The National Building Museum occupies an entire city block in downtown Washington, D.C., and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. But the places featured in its current exhibition, “Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project” kept a much lower profile than that.
During World War II, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Hanford did not appear on any maps and the federal government did not acknowledge their existence. Many of the employees did not even know what they were working on, only that it would help end the war.
These “secret cities” were vital to our Nation’s security 75 years ago and are still important today. Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator, recently toured the exhibition and shared what nuclear security looks like now and what’s in store for the next 75 years during a special reception at the museum.
More than 50 percent of our facilities throughout the NNSA complex are more than 40 years old and 30 percent of them were built in the Manhattan Project age.
“More than 50 percent of our facilities throughout the NNSA complex are more than 40 years old and 30 percent of them were built in the Manhattan Project age,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “Under the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump Administration and the U.S. Government, supported by Congress, is undertaking a major modernization program across all of the infrastructure throughout NNSA as well as the Department of Energy. Our people deserve no less – to work in safe and secure facilities.”
Gordon-Hagerty gave updates on the two NNSA locations highlighted in the exhibition.
“Los Alamos National Lab has a long and rich history. It continues to be our Plutonium Center of Excellence,” said the Administrator. “We are putting billions of dollars into the infrastructure to keep Los Alamos in play because it’s such an important part of our nuclear weapons stockpile and maintaining our nuclear deterrent.
At Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, “we’re refurbishing and recapitalizing efforts there,” she said. “We’re undertaking a massive program at UPF – the Uranium Processing Facility. It’s a $6.5 billion construction project. It’s going to be completed on schedule and on budget in 2025.”
Gordon-Hagerty was joined on the discussion panel by David Klaus, who served as Deputy Under Secretary for Management and Performance at DOE and helped lead the effort to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park; and Peggy McCullough, Bechtel Senior Vice President and General Manager of Nuclear Security and Operations.
All three panelists mentioned the robust supercomputing capability that now exists at our National Laboratories and the incredible benefits that have resulted from it – including numerous technology transfers to the marketplace.
When asked to look to the future and the ever-increasing energy needs of high-performance computing—a problem the architects of the Manhattan Project didn’t need to worry about—Gordon-Hagerty explained that NNSA is working closely through private-public partnerships to boost efficiency and decrease energy demands.
She also mentioned the fact that the United States has secured the number one and number two spots on the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers.
Another theme of the panel discussion was the indomitable spirit of the workforce. Even though many employees of the Nuclear Security Enterprise work in outdated buildings, they bring innovation and ingenuity each day to their roles in keeping our Nation safe.
The Administrator pointed out that over 1,200 of NNSA’s people are currently working in military barracks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, dating from 1951.
“It’s a real testimony to those 44,000 employees—both government and contractor employees in NNSA—to what amazing professionals they are. They do it because they’re dedicated to this country and they’re dedicated to the mission,” McCullough added.
These are the people – the quiet professionals – that we see day in and day out. Our silent heroes who maintain the nuclear deterrent, power the nuclear Navy, and reduce global nuclear dangers.
NNSA broke ground on a new 330,000-square-foot facility just this past summer that will make the barracks offices a thing of the past.
“These are the people – the quiet professionals – that we see day in and day out. Our silent heroes who maintain the nuclear deterrent, power the nuclear Navy, and reduce global nuclear dangers,” said Gordon-Hagerty. “I hope I will have the opportunity during my tenure to be able to shake every single person’s hand because it’s all about the people.”
She then shared some details of a special introduction she received while visiting Y-12 earlier this spring. Historian Ray Smith arranged for her to have coffee with Ruth Huddleston – one of the original Calutron Girls. “Just saying it I get goose bumps. It was such an amazing thing.”
Gordon-Hagerty also addressed the challenges facing NNSA. In the next five years, more than 40 percent of the workforce will be retirement eligible. There are four major modernization programs underway to extend the lifespan of our weapons stockpile. There is deferred maintenance and waste disposal that is not going away on its own.
But the Administrator has no doubt that the agency is up to the task.
“I am confident that the next generation of scientists and engineers will be able to address these opportunities, rather than challenges I like to say, about what we’re going to do. And hopefully in another 75 years people will say, ‘Look at the level and extent of the science and innovation that we’ve undertaken!’ ”
There is still time to experience the exhibition. “Secret Cities” is open until July 28.