An off-line question came in from a reader who asked,

… how much did your father know about the Manhattan Project?What has he told you about his involvement – and any conflicts he may have had on the issue —or did he not encounter whatever it was that we were hiding there?

That’s a great question, and one I think I already answered in the manuscript. For your information here, the Manhattan Project is the official name of the enormous undertaking involved in designing and producing the atomic bomb. The project began at the University of Chicago under the bleachers of the football field, where the first fission experiment was conducted. When that was successful, the project exploded almost as fast as the bomb.

Los Alamos was chosen as the location for the team of scientists and their support team that built the bomb. It was remote, isolated, and defensible, yet had a mild enough climate to allow work to proceed all year. The stunning scenery was a bonus for keeping people happy in a compound they were not allowed to leave except for brief shopping trips to Santa Fe.

In addition to Los Alamos, the Manhattan Project included a uranium separations facility  at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and plutonium production took place at the Hanford site near Richland, Washington. The entire project was overseen by General Leslie Groves, who selected Robert Oppenheimer to head the scientific aspects of the project, specifically the part at Los Alamos.

When the war ended, the Manhattan Project ended with it, and the fate of Los Alamos was unclear. Over the next couple of years its mission was expanded into peace-time applications of nuclear energy as well as further developing nuclear weapons technology and the community underwent a massive expansion and metamorphosis.

We did not move to Los Alamos until 1951, more than five years after the end of the war. My father began working at S-Site on lenses for explosives, though as far as I know, he didn’t have direct contact with the bomb designers. He’s told me a little about those days, but it only goes so far before he invokes the Classified Information curtain. That was a fact of life. We didn’t ask and sixty years later, they still don’t tell. After a couple of years of lens work, he moved to the nuclear reactor division where he remained until moving to Richland, Washington in 1967 (a year after my husband, our newborn son and I arrived there) to work for the AEC.

He did not know anything about the Manhattan Project that isn’t public knowledge. He probably didn’t know anything about weapons projects while he was at S-site because even within the lab all information was handled on a “need to know” basis. Talking about your work outside your lab just was not done.

This secrecy definitely had an effect on me, and on my peers. That was discussed in the books I just finished reading, and I’ll add my slant on it when I get to that part.

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