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S2 E2: The Manhattan Project, Part 1



NARRATOR: “The atomic age began at exactly 5:30 Mountain War Time on the morning of July 16, 1945, on a stretch of semi desert land about 50 airline miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico. And just at the instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world, the light of many suns in one.”

~ Journalist William L. Laurence, New York Times, September 26, 1945

(pause for silence)

DOZIER: This is Direct Current - an podcast. I’m Matt Dozier. Welcome to the first of two episodes that will tell the story of an unprecedented, U.S. government effort to beat Nazi Germany in the race to construct a nuclear weapon.

Producers Allison Lantero and Simon Edelman will take you back to the start of it all. Find out how the atomic age began, what happened in three top-secret towns, and how the Department of Energy and the National Park Service teamed up to preserve the legacy of this pivotal moment in history.

(Direct Current Show theme)

NARRATOR: December 7th, 1941

PRES. ROOSEVELT: (RADIO CLIP) “A date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion. The American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

LANTERO: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered this speech the day after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, which dragged the United States into World War II. You might think that this was the moment America decided to build a nuclear bomb. You'd be wrong.

EDELMAN: The Manhattan Project was the codename for the nation's top-secret quest for atomic weapons. And the story begins nearly two years earlier.

NARRATOR: October 11, 1939
EDELMAN: On that day President Roosevelt received a letter from a theoretical physicist  He wrote:

EINSTEIN NARRATOR: “In the course of the last four months it has been made probable -- through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America -- that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable -- though much less certain -- that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed.

Yours very truly, Albert Einstein”

EDELMAN: Yes. that same German-born theoretical physicist we all know, Albert Einstein.

LANTERO: Just a week later, Roosevelt writes Einstein back, informing the physicist that he had set up a committee consisting of civilian and military representatives to study uranium.

EDELMAN: They called it the Uranium Committee. And this will eventually become the U.S. Department of Energy.

LANTERO: This one decision sets a series of chain reactions that would eventually create a top-secret system that spanned six states and, at its peak, employed over 100,000 people -- the Manhattan Project.

(Low guitar music)

EDELMAN: But the Manhattan Project didn’t start out quite so massive. In the first months after Einstein and Roosevelt exchanged letters, some of the smallest science possible was being conducted in a system that would grow over time into what are today the 17 national laboratories. And these scientists were running up against a big problem.

A big problem on a very small scale.

NARRATOR: Early 1940

EDELMAN: Researchers knew that uranium -- an element found in tiny amounts all over the earth -- could be used to create a chain reaction explosion.

LANTERO: Here’s how that works: when you bombard a uranium atom with energy, sometimes neutrons fly out of its nucleus, releasing lots more energy in the process. They call it splitting the atom, or “nuclear fission.” If there is enough uranium, a neutron from the first atom can hit the nucleus of another atom and cause it to split, and so on, and so on, giving you a nuclear chain reaction.

EDELMAN: But there’s a catch. Ninety-nine point three percent of naturally occurring uranium exists in a form known as uranium 238. Uranium 238 isn’t very good for sustaining the kind of chain reaction necessary for a nuclear weapon. For that, you need a far less prevalent form, or isotope, called uranium-235.

LANTERO: So scientists had to figure out how to separate uranium-235 from uranium-238. These two isotopes are chemically identical, which means the two cannot be separated by a chemical process. And with their masses differing by less than one percent, separation by a physical process would be extremely difficult and expensive.

Still, scientists pressed forward on a couple of complicated techniques to physically separate the two isotopes, all based on that tiny difference in atomic weight.

EDELMAN: Flash Forward to,

NARRATOR: May 1941

EDELMAN: A scientist named Glenn T. Seaborg proved that the newly discovered element plutonium was almost twice as likely as uranium to create a chain reaction. Most importantly, it could be chemically separated from the widely available uranium-238.

These two elements, Uranium-235 and plutonium would become the basis for the two bombs that were dropped to end World War II and begin the Atomic Age. But before any of that happened, the government had to figure out how to best organize the project under a shroud of total secrecy, who will lead it, and what to call it.

RAY SMITH: Now, the Army Corps of Engineers have a practice of naming their districts as engineer districts, and they used the main city in the district as the name. So this one happened to be located in New York City, in Manhattan. So they called it the Manhattan District. And when they changed it to a project they just used that same name. And called it the Manhattan Project.

EDELMAN: That was Y-12 historian Ray Smith in Oak Ridge. We’ll hear more from him later.

LANTERO: The Manhattan Project was a vast, complicated undertaking. So we’re going to break it down..

EDELMAN: An easy way to understand how the Manhattan Project worked is to split it into three phases.

NARRATOR: Phase one.

EDELMAN: Research and development.

NARRATOR: Phase two.

EDELMAN: Plutonium production and uranium enrichment.

NARRATOR: Phase three.

EDELMAN: Design and production of the first wartime atomic weapons.

LANTERO: The Manhattan Project operated like a large construction company, but on a massive scale and with an incredible sense of urgency. In order to function properly they had to purchase sites, manage contracts, hire personnel, build housing and service facilities, order materials, and set up systems for keeping track of all the money and people flowing into the project.

EDELMAN: And although we’re mainly focusing on the three major sites that become the Manhattan Project National Historic Park-- Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico--

LANTERO:There were other places that contributed research and materials for the project.

NARRATOR: Phase one.

EDELMAN: Phase one begins even before Hanford, Oak Ridge, or Los Alamos. It goes back to  one of the most important branches of the Manhattan Project -- the Metallurgical Laboratory or Met Lab in Chicago, Illinois.

Here scientists from east and west coasts were brought together to develop chain-reacting "piles" for plutonium production, devise methods for extracting plutonium from the irradiated uranium, and design a weapon. Most of the research, preparation, refining and gathering took place here.

LANTERO: In an abandoned squash court under the west grandstand of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field, lay a huge oblong pile of black bricks and wooden timbers, shrouded on all sides but one by gray balloon material. Security regulations forbid the engineers from explaining what the Army wanted with a giant square balloon.

EDELMAN: These workers made bricks for the pile, until their faces were so covered with graphite dust that they looked like coal miners.

LANTERO: Unlike most reactors that have been built since, this first one had no radiation shielding and no cooling system of any kind. Enrico Fermi, who led this experiment, had convinced everyone that his calculations were reliable enough to rule out a runaway chain reaction or explosion. But, as the official historians of the Atomic Energy Commission later noted, they were still conducting "a possibly catastrophic experiment in one of the most densely populated areas of the nation!"

NARRATOR: December 2, 1942

EDELMAN: Less than one year after Pearl Harbor, under the grandstand at Stagg Field, the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved.


EDELMAN: Now the pace really quickens.

NARRATOR: Phase two.

EDELMAN: This is where Oak Ridge and Hanford come in. They were working almost simultaneously. The Oak Ridge Reservation included separate industrial processes for uranium enrichment and experimental plutonium production.

LANTERO: The first person put in charge of the Manhattan Project was Col. James Marshall. But he moved too cautiously for a project of this size. So the Army turned to Lt. General Leslie Groves. Groves, an engineer by trade, had just finished building the Pentagon. He knew how to put a large construction project together, get private industry involved, and spend money efficiently and effectively. His first acts were to move the headquarters of the Manhattan Project from New York City to Washington D.C., and to procure land in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

EDELMAN: Some might argue that Oak Ridge was destined to become a part of the Manhattan Project. Back around the turn of the 20th century, the Bear Creek valley was lush with forest and scattered with families on small settlements. One of them was the Hendrix family. In 1900, John Hendrix’s wife and children left him, shortly after his youngest daughter’s death. According to legend…

SMITH: Now, that really upset John. He prayed to God and wanted to know why this was happening to him. He heard a loud voice during one of those prayers that said, “If you’ll go sleep on the ground for 40 nights you’ll learn the future of this place.” Now it must have been in the winter time because as the story goes: his hair froze to the ground.

EDELMAN: As you can imagine, after hearing the voice of God and sleeping on frigid ground in the dead of winter, you’re going to have some stories to tell. And he told anybody that would listen.

SMITH: He’d tell them there would be a huge factory built in Bear Creek Valley that will help win the greatest war there will ever be. There’s gonna be a city built on black oak ridge. There’s gonna be a railroad spur built right down by his property line and the seat of power for all this is gonna be between Pyatt’s Place and Tadlock’s farm.

EDELMAN: It might sound like a tall tale, but, John Hendrix shared his visions with people for years before his death in 1915. And when the Manhattan Project arrived nearly 30 years later, they started coming true.

SMITH: The first shovelful of dirt they dug was between Pyatt’s Place and Tadlock’s farm. That’s where they built the administration building. That’s where the federal office building is today. That city on black oak ridge is called Oak Ridge. That railroad spur runs right down by his property line in Hendrix creek subdivision named for John Hendrix -- and he’s buried there by the way. And of course Y-12 is in Bear Creek Valley where the uranium was obtained for Little Boy. That did help win World War II.

LANTERO: These three sites are located in valleys away from the town of Oak Ridge. This provided security and containment in case of explosions. The Y-12 area was home to the electromagnetic uranium plant -- or Calutron -- and it was located closest to Oak Ridge.

SMITH: Now the way the Calutron works, It’s pretty simple when you think about it.

LANTERO: The word calutron is a mash-up of California and cyclotron, since the cyclotron was developed at UC Berkeley. During the Manhattan Project, they used cyclotrons to obtain substantial quantities of high-purity uranium-235 by taking advantage of that small mass difference we talked about earlier. To do that, first they mixed the uranium with chloride and heated it up so it became ionized. Then, they put huge electromagnets on either side to separate out the isotope they wanted. Ray Smith explains the rest of the process.

SMITH: If I had two rubber bands hanging down from my hand… I put a golf ball on one and a ping pong ball on the other, held it to my side and then spun it real quick for a half a turn. That golf ball would stretch the rubber band further then the ping pong ball -- so I get two arcs. The same thing happens with uranium 235 and 238.

EDELMAN: The other major site at Oak Ridge is the X-10 graphite reactor, the first plutonium refining facility. Normally in the chemical industry you build a semi-works, or “pilot” plant to get the bugs out, finalize a design and THEN go build a full-scale facility. However, for the Manhattan Project they didn’t have that kind of time. So, although X-10 was the pilot plant for the Hanford Site’s B-reactor, construction started on it just 6 months ahead of the Washington facility.  That small window of time, it turned out to be valuable because it allowed them to make changes at Hanford should a mysterious leak develop in the B-Reactor.

LANTERO: More on that in a bit, but first we should note that the X-10 reactor was built in just 10 months and went critical on

NARRATOR: November 4th, 1943

LANTERO: Thom Mason, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director, explains what that means.

THOM MASON: That means that a self-sustaining chain reaction had started.That’s what’s necessary to run a reactor and of course, it’s also what’s necessary for the bomb to work. They were kind of exploring the physics of fission but also the production of the material.

LANTERO: The X-10 Graphite Reactor supplied Los Alamos with the first significant amounts of plutonium for research and experimentation. Fission studies on these samples from Oak Ridge heavily influenced plutonium bomb design.

EDELMAN:  Oak Ridge was not only working to separate uranium, but they were also conducting research and training scientists and technicians who would eventually go to Hanford to work at the plutonium separation facility.

LANTERO: So that’s site number one, Oak Ridge. However, those in charge didn’t want to put all their nuclear eggs in one basket. General Groves wasn’t keen on the idea of locating full-scale plutonium production reactors at Oak Ridge, right near the uranium-235 separation plants. Plus, there was not enough electricity to power another big facility, and the site was uncomfortably close to Knoxville should an accident occur.

EDELMAN: Earlier that year, after a search in the western United States, Groves authorized the establishment of the Hanford Engineer Works at a site on the Columbia River in southeastern Washington state.

NARRATOR: January 1943.

EDELMAN: The isolated, 670-square-mile Hanford site offered abundant hydroelectric power, while the flat but rocky terrain provided excellent support for the huge plutonium production buildings.

LANTERO: But this land came at a steep price. The Hanford landscape represented one of the first acts of the Manhattan Project to condemn private property and evict homeowners and Native American tribes to clear the way for the top-secret work. Former Hanford worker and Vice President of the Tri Cities Industrial Council Gary Peterson tells this story of what’s known as the Tri-cities of White Bluffs, Hanford and Richland, Washington.

GARY PETERSON: White Bluffs was the bigger city of the two, It was population of 240, 250. But it was a huge agricultural area. The Hanford site actually had the earliest fruit growing anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. And so, they grew apples, they grew walnuts, they grew peaches; they grew all kinds of fruits from fruit trees.

LANTERO: The story was that a young woman who picked and packed peaches at one of the farms would always write her name inside the crates. One day the woman…

PETERSON: ...ended up putting her name and address in the box to see where the box of fruit went. The box of fruit ended up in a New York restaurant. And the chef there found it and he sent a note back to her and said, “This is where your peaches ended up.”

LANTERO: Try to imagine what White Bluffs and Hanford might have looked like today had the Manhattan Project not existed.

PETERSON: My feeling is that it would be one of the richest agricultural areas in the whole state of Washington. Bar none. Bar none. I mean you put water on that desert, it just grows stuff.

LANTERO: Then there was the third city, Richland.

PETERSON: Almost all the people who lived in Richland were looked on as being different. I mean it was kind of an insular community. So the people of Richland stuck together, they played cards together, they supported their football team together, that kind of thing.

LANTERO: These were people who were tied to their land, and didn’t appreciate General Groves and the U.S. Army trying to kick them off of it. Many local landowners rejected the first offers and took the Army to court. Colonel Matthias, whose orders were to purchase half a million acres in the area, decided to settle out of court as time was a much scarcer resource than money.  

NARRATOR: Summer 1943

LANTERO: Richland, White Bluffs, and Hanford were depopulated to make room for the nuclear production facility, an atomic boomtown known as the Hanford Site.

EDELMAN: As time was of the essence. Allied intelligence knew the Germans were working on nuclear weapons, but not how far they had gotten. No one wanted to take any chances. Therefore, Hanford and Oak Ridge were built simultaneously, and the projects were tested far less had it been during peacetime.

LANTERO: At Hanford the mission was focused purely on separating plutonium. And that was done at a facility called the B-Reactor.

NARRATOR:  September 1944

EDELMAN:The B Reactor was the world's first large-scale plutonium production reactor. Its design mimicked that of the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge, but on a much larger scale and using water instead of air as a coolant. To give you an idea of the size difference, X-10 needed 1,000 kilowatts to function, while the B-Reactor was designed to operate at 250,000 kilowatts.

LANTERO: The B-Reactor is basically a 28- by 36-foot, twelve hundred-ton graphite cylinder lying on its side with 2,004 aluminum tubes all up and down its length. Two hundred tons of uranium rods the size of hot dogs are sealed in aluminum cans and placed in the tubes. Then, cooling water from the Columbia River, which is first treated, was pumped through the aluminum tubes and around the uranium rods.

Tour Guide Anne Vargus describes the process at the B-Reactor.

ANNE VARGUS: The making of plutonium...changing uranium into that product of plutonium generates enormous amounts of heat. And so, here at the reactor water was chosen to cool that process. So in the beginning they had something like 30,000 gallons of water every minute going through this reactor. In later years after modifications were made there was as much as 70,000 gallons of water a minute going through this reactor. To help you put that into perspective, In the later years, when they increased the water flow through here because plutonium production was increased this reactor could have provided enough water for a city with a population of 300,000.

LANTERO: The uranium rods would drop into water pools behind the piles and then are moved by remote-controlled rail cars to a storage facility five miles away, for transportation to their final destination at one of the two chemical separation locations -- which were also massive, scaled-up versions of those at Oak Ridge.

EDELMAN: Right before midnight

NARRATOR: September 26, 1944

EDELMAN: After a full year of building, it was time to fire up the machine. It worked just like it was supposed to, until...

RICK BOND: Within 13 hours or so it started shutting down. It turns out that iodine 129 is a product that’s produced in there. That produces xenon, and xenon is a neutron absorber like boron, it absorbs the neutron so it was shutting it down.

EDELMAN: That’s Rick Bond another tour guide at Hanford. He said a man by the name of John Wheeler had seen a similar thing happen at the X-10 graphite reactor in Oak Ridge. Wheeler was the one who figured out that it was xenon poisoning. Luckily, there was an easy fix.

BOND: They built 2,004 process tubes in here, but when Fermi originally calculated it out, he thought they needed about 1,500 process tubes to load up that much fuel but then they said better build 500 more just in case. Turned out they need that 500 more. So they loaded in 500 more and that gave them enough neutrons flying around for the reactor to work.

EDELMAN: It was actually the DuPont Company that had insisted on including the additional fuel when the facility was built. Thanks to their foresight, the Hanford team was able to load up the 500 extra tubes and get enough neutrons flying around for the reactor to work.


EDELMAN: At this point, the Manhattan Project was really starting to  take shape. There was a site for plutonium production in Washington and a site for uranium production in Tennessee, but they still needed a place to build the device.

CARR: So the site for the weapons design laboratory for the Manhattan Project had to meet certain criteria. It had to be far inland, the land had to be easy to acquire, it had to be not too far away from a rail hub. Los Alamos really fit those requirements, but there were other places as well. And so the Manhattan Project had narrowed down the potential sites to several regions in southwest United States; one of those regions was northern New Mexico.

EDELMAN: Enter J. Robert Oppenheimer -- the man we know as the “father of the atomic bomb” -- he had just been appointed to lead the secret weapons facility. Alan Carr, the historian you just heard, explains.

CARR: Oppenheimer had grown up in New York City , but he had plenty of money and he and his brother liked to come out here and rent a cabin not far from Los Alamos. So he was very familiar with the area. He, General Groves and other government officials came out here on a scouting trip. They drove over the mountain which Oppenheimer suggested. And they decided almost immediately that this was the spot. It met all of those basic requirements, and it was defensible. And work started very quickly moving forward on letting people know they would be leaving and making plans to build the laboratory and the town.

EDELMAN: We’re still a ways off from getting to Los Alamos, and so was the Manhattan Project. In order to end up at Los Alamos they needed a way of producing and moving everything they needed for the bomb with the utmost secrecy.

LANTERO: As a famous wartime poster said, “Loose lips might sink ships.” With a ship this size, there was bound to be talk. So only a few people actually knew everything that was going on at either site, much less the entire operation.

EDELMAN: At Oak Ridge, a company called Tennessee Eastman was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to manage Y-12. Out of the 22,000 workers only about 100, if that, knew what was going on.

SMITH: The chemists would’ve know they were working on uranium, but most of the others wouldn’t have had a clue of what they were working on.

EDELMAN: Some of the workforce were young women called cubicle operators. Today they’re often referred to as Calutron Girls.

SMITH: Tennessee Eastman was hiring these young girls right out of high school and training them to keep that meter on a certain spot and let it drift to a control point and bring it back.

EDELMAN: The Calutron Girls might not have known what they were working on, but they knew it was important.

SMITH: Because at the end of training this man came in who was obviously important because he was dressed in suit clothes. And he said, ‘Young ladies, we can’t tell you what you’re doing. We can only tell you how to do it. All I can say is that if our enemy gets it first, God help us.’

LANTERO: Meanwhile, at Hanford, even the schoolhouses were abuzz about what was going on.

PETERSON: One of the teachers one day asked all of her students, ‘What do you think your dad and mom who work out there are doing?’ This one boy raises his hand and all excited and says “I know! I know.” The teacher says, “well what? And the child says “well, they’re building toilet paper.” And she says, what? How? And he says, well, every day my dad goes to work with his lunch pack and every day he comes home with a roll of toilet obviously.

EDELMAN: While there was plenty of speculation, the truth stayed hidden.

PETERSON: It was the mentality of the people in 1943 on. Don’t tell you neighbor anything you wouldn’t want spread. You can tell by the badges out on site which area you worked in, so you never took your badge. I mean, once you got offsite, your badge was tucked away someplace. It was secret.

LANTERO: As for project leadership, the secrecy allowed them to make decisions with little regard for normal peacetime political considerations. Groves knew that as long as he had the backing of the White House, money would be available and he could focus entirely on running the bomb project.

EDELMAN: It also meant that those involved with the Manhattan Project had to get creative in order to keep the project moving and obtain all the equipment they needed. The war effort forced many to play roles they never expected.

LANTERO: Los Alamos Historian Ellen McGehee tells us the story of Robert Wilson, a physicist at Princeton University who got recruited to work covertly on atomic research for the Manhattan Project. When Wilson was tasked with going to Harvard University and “borrowing” an important piece of equipment, he and a small team of colleagues invented a backstory and did their best secret agent impressions.

ELLEN McGEHEE: They wanted Harvard’s Cyclotron. So they go to Harvard. They are meeting with the acting President Paul Buck and also with a professor of Physics, his name is Percy Bridgeman.

LANTERO: It’s like the beginning of a joke: a doctor, a lawyer and a physicist put on disguises and walk into Harvard.

McGEHEE: They represented an Army Medical station located in St. Louis, Missouri which needed a cyclotron for some kind of medical research. And so they had sewn medical insignia on the doctor's uniform. And they are trying to figure out a way to get this piece of equipment without just coming in and sort of government eminent domain. So they go through all this sort of negotiation and then Bridgman says, and I’ll quote, “Well if you want for what you say you want it, you can’t have it. But if you want it for why I think you want it, then you can have it.”

LANTERO: Even though a lot of the universities weren’t supposed to know what’s going on with the Manhattan Project, they knew that something big was happening. So they released the equipment.


LANTERO: So the B-Reactor plutonium separation facility was up and running at Hanford. The electromagnetic uranium facility, Y-12, was chugging along at Oak Ridge. But there was one more step remaining.

NARRATOR: Phase three.

EDELMAN: The final link in the Manhattan Project’s far-flung network is the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This is phase three. Here’s Alan Carr.

CARR: We are the weapons design laboratory. Our goal was to design, build and find out ways to deliver the nuclear weapons in combat. So this was basically our function. This is kind of where all the work came together. This is where all the materials and all of that effort manifested itself in the form of combat weapons.

EDELMAN: In order for all the work to come together, they’d have to get the uranium from Oak Ridge and the plutonium from Hanford out to New Mexico. Ray Smith tells us how it was done.

SMITH: They’d take it out of those collectors put them in small gold line coffee cup-sized containers put two of them in a briefcase, strap it to an army Lt. arm, dress him up to look like a salesman, put him on a passenger train up through Chicago and out to Los Alamos. That’s how every bit of the uranium for Little Boy got transported from Y-12 to Los Alamos.


DOZIER: Coming up in Part 2: building the bomb, ending the war, and a modern-day effort to keep the stories of the men and women who made it possible alive. Speaking of which, we’ll actually have a Short Circuit mini-episode about Ruth Huddleston, one of the so-called “Calutron Girls” at Oak Ridge and the secret life she lived during the Manhattan Project. Stay tuned for that next week. Make sure you subscribe to Direct Current so you don’t miss the conclusion of our two-part series on the Manhattan Project.

Keep listening after the credits for a taste of what’s to come.

LANTERO: You can learn all about the Manhattan Project National Historic Park on our website,, where you’ll also find plenty of other great stories on science and energy.

EDELMAN: If you have questions about this episode or any other episode you can email us at or tweet @ENERGY. If you’re enjoying Direct Current, help us spread the word! Tell your friends about the show, and leave us a rating or review on iTunes. We appreciate your feedback.

LANTERO: We’d like to give an atomic thank-you to the folks at Oak Ridge: Jonathan Sitzlar, Ray Smith, Thom Mason, Claire Sinclair, and everyone else who lent us bikes, took us on windshield tours, and put up with our incessant questions.

EDELMAN: At Hanford, thank you to Colleen French, Gary Peterson, Anne Vargus, Rick Bond, Whit Vogel, and Marcus Goetsch.

LANTERO: Representing Los Alamos, thank you to the dynamic duo of Alan Carr and Ellen McGehee.

EDELMAN: And thank you to Marcus and Ernie Ambrose for their vocal talent and Taylor Gray at Transition Music. Finally, thanks to Vernon Herron, Kayla Hensley, Bob Haus and the Energy Public Affairs Team -- both past and present.

LANTERO: Direct Current is produced by Matt Dozier, Simon Edelman and me, Allison Lantero. Art and design by Cort Kreer. With support from Paul Lester, Daniel Wood, and Atiq Warraich.

EDELMAN: We’re a production of the U.S. Department of Energy and published from our nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C.



RUTH HUDDLESTON: I knew it was important to our country. You think that people can’t keep secrets, but I found out that women can keep secrets. We really did. We did a good job.

ALAN CARR: I don’t think there really was a decision to use the atomic bombs because, again, it’s a no-brainer. You’ve got a new weapon, of course you’re going to try it before you try a blockade or try an invasion.

MAYNARD PLAHUTA: I mean it’s just terrible what happened, but it did end the war. And there were a lot of people who were saved additional to those that got killed, I think maybe it could’ve been much worse.

GARY PETERSON: The fact that this is a National Park that’s at three locations and it won’t be owned by the National Park Service, it’s gonna be owned by DOE, is unique.

DIANA BRIGHT: Kids in school need to learn about this. This is a good place to keep everything so that you can see it.

ANNE VARGUS: Welcome to the B-Reactor, one of our newest National Historical Parks. So we’re very proud to now be a part of the National Park Service.

THOM MASON: Well if you look at Oak Ridge National Lab today and the areas of research we’re in. You can actually see the fingerprints of what we did during the war.

DAVID KLAUS: You’ll go to the park and you’ll get a basic core theme, you’ll get a basic interpretation of what happened.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE RANGER: She stopped and she stared at me and her jaw dropped. She’d moved here in 1947 with her dad. Her dad worked over at Y-12. She said, “When did this become a National Historic Park?” She was ecstatic.



The first of two episodes that tell the story of an unprecedented, U.S. government effort to beat Nazi Germany in the race to construct a nuclear weapon. Find out how the atomic age began, what happened in three top-secret towns, and how the Department of Energy and the National Park Service teamed up to preserve the legacy of this pivotal moment in history.

Manhattan Project National Historic Park

Find out more about the dawn of the atomic age on the National Park Service's interactive website for the Manhattan Project National Park.

See Inside the B-Reactor

Want an inside look at the Hanford B-Reactor? Check out these awesome panoramic photos. And for more info on the B-Reactor take a look at the Hanford B-Reactor site and B-Reactor Museum Association.

Pictures from the Project

Check out these flickr albums from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge site and Los Alamos National Lab for lots of photos from the sites before, during, and after the Manhattan Project.