* President Roosevelt responded to Einstein’s letter by setting up the Advisory Committee on Uranium under Lyman J. Briggs, director of the National Bureau of Standards.
* Side note: his daughter Isabel would eventually marry Clarence Myers and go on to generate the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator with her mother.
* Which is complete bullshit BTW.
* The committee met for the first time on 21 October 1939.
* It’s function was to look into the current state of research on uranium to recommend an appropriate role for the federal government.
* On 1 November 1939, the Uranium Committee recommended that the government should immediately obtain 4 tons of graphite, which was used to slow down the neutrons coming from the fission reaction, and 50 tons of uranium oxide.
* But there was still no proof that the whole thing would work.
* Even if you could create a chain reaction, how would you fit everything you needed into something of a size that could be used as a bomb?
* Fermi himself thought that there was ‘little likelihood of an atomic bomb, little proof that we were not pursuing a chimera’.
* Keep in mind that this was before Pearl Harbour, before the U.S. was officially even at war.
* One guy who believed that America was going to end up at war was Vannevar Bush, president of the Carnegie Foundation.
* Bush was a legendary engineer and inventor.
* Among other things, he founded the company now known as Raytheon, which developed better vacuum tubes, he developed the work that lead to the digital circuits, came up with the idea of hypertext, and was vice president of MIT and dean of the MIT School of Engineering.
* in June 1940 Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee with Bush at its head.
* Its priorities were the development of radar, proximity fuses and anti-submarine devices.
* The Uranium Committee fell under its remit.
* It was reconstituted as a scientific body and purged of its military membership.
* In the interest of security, foreign-born scientists were barred from the committee and further publication of articles on uranium research was banned.
* In 1941, Plutonium was discovered.
* They found that plutonium-239 was 1.7 times as likely as U-235 to fission.
* And they could produce large amounts of fissionable plutonium from the plentiful U-238.
* So now there were two options – U-235 and plutonium.
* Meanwhile, Bush had been appointed director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
* This had been established by an executive order on 28 June 1941 – six days after German troops invaded the Soviet Union – giving Bush direct access to the White House.
* The National Defense Research Committee, now headed by James Conant, president of Harvard University, was downgraded to an advisory body while the Uranium Committee became a section of the OSRD, codenamed S-1 – Section One of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
* It was S-1 that Truman discovered was sucking up a ton of money in 1943 and they told him he wasn’t allowed to know anything about it.
* Meanwhile, over in England, the Military Application of Uranium Detonation Committee, or MAUD, which was set up in 1940 to research atomic weapons, issued a report that said fission of U-235 could happen even with fast neutrons.
* They estimated that a critical mass of 22 pounds would be large enough to produce an enormous explosion.
* A bomb that size could be loaded on existing aircraft and be ready in around two years.
* The Americans read the report.
* It reminded them that fission had been discovered in Nazi Germany nearly three years earlier, and since spring 1940 a large part of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin had been set aside for uranium research.
* In September 1941, Werner Heisenberg, one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics, who had become head of the German nuclear energy project, visited Neils Bohr in Copenhagen.
* During this meeting the two men took a private moment outside, the content of which has caused much speculation, as both gave differing accounts.
* According to Heisenberg, he began to address nuclear energy, morality and the war.
* Bohr seems to have reacted by terminating the conversation abruptly.
* Denmark was currently under Nazi occupation and his situation was kind of dicey.
* As it turned out, a couple of years later Bohr got word that he was seen as a Jew and they were coming to get him.
* He defected to the UK.
* He ended up meeting Churchill and tried to convince him that they should share the work that was being done on the bomb with the Soviets.
* Churchill wanted him arrested.
* Oppenheimer agreed with Bohr and they tried to convince FDR.
* FDR sent Bohr back to have another discussion with Churchill and get his agreement.
* Of course, as we know, that never happened.
* Bush went to see Roosevelt on 9 October.
* He summarized the British findings and discussed the cost of building a bomb and how long it might take, though he was still by no means convinced it could be done.
* Roosevelt gave his permission for Bush to discuss the construction of a bomb with the Army.
* He was to move ahead as quickly as possible, but not to go beyond research and development without presidential authorization.
* Roosevelt indicated that he would find a way to finance the project if it proved feasible and he asked Bush to draft a letter to the British government, enlisting their co-operation.
* Arthur Compton of the University of Chicago, who headed the committee looking into uranium research, reported back on 6 November, just one month and a day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 brought the United States into World War II, with Germany and Italy declaring war on the US on 10 December.
* Compton’s committee concluded that a critical mass of between 4 1/2 and 220 pounds of U-235 would produce a powerful fission bomb.
* The cost of isotope separation alone would be $50–100 million.
* $100 million in 1941 is roughly $1.7 billion today.
* Bush forwarded their findings to Roosevelt under a cover letter on 27 November.
* Roosevelt did not reply until 19 January 1942.
* When he did, it was as commander in chief of a nation at war.
* He gave the project the green light.
* Under instructions from Roosevelt, the responsibility for all work concerning uranium was taken from the National Defense Research Committee and given to the newly constituted Top Policy Group, which comprised Bush, Conant, Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
* The U.S. was now at war and money wasn’t a problem.
* The race was on to beat the Nazis to build the world’s first nuclear weapon.
* Clearly the question of security was a high priority, so it was suggested that the S-1 project should be put under the control of one of the armed forces.
* It was decided that the army, with its Corps of Engineers, was most suitable.
* Roosevelt had approved army involvement on 9 October 1941, and army officers joined S-1 meetings in March 1942.
* Previously the research had been happening all over the country at different universities.
* In April 1942, Compton began to centralize everything in Chicago.
* He took space wherever he could find it.
* In a racket court under the west grandstand at an old football stadium Stagg Field, which was by then no longer, they started to build Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first artificial nuclear reactor.
* Colonel James C. Marshall, a West Point graduate with experience of building air bases, was put in charge of the new Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Metals, or DSM.
* In New York City, Marshall set up the Manhattan Engineer District, or MED.
* But Marshall didn’t understand the urgency or the objective.
* First, he dragged his feet with purchasing a test site in Tennessee that the scientists needed.
* Then In June 1942, he had a discussion with Norman Hilberry, Compton’s top assistant.
* He had heard that they were planning on only building one or two bombs.
* Hilberry confirmed it.
* He said that’s all that would be needed to win the war.
* And the materials to even build one or two were scarce.
* ‘That’s all wrong,’ said Marshall.
* ‘There is a fundamental principle in military matters which – and I don’t care how fantastic this atomic device may prove to be – is not going to be violated. This is one’s ability to continue delivering the weapon, and it’s this that determines whether the weapon is useful. If you folks succeeded in making only one bomb, I can assure you it would never be used. The only basic principle on which the military can operate is the ability to continue to deliver. You’ve got to sit down and get re-orientated. The thing we’re talking about is not a number of bombs; what we are talking about is production capacity to continue delivering bombs at given rate. That, you will discover, is a very different problem.’
* When the news got back to the scientists, Szilard was beside himself.
* ‘In 1939,’ he wrote in a memo to Bush, ‘the government of the United States was given a unique opportunity by providence; this opportunity was lost. Nobody can tell now whether we shall be ready before German bombs wipe out American cities. Such scanty information as we have about work in Germany is not reassuring and all one can say with certainty is that we could move at least twice as fast if our difficulties were eliminated.’
* He wanted to get rid of the Army’s involvement, which was slowing things down.
* So Marshall was given the boot.
* On 17 September 1942, the army appointed Colonel Leslie R. Groves.
* He was promoted to brigadier general six days later.
* Groves was an engineer with impressive credentials, including the building of the Pentagon, and, most importantly, had strong administrative abilities.
* Within two days of his appointment Groves acted to obtain the Tennessee site and secured a higher priority rating for project materials.
* In addition, he moved the Manhattan Engineer District headquarters from New York to Washington to gain better access to other federal agencies.
* He quickly recognized the talents of Marshall’s deputy, Colonel Kenneth D. Nichols, and arranged for Nichols to work as his chief aide and trouble-shooter throughout the war.
* Nichols said that Groves was ‘the biggest S.O.B. I have ever worked for. He is most demanding. He is most critical. He is always a driver, never a praiser. He is abrasive and sarcastic. He disregards all normal organizational channels. He is extremely intelligent. He has the guts to make timely, difficult decisions. He is the most egotistical man I know. He knows he is right and so sticks by his decision. He abounds with energy and expects everyone to work as hard, or even harder, than he does . . . if I had to do my part of the atomic bomb project over again and had the privilege of picking my boss, I would pick General Groves.’
* But later, after the war, The Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, met with Groves on 30 January 1948 to evaluate his performance.
* Eisenhower recounted a long list of complaints about Groves pertaining to his rudeness, arrogance, insensitivity, contempt for the rules and maneuvering for promotion out of turn.
* Eisenhower made it clear that Groves would never become Chief of Engineers.
* So Groves retired from the army and joined Sperry Rand, a major military contractor, not to be confused with the RAND Corporation.
* Sperry Rand is best known for inventing the UNIVAC computer.
* On 5 October 1942, Groves paid his first visit to the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago to meet Compton, Fermi, Szilard, Hilberry and other top scientists working there.
* At the end of the meeting, he asked them, with respect to their estimates about how much fissionable material they were going to need for each bomb, how confident were they in their estimates?
* He said he expected them to say “oh 50%” or “75%”.
* Instead they said “a factor of 10”.
* Which meant that if they said they needed 100 pounds of plutonium to make a bomb, it could really be anywhere from 10 pounds to 1000 pounds.
* ‘Groves said it was like being a caterer who is told he must be prepared to serve anywhere between 10 and 1000 guests.’
* How can you plan around something like that?
* In early December they finally got experimental proof that plutonium could be created from U-238.
* So they pushed ahead with the research.
* Meanwhile, Robert Oppenheimer headed the work of a group of theoretical physicists he called ‘the luminaries’.
* Oppenheimer is an interesting character.
* He was born to a wealthy Jewish textile importer who had a massive collection of paintings, including some Picassos and Van Goghs.
* Robert did a lot of early work on astrophysics and quantum field theory and nuclear physics.
* He also claimed to be a communist.
* When he joined the Manhattan Project in 1942, Oppenheimer wrote on his personal security questionnaire that he [Oppenheimer] had been “a member of just about every Communist Front organization on the West Coast”.
* He was also on the board of the ACLU.
* In 1941, the FBI opened a file on him and had him listed as a CDI – the Custodial Detention Index, for arrest in case of national emergency.
* Something our mate Victor Santochi knows all about.
* He told me in LA that his father was also on the list.
* During the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer was being closely watched by both the FBI and the project’s internal security arm.
* They considered getting rid of him, but Groves insisted he was too important.
* Anyway, the consensus of his luminaries was some bad news.
* They now thought it was going to take TWICE as much fissionable material as they had previously thought to make a bomb.
* Which again confirmed that mass production of atomic bombs was, at least in the early stages, out of the question.
* But there was also some good news.
* Oppenheimer and his team were confident that it might be theoretically possible to use FUSION instead of fission to make nuclear bombs.
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