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The Secret City

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Aug 062010

Today in History, the United States became the only country in history to engage in Nuclear Warfare. 80,000 estimated Japanese died in the first attack, climbing to a possible 140,000 as a result of lasting effects of the bombing.

You probably have seen a billion and one great posts regarding the historic, gut wrenching, and generally awesome power of the nuclear weapons that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, up on through the terrifying surreal imagery of the Tsar Bomba test explosion. But, what you might not be aware of, or at least in my mind is not talked about very much is the Oak Ridge uranium enrichment plant. Above is a picture of the plant.

Prior to the outbreak of World War 2 Nuclear Boogaloo, there were only 3000 some odd residents of Oak Ridge Tennessee. It was just one of many normal quiet little towns spread across the United States vast landscape. But thanks in part to it’s proximity to railways and highways, as well as it’s low population Oak Ridge would become home to the dubiously named “Clinton Engineering Works”. By 1945, Oak Ridge would sport a population of 75,000 and be home to the largest building in the world. At one point in fact, Oak Ridge was consuming 1/6th of the entire electrical load of the entire United States. Of course, no one knew that this once aspiring hamlet had grown into a marvel of modern engineering. The entire town was surrounded by layers of fencing, and armed guard towers. Seven gates would have to be passed before anyone could enter the town. The work being done there was so secretive that most of the residents of the town had no idea what it was exactly they were doing until August 6th, 1945. Throughout the Manhattan Project Oak Ridge was simply referred to as “Site X”.

Oak Ridge, was where uranium enrichment was occurring. Without enriched uranium, critical mass could not be reliably achieved. Much of the uranium 235 used in Fatman came from reactors built in Oak Ridge. The Manhattan Project stands as one of the most expensive, and astounding human engineering projects in history. Much of the cost of the project was expended in developing Oak Ridge and the enrichment facilities there.

Apollo Program Total Cost: $170 billion
Manhattan Project Total Cost: $23.4 billion

 Posted by at 2:22 pm

  2 Responses to “The Secret City”

Comments (2)
  1. Good old Oak Ridge… I was born there, my parents live there now. it's a beautifully strange city with a fascinating mix of science and small town.

  2. It is amazing how many resources the US government put into the A-Bomb. Grace Hopper's team used the first computer ever to do the math required to figure out how to get a sphere to implode upon itself at just the right rate – that sphere was at the heart of 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man'

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