Manhattan Project Essay, Research Paper
Date: 15 May 1945
To: President Harry S. Truman
From: James Wheeler
Re: Manhattan Project Briefing
You have asked me to provide you with a summary/ analysis of the government project nicknamed the Manhattan Project. I have reviewed thoroughly all of the pertinent literature and documentation pertaining to the formation and continuing research and development of the Manhattan Project. I have enclosed an overview of all necessary information for which you should be familiar. However, since the project is ongoing and the final product incomplete as of today, the outcome of the most secretive project is as yet unclear.
The Manhattan Project is the code name of the attempt to produce an atomic bomb. It was named for the Manhattan Engineer District of the US Army Corp of Engineers, because much of the early research was done in New York City. The Manhattan Project is run by Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves, who is responsible to a Military Policy Committee chaired by Dr. Vannevar Bush (Conant, pg. 1).
I feel it necessary to take you through the developments in atomic research which led to the need for such an immense undertaking of time and money. In December of 1938, scientists in Germany, which has unfortunately proven to be the locus for theoretical physics, discovered nuclear fission in Uranium. Fearing that research into nuclear fission by the Nazis could lead to the construction of an extremely powerful bomb of unheard of destructive power, physicists Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein wrote letters to President Franklin Roosevelt warning of this possible threat and urging the US government to conduct its own nuclear research (Szilard, pg. 10). President Roosevelt agrees and research is begun.
The problem for scientists turns out to be separating the isotope U235 (which is the substance determined to be best suited for the bomb) from U238. Since no singular path is guaranteed to work, many different theories have to be entertained and experimented with. The Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) creates the following guideline for continuing research on May 23, 1943:
1. Construction of a 100 gram/ day centrifuge plant to be completed by January 1944
*The estimated cost of construction was $38 million.
2.Construction of a gaseous diffusion plant on industrial scale
*The estimated cost of construction was $2 million.
3.Construction of a 100 gram/ day electromagnetic plant completed by September 1943
*This plant will house hundreds of Calutrons which are a combination of a mass spectrometer with E.O. Lawrence?s invention, the Cyclotron. It uses magnetic fields to sort isotopes by weight and collect them.
*The estimated cost of construction was $12 million.
4.Construction of one or more ?piles? to produce element 94 completed by January 1944
*Element 94 (Plutonium) is a proposed alternative to U235 for use in the atomic bomb.
*The estimated cost of construction was $25 million.
5.Construction of a heavy water plant
*Heavy water (deuterium) is a ?moderator? or a substance which will be used to control the chain reaction.
*The estimated cost of construction was $2.8 million.
The OSRD?s proposal cost $80 million up front with an annual operating cost of $34 million. At this point, no one yet knew if the bomb was even possible. There is also little knowledge of German progress so haste is considered to be of the utmost importance. This proposal is considered to be far too large for the OSRD budget, therefore Dr. Bush decides that production would be turned over to the Army. On September 17, 1942, General Groves was chosen to lead the project. He, in turn, chose physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the scientific team.
Immediately, Groves pushes the project ahead at a quick pace. He calls for the construction of three ?secret cities? which will house the above referenced factories and plants as well as serving as the centers for the research. One city is Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the K-25 plant (the largest factory in the world) produces multiple giant Calutrons. Hanford, Washington and Los Alamos, New Mexico are the other two sites. Oppenheimer scoured the United States in search of the best physicists to assist him in research at Los Alamos. Among those persuaded to join the project were Leo Szilard, Arthur H. Compton, Ernest O. Lawrence, Neils Bohr, and Enrico Fermi. Many of them are Nobel Prize winners, so the most brilliant minds in the world were brought in and have been working for the last few years to create the atomic bomb.
General Groves has had a strong determination to plunge ahead with research in order to avoid any chance that the war might conclude before the bomb can be used. Although the original purpose of the Manhattan Project was to beat the Nazis in the race for the bomb, General Groves now needs to complete the project before Japan loses or surrenders. One important reason for the haste is his fear of ?the greatest congressional investigation of all time (Lifton, pg. 122)? that might occur in connection with the enormous amount of money already spent for a project which might never come to fruition or even be possible. The bomb was never really intended for Germany; at least not while General Groves has been in charge. In 1943, General Groves decided that the B-29 would be the delivery plane. The B-29 was never designed to be used in the European theater, which may mean that the decision has already been made to use the bomb against Japan.
I am unaware how much you already know about the Manhattan Project, since you were briefed by General Groves three weeks ago (Lifton, pg. 120). However, with the passing of President Roosevelt, the burden of the Manhattan Project now lies with you. The bill for the project is now at almost $2 billion, of which Congress knows very little about. Funds have been hidden in the federal budget (Thomas, pg. 8). What the US has bought for that sum is, should the project be successful, the decision whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on a Japanese city, in which the estimated deaths will be in the tens of thousands, including both military and civilian.
From the beginning, the Manhattan Project has been seen as necessary because of the threat of the Germans unlocking the secret of atomic energy first. Now that the threat is null and void, the main motivation seems to be simply to complete the project, or pay the consequences of answering to Congress if it is a failure. How many American lives will be saved if we end the Pacific War? No one is sure that dropping the bomb will even end the war. There were hesitations voiced about dropping an atomic bomb on Germany for fear of reverse engineering. What?s to say that Japan couldn?t do the same thing if the bomb doesn?t detonate. There is also some opposition from some members of the scientific community of which you should be aware. Leo Szilard and Neils Bohr have argued repeatedly that using the atomic bomb in combat without prior notice to the Soviets could unleash a postwar nuclear arms race, no matter who the victor (Szilard, pg. 13).
I consider it of the utmost importance that you have as much background information as possible so as to be fully knowledgeable when deciding the future of the Manhattan Project, especially if it proves to be successful in its attempt to create the most powerful weapon ever known to mankind. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had forced America into what, until now, it did not have: a war as reason for making the bomb (Thomas, pg. 7). But, will Pearl Harbor also provide the justification for using it?
James Wheeler, White House Intern
1.Conant, James B. ?A History of the Development of the Atomic Bomb.? Record
Group 227, Papers of the Manhattan Project, S-1, Reel 1
2.Lifton, Robert Jay, and Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial. New York: Avon Books, 1995.
3.Szilard, Leo. The Voice of the Dolphins. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1961.
4.Thomas, Gordon, and Max Morgan Witts. Ruin From the Air. Scarborough House Publishers, 1977.