project National Historical Park be established at Oak Ridge, Hanford and Los Alamos. Congress currently is considering legislation to create the park. If a park is established, the Department and the National Park Service, in a unique arrangement within the park system, would be partners in maintaining, managing and interpreting the park.
The Department also has sought to preserve and make available to the public its informational and documentary inheritance. Today, the Department, on the anniversary of the Trinity test, launched The Manhattan Project: Resources, a web-based, joint collaboration between the Department’s Office of Classification and Office of History and Heritage Resources. The site is designed to disseminate information and documentation on the Manhattan Project to a broad audience including scholars, students, and the general public.
The Manhattan Project: Resources consists of two parts: 1) a multi-page, easy to read and navigate "history" providing a comprehensive overview of the Manhattan Project, and 2) the full-text, declassified, 35-volume Manhattan District History commissioned by General Leslie Groves in late 1944. The new site brings together an enormous amount of material, much of it never before released, and should appeal to both the casual reader and an academic audience.
Learn more about the Department’s history, the Manhattan Project, and the proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park at energy.gov/management/history.