Atomic Energy for Military Purposes (The Smyth Report)
The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government
By Henry De Wolf Smyth
CHAPTER VII. THE PLUTONIUM PRODUCTION PROBLEM AS OF FEBRUARY 1943
NEED OF DECISIONS
7.1. By the first of 1 January 1943, the Metallurgical Laboratory had achieved its first objective, a chain-reacting pile, and was well on the way to the second, a process for extracting the plutonium produced in such a pile. It was clearly time to formulate more definite plans for a production plant. The policy decisions were made by the Policy Committee (see Chapter V) on the recommendations from the Laboratory Director (A. H. Compton), from the S-1 Executive Committee, and from the Reviewing Committee that had visited Chicago in December 1942. The only decisions that had already been made were that the first chain-reacting pile should be dismantled and then reconstructed on a site a short distance from Chicago and that a 1,000-kilowatt plutonium plant should be built at Clinton, Tennessee.
THE SCALE OF PRODUCTION
7.2. The first decision to be made was on the scale of production that should be attempted. For reasons of security the figure decided upon may not be disclosed here. It was very large.
THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM
7.3. As we have seen, the production of one gram of plutonium per day corresponds to a generation of energy at the rate of 500 to 1,500 kilowatts. Therefore a plant for large-scale production of plutonium will release a very large amount of energy. The problem therefore was to design a plant of this capacity on the basis of experience with a pile that could operate at a power level of only 0.2 kilowatt. As regards the plutonium separation work, which was equally important, it was necessary to draw plans for an extraction and purification plant which would separate some grams a day of plutonium from some tons of uranium, and such planning had to be based on information obtained by microchemical studies involving only half a milligram of plutonium. To be sure, there was information available for the design of the large-scale pile and separation plant from auxiliary experiments and from large-scale studies of separation processes using uranium as a stand-in for plutonium, but even so the proposed extrapolations both as to chain-reacting piles and as to separation processes were staggering. In peacetime no engineer or scientist in his right mind would consider making such a magnification in a single stage, and even in wartime only the possibility of achieving. tremendously important results, could justify it.
ASSIGNMENT OF RESPONSIBILITY
7.4. As soon as it had been decided to go ahead with large-scale production of plutonium, it was evident that a great expansion in organization was necessary. The Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation had been selected as the overall engineering and construction firm for the DSM Project soon after the Manhattan District was placed in charge of construction work in June 1942. By October 1942, it became evident that various component parts of the work were too far separated physically and were too complicated technically to be handled by a single company- especially in view of the rapid pace required. Therefore it was decided that it would be advantageous if Stone and Webster were relieved of that portion of the work pertaining to the construction of plutonium production facilities. This was done, and General Groves selected the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company as the firm best able to carry on this phase of the work. The arrangements made with various industrial companies by the Manhattan District took various forms. The arrangements with du Pont are discussed in detail as an example.
7.5. General Groves broached the question to W. S. Carpenter, Jr., president of du Pont, and after considerable discussion with him and other officials of the firm, du Pont agreed to undertake the work. In their acceptance, they made it plain and it was understood by all concerned that du Pont was undertaking the, work only because the War Department considered the work to be of the utmost importance, and because General Groves stated that this view as to importance was one held personally by the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, the Chief of Staff, and General Groves, and because of General Groves' assertion that du Pont was by far the organization best qualified for the job. At the same time, it was recognized that the du Pont Company already had assumed all the war-connected activities which their existing organization could be expected to handle without undue difficulty.
7.6. The du Pont Company, in accepting the undertaking, insisted that the work be conducted without profit and without patent rights of any kind accruing to them. The du Pont Company did request, however, that in view of the unknown character of the field into which they were being asked to embark, and in view of the unpredictable hazards involved, the Government provide maximum protection against losses sustained by du Pont.
7.7. The cost-plus-a-fixed-fee contract between the Government and du Pont established a fixed fee of $1.00. The Government agreed to pay all costs of the work by direct reimbursement or through allowances provided by the contract to cover administrative and general expenses allocated to the work in accordance with normal du Pont accounting practices as determined by audit by certified public accountants. Under the terms of the contract, any portion of these allowances not actually expended by du Pont will, at the conclusion of the work, be returned to the United States. The contract also provided that no patent rights would accrue to the company.
7.8. The specific responsibilities assumed by du Pont were to engineer, design, and construct a small-scale semi-works at the Clinton Engineer Works in Tennessee and to engineer, design, construct, and operate a large-scale plutonium production plant of large capacity at the Hanford Engineer Works in the State of Washington. Because of its close connection with fundamental research, the Clinton semi-works was to be operated under the direction of the University of Chicago. A large number of key technical people from du Pont were to be used on a loan basis at Chicago and at Clinton, to provide the University with much needed personnel, particularly men with industrial experience, and to train certain of such personnel for future service at Hanford.
7.9. Inasmuch as du Pont was being asked to step out of its normal role in chemistry into a new field involving nuclear physics, it was agreed that it would be necessary for them to depend most heavily upon the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago for fundamental research and development data and for advice. The du Pont Company had engineering and industrial experience, but it needed the Metallurgical Laboratory for nuclear-physics and radiochemistry experience. The Metallurgical Laboratory conducted the fundamental research on problems bearing on the design and operation of the semi-works and large-scale production plants. It proposed the essential parts of the plutonium production and recovery processes and equipment, answered the many specific questions raised by du Pont, and studied and concurred in the final du Pont decisions and designs.
7.10. The principal purpose of the Clinton semi-works was development of methods of operation for plutonium recovery. The semi-works had to include of course, a unit for plutonium production, in order to provide plutonium to be recovered experimentally. In the time and with the information available, the Clinton production unit could not be designed to be an early edition of the Hanford production units which, therefore, had to be designed, constructed and operated without major guidance from Clinton experience. In fact, even the Hanford recovery units had to be far along in design and procurement of equipment before Clinton results became available. However, the Clinton semi-works proved to be an extremely important tool in the solution of the many completely new problems encountered at Hanford. It also produced small quantities of plutonium which, along with Metallurgical Laboratory data on the properties of plutonium, enabled research in the use of this material to be advanced many months.
CHOICE OF PLANT SITE
7.11. Once the scale of production had been agreed upon and the responsibilities assigned, the nature of the plant and its whereabouts had to be decided. The site in the Tennessee Valley, known officially as the Clinton Engineer Works, had been acquired by the Army for the whole program as recommended in the report to the President (see Chapter V).
7.12. Reconsideration at the end of 1942 led General Groves to the conclusion that this site was not sufficiently isolated for a large-scale plutonium production plant. At that time, it was conceivable that conditions might arise under which a large pile might spread radioactive material over a large enough area to endanger neighboring centers of population. In addition to the requirement of isolation, there remained the requirement of a large power supply which had originally determined the choice of the Tennessee site. To meet these two requirements a new site was chosen and acquired on the Columbia River in the central part of the State of Washington near the Grand Coulee power line. This site was known as the Hanford Engineer Works.
7.13. Since the Columbia River is the finest supply of pure cold river water in this country, the Hanford site was well suited to either the helium-cooled plant originally planned or to the water-cooled plant actually erected. The great distances separating the home office of du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, the pilot plant at Clinton, Tennessee, the Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago, and the Hanford site were extremely inconvenient, but this separation could not be avoided. Difficulties also were inherent in bringing workmen to the site and in providing living accommodations for them.
CHOICE OF TYPE OF PLANT
7.14. It was really too early in the development to make a carefully weighed decision as to the best type of plutonium production plant. Yet a choice had to be made so that design could be started and construction begun as soon as possible. Actually a tentative choice was made and then changed.
7.15. In November 1942, the helium-cooled plant was the first choice of the Metallurgical Laboratory. Under the direction of T. Moore and M. C. Leverett, preliminary plans for such a plant had been worked out. The associated design studies were used as bases for choice of site, choice of accessory equipment, etc. Although these studies had been undertaken partly because it had been felt that they could be carried through more quickly for a helium-cooled plant than for a water-cooled plant, many difficulties were recognized. Meanwhi1e the theoretical group under Wigner, with the cooperation of the engineering personnel, had been asked to prepare a report on a water-cooled plant of high power output. This group had been interested in water-cooling almost from the beginning of the project and was able to incorporate the results of its studies in a report issued on January 9, 1943. This report contained many important ideas that were incorporated in the design of the production plant erected at Hanford.
7.16. When du Pont came into the picture, it at first accepted the proposal of a helium-cooled plant but after further study decided in favor of water cooling. The reasons for the change were numerous. Those most often mentioned were the hazard from leakage of a high-pressure gas coolant carrying radioactive impurities, the difficulty of getting large blowers quickly, the large amount of helium required, the difficulty of loading and unloading uranium from the pile, and the relatively low power output per kilogram of uranium metal. These considerations had to be balanced against the peculiar disadvantages of a water-cooled plant, principally the greater complexity of the pile itself and the dangers of corrosion.
7.17. Like so many decisions in this project, the choice between various types of plant had to be based on incomplete scientific information. The information is still incomplete, but there is general agreement that water cooling was the wise choice.
THE PROBLEMS OF PLANT DESIGN
SPECIFICATION OF THE OVERALL PROBLEM
7.18. In Chapter II of this report we attempted to define the general problem of the uranium project as it appeared in the summer of 1940. We now wish to give precise definition to the problem of the design of a large-scale plant for the production of plutonium. The objective had already been delimited by decisions as to scale of production, type of plant, and site. As it then stood, the specific problem was to design a water-cooled graphite-moderated pile (or several such piles) with associated chemical separation plant to produce a specified, relatively large amount of plutonium each day, the plant to be built at the Hanford site beside the Columbia River. Needless to say, speed of construction and efficiency of operation were prime considerations.
NATURE OF THE LATTICE
7.19. The lattices we have been describing heretofore consisted of lumps of uranium imbedded in the graphite moderator. There are two objections to such a type of lattice for production purposes: first, it is difficult to remove the uranium without disassembling the pile; second, it is difficult to concentrate the coolant at the uranium lumps, which are the points of maximum production of heat. It was fairly obvious that both these difficulties could be avoided if a rod lattice rather than a point lattice could be used, that is, if the uranium could be concentrated along lines passing through the moderator instead of being situated merely at points. There was little doubt that the rod arrangement would be excellent structurally and mechanically, but there was real doubt as to whether it was possible to build such a lattice which would still have a multiplication factor k greater than unity. This became a problem for both the theoretical and experimental physicists. The theoretical physicists had to compute what was the optimum spacing and diameter of uranium rods; the experimental physicists had to perform exponential experiments on lattices of this type in order to check the findings of the theoretical group.
LOADING AND UNLOADING
7.20. Once the idea of a lattice with cylindrical symmetry was accepted, it became evident that the pile could be unloaded and reloaded without disassembly since the uranium could be pushed out of the cylindrical channels in the graphite moderator and new uranium inserted. The decision had to be made as to whether the uranium should be in the form of long rod;, which had advantages from the nuclear-physics point of view, or of relatively short cylindrical pieces, which had advantages from the point of view of handling. In either case, the materials would be so very highly radioactive that unloading would have to be carried out by remote control, and the unloaded uranium would have to be handled by remote control from behind shielding.
POSSIBLE MATERIALS; CORROSION
7.21. If water was to be used as coolant, it would have to be conveyed to the regions where heat was generated through channels of some sort. Since graphite pipes were not practical, some other kind of pipe would have to be used. But the choice of the material for the pipe, like the choice of all the materials to be used in the pile, was limited by nuclear-physics considerations. The pipes must be made of some material whose absorption cross section for neutrons was not large enough to bring the value of k below unity. Furthermore, the pipes must be made of material which would not disintegrate under the heavy density of neutron and gamma radiation present in the pile. Finally, the pipes must meet all ordinary requirements of cooling-system pipes: they must not leak; they must not corrode; they must not warp.
7.22. From the nuclear-physics point of view there were seven possible materials (Pb, Bi, Be, AI, Mg, Zn, Sn), none of which had high neutron-absorption cross sections. No beryllium tubing was available, and of all the other metals only aluminum was thought to be possible from a corrosion point of view. But it was by no means certain that aluminum would be satisfactory, and doubts about the corrosion of the aluminum pipe were not settled until the plant had actually operated for some time.
7.23. While the choice of material for the piping was very difficult, similar choices-involving both nuclear-physics criteria and radiation-resistance criteria-had to be made for all other materials that were to be used in the pile. For example, the electric insulating materials to be used in any instruments buried in the pile must not disintegrate under the radiation. In certain instances where control or experimental probes had to be inserted and removed from the pile, the likelihood had to be borne in mind that the probes would become intensely radioactive as a result of their exposure in the pile and that the degree to which this would occur would depend on the material used.
7.24. Finally, it was not known what effect the radiation fields in the pile would have on the graphite and the uranium. It was later found that the electric resistance, the elasticity, and the heat conductivity of the graphite all change with exposure to intense neutron radiation.
PROTECTION OF THE URANIUM FROM CORROSION
7.25. The most efficient cooling procedure would have been to have the water flowing in direct contact with the uranium in which the heat was being produced. Indications were that this was probably out of the question because the uranium would react chemically with the water, at least to a sufficient extent to put a dangerous amount of radioactive material into solution and probably to the point of disintegrating the uranium slugs. Therefore it was necessary to find some method of protecting the uranium from direct contact with the water. Two possibilities were considered: one was some sort of coating, either by electro-plating or dipping; the other was sealing the uranium slug in a protective jacket or "can." Strangely enough, this "canning problem" turned out to be one of the most difficult problems encountered in such piles.
7.26. The problem of dissipating thousands of kilowatts of energy is by no means a small one. How much water was needed depended, of course, on the maximum temperature to which the water could safely be heated and the maximum temperature to be expected in the intake from the Columbia River; certainly the water supply requirement was comparable to that of a fair-sized city. Pumping stations, filtration and treatment plants all had to be provided. Furthermore, the system had to be a very reliable one; it was necessary to provide fast-operating controls to shut down the chain-reacting unit in a hurry in case of failure of the water supply. If it was decided to use "once-through" cooling instead of recirculation, a retention basin would be required so that the radioactivity induced in the water might die down before the water was returned to the river. The volume of water discharged was going to be so great that such problems of radioactivity were important, and therefore the minimum time that the water must be held for absolute safety had to be determined.
CONTROLS AND INSTRUMENTATION
7.27. The control problem was very similar to that discussed in connection. with the first chain-reacting pile except that everything was on a larger scale and was, therefore, potentially more dangerous. It was necessary to provide operating controls which would automatically keep the pile operating at a determined power level. Such controls had to be connected with instruments in the pile which would measure neutron density or some other property which indicated the power level. There would also have to be emergency controls which would operate almost instantaneously if the power level showed signs of rapid increase or if there was any interruption of the water supply. It was highly desirable that there be some means of detecting incipient difficulties such as the plugging of a single water tube or a break in the coating of one of the uranium slugs. All these controls and instruments had to be operated from behind the thick shielding walls described below.
7.28. As we have mentioned a number of times, the radiation given off from a pile operating at a high power level is so strong as to make it quite impossible for any of the operating personnel to go near the pile. Furthermore, this radiation, particularly the neutrons, has a pronounced capacity for leaking out through holes or cracks in barriers. The whole of a power pile therefore has to be enclosed in very thick walls of concrete, steel, or other absorbing material. But at the same time it has to be possible to load and unload the pile through these shields and to carry the water supply in and out through the shields. The shields should not only be radiation-tight but air-tight since air exposed to the radiation in the pile would become radioactive.
7.29. The radiation dangers that require shielding in the pile continue through a large part of the separation plant. Since the fission products associated with the production of the plutonium are highly radioactive, the uranium after ejection from the pile must be handled by remote control from behind shielding and must be shielded during transportation to the separation plant. All the stages of the separation plant, including analyses, must be handled by remote control from behind shields up to the point where the plutonium is relatively free of radioactive fission products.
7.30. The problem of maintenance is very simply stated. There could not be any maintenance inside the shield or pile once the pile had operated. The same remark applies to a somewhat lesser extent to the separation unit, where it was probable that a shut-down for servicing could be effected, provided, of course, that adequate remotely-controlled decontamination processes were carried out in order to reduce the radiation intensity below the level dangerous to personnel. The maintenance problem for the auxiliary parts of the plant was normal except for the extreme importance of having stand-by pumping and power equipment to prevent a sudden accidental breakdown of the cooling system.
SCHEDULE OF LOADING AND UNLOADING
7.31. Evidently the amount of plutonium in an undisturbed operating pile increases with time of operation. Since Pu-239 itself undergoes fission its formation tends to maintain the chain reaction, while the gradual disappearance of the U-235 and the appearance of fission products with large neutron absorption cross sections tend to stop the reaction. The determination of when a producing pile should be shut down and the plutonium extracted involves a nice balancing of these factors against time schedules, material costs, separation-process efficiency, etc. Strictly speaking, this problem is one of operation rather than of design of the plant, but some thought had to be given to it in order to plan the flow of uranium slugs to the pile and from the pile to the separation plant.
SIZE OF UNITS
7.32. We have been speaking of the production capacity of the plant only in terms of overall production rate. Naturally, a given rate of production might be achieved in a single large pile or in a number of smaller ones. The principal advantage of the smaller piles would be the reduction in construction time for the first pile, the possibility of making alterations in later piles, and perhaps most important-the improbability of simultaneous breakdown of all piles. The disadvantage of small piles is that they require disproportionately large amounts of uranium, moderator, etc. There is, in fact, a preferred "natural size" of pile which can be roughly determined on theoretical grounds.
GENERAL NATURE OF THE SEPARATION PLANT
7.33. As we have already pointed out, the slugs coming from the pile are highly radioactive and therefore must be processed by remote control in shielded compartments. The general scheme to be followed was suggested in the latter part of 1942, particularly in connection with plans for the Clinton separation plant. This scheme was to build a "canyon" which would consist of a series of compartments with heavy concrete walls arranged in a line and almost completely buried in the ground. Each compartment would contain the necessary dissolving or precipitating tanks or centrifuges. The slugs would come into the compartment at one end of the canyon; they would then be dissolved and go through the various stages of solution, precipitation, oxidation, or reduction, being pumped from one compartment to the next until a solution of plutonium free from uranium and fission products came out in the last compartment. As in the case of the pile, everything would be operated by remote control from above ground, but the operations would be far more complicated than in the case of the pile. However, as far as the chemical operations themselves were concerned, their general nature was not so far removed from the normal fields of activity of the chemists involved.
7.34. In the first stages of the separation process even the routine analysis of samples which was necessary in checking the operation of the various chemical processes had to be done by remote control. Such testing was facilitated, however, by use of radioactive methods of analysis as well as conventional chemical analyses.
7.35. The raw material (uranium) is not dangerously radioactive. The desired product (plutonium) does not give off penetrating radiation, but the combination of its alpha-ray activity and chemical properties makes it one of the most dangerous substances known if it once gets into the body. However, the really troublesome materials are the fission products, i.e., the major fragments into which uranium is split by fission. The fission products are very radioactive and include some thirty elements. Among them are radioactive xenon and radioactive iodine. These are released in considerable quantity when the slugs are dissolved and must be disposed of with special care. High stacks must be built which will carry off these gases along with the acid fumes from the first dissolving unit, and it must be established that the mixing of the radioactive gases with the atmosphere will not endanger the surrounding territory. (As in all other matters of health, the tolerance standards that were set and met were so rigid as to leave not the slightest probability of danger to the health of the community or operating personnel.)
7.36. Most of the other fission products can be retained in solution but must eventually be disposed of. Of course, possible pollution of the adjacent river must be considered. (In fact, the standards of safety set and met with regard to river pollution were so strict that neither people nor fish down the river can possibly be affected.)
RECOVERY OF URANIUM
7.37. Evidently, even if the uranium were left in the pile until all the U-235 had undergone fission, there would still be a large amount of U-238 which had not been converted to plutonium. Actually the process is stopped long before this stage is reached. Uranium is an expensive material and the total available supply is seriously limited. Therefore the possibility of recovering it after the plutonium is separated must be considered. Originally there was no plan for recovery, but merely the intention of storing the uranium solution. Later, methods of large-scale recovery were developed.
CORROSION IN THE SEPARATION PLANT
7.38. An unusual feature of the chemical processes involved was that these processes occur in the presence of a high density of radiation. Therefore the containers used may corrode more rapidly than they would under normal circumstances. Further. more, any such corrosion will be serious because of the difficulty of access. For a long time, information was sadly lacking on these, dangers.
EFFECT OF RADIATION ON CHEMICAL REACTIONS
7.39. The chemical reactions proposed for an extraction process were, of course, tested in the laboratory. However, they could not be tested with appreciable amounts of plutonium nor could they be tested in the presence of radiation of anything like the expected intensity. Therefore it was realized that a process found to be successful in the laboratory might not work in the plant.
CHOICE OF PROCESS
7.40. The description given above as to what was to happen in the successive chambers in the canyon was very vague. This was necessarily so, since even by January 1943 no decision had been made as to what process would be used for the extraction and purification of plutonium. The major problem before the Chemistry Division of the Metallurgical Laboratory was the selection of the best process for the plant.
THE HEALTH PROBLEM
7.41. Besides the hazards normally present during construction and operation of a large chemical plant, dangers of a new kind were expected here. Two types of radiation hazard were anticipated-neutrons generated in the pile, and alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays emitted by products of the pile. Although the general effects of these radiations had been proved to be similar to those of X-rays, very little detailed knowledge was available. Obviously the amounts of radioactive material to be handled were many times greater than had ever been encountered before.
7.42. The health group had to plan three programs: (1) provision of instruments and clinical tests to detect any evidence of dangerous exposure of the personnel; (2) research on the effects of radiation on persons, instruments, etc.; and (3) estimates of what shielding and safety measures must be incorporated in the design and plan of operation of the plant.
THE PROPERTIES OF PLUTONIUM
7.43. Although we were embarking on a major enterprise to produce plutonium, we still had less than a milligram to study and still had only limited familiarity with its properties. The study of plutonium, therefore, remained a major problem of the Metallurgical Laboratory.
THE TRAINING OF OPERATORS
7.44. Evidently the operation of a full-scale plant of the type planned would require a large and highly skilled group of operators. Although du Pont had a tremendous background of experience in the operation of various kinds of chemical plant, this was something new and it was evident that operating personnel would need special training. Such training was carried out partly in Chicago and its environs, but principally at the Clinton Laboratories.
THE NEED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
7.45. In the preceding paragraphs of this chapter we have outlined the problems confronting the group charged with. designing and building a plutonium production plant. In Chapter VI the progress in this field up to the end of 1942 was reviewed. Throughout these chapters it is made clear that a great deal more information was required to assure the success of the plant. Such answers as had been obtained to most of the questions were only tentative. Consequently research had to be pushed simultaneously with planning and construction.
THE RESEARCH PROGRAM
7.46. To meet the need for further information, research programs were laid out for the Metallurgical Laboratory and the Clinton Laboratory. The following passage is an excerpt from the 1943 program of the Metallurgical Project:
"Product Production Studies. These include all aspects of the research, development and semi-works studies necessary for the design, construction, and operation of chain-reacting piles to produce plutonium or other materials.
Pile Characteristics. Theoretical studies and experiments on lattice structures to predict behavior in high-level piles, such as temperature and barometric effects, neutron characteristics, pile poisoning, etc.
Control of Reacting Units. Design and experimental tests of devices for controlling rate of reaction in piles.
Cooling of Reacting Units. Physical studies of coolant material, engineering problems of circulation, corrosion, erosion, etc.
Instrumentation. Development of instruments and technique for monitoring pile and surveying radiation throughout plant area.
Protection. Shielding, biological effects of radiation at pile and clinical effects of operations associated with pile.
Materials. Study of physical (mechanical and nuclear) properties of construction and process materials used in pile construction and operation.
Activation Investigations. Production of experimental amounts of radioactive materials in cyclotron and in piles and study of activation of materials by neutrons, protons, electrons, gamma rays, etc.
Pile Operation. Study of pile operation procedures such as materials handling, instrument operation, etc.
Process Design. Study of possible production processes as a whole leading to detailed work in other categories.
"Product Recovery Studies. These include all aspects of the work necessary for the development of processes for the extraction of plutonium and possible by-products from the pile material and their preparation in purified form. Major effort at the Metallurgical Laboratory will be on a single process to be selected by June 1, 1943 for the production of plutonium, but alternatives will continue to be studied both at the Metallurgical Laboratory and Clinton with whatever manpower is available.
Separation. Processes for solution of uranium, extraction of plutonium and decontamination by removal of fission products.
Concentration, Purification and Product Reduction. Processes leading to production of plutonium as pure metal, and study of properties of plutonium necessary to its production.
Wastes. Disposal and possible methods of recovery of fission products and metal from wastes.
Instrumentation. Development and testing of instruments for monitoring chemical processes and surveying radiation throughout the area.
Protection. Shielding studies, determination of biological effects of radioactive dusts, liquids, solids, and other process materials, and protective measures.
Materials. Corrosion of equipment 'materials, and radiation stability. Necessary purity and purity analysis of process materials, etc.
Recovery of Activated Materials. Development of methods and actual recovery of activated material (tracers, etc.) from cyclotron and pile-activated materials.
Operations Studies. Equipment performance, process control, material handling operations, etc.
Process Design. Study of product recovery processes as a whole (wet processes, physical methods) leading to detailed work in other categories.
"Fundamental Research. Studies of the fundamental physical, chemical and biological phenomena occurring in chain-reacting piles, and basic properties of all materials involved. Although the primary emphasis at Clinton is on the semi-works level, much fundamental research will require Clinton conditions (high radiation intensity, large scale processes).
Nuclear Physics. Fundamental properties of nuclear fission such as cross section, neutron yield, fission species, etc. Other nuclear properties important to processes, such as cross sections, properties of moderators, neutron effect on materials, etc.
General Physics. Basic instrument (electronic, ionization, optical, etc.) research, atomic mass determinations, neutron, alpha, beta, gamma radiation studies, X-ray investigations, etc.
Radiation Chemistry. Effects of radiation on chemical processes and chemical reactions produced by radiation.
Nuclear Chemistry. Tracing of fission products, disintegration constants, chains, investigation of nuclei of possible use to project.
Product Chemistry. Chemical properties of various products and basic studies in separation and purification of products.
General Chemistry. Chemistry of primary materials and materials associated with process, including by-products.
General Biology. Fundamental studies of effects of radiation on living matter, metabolism of important materials, etc.
Clinical Investigations. Basic investigations, such as hematology, pathology, etc.
Metallurgical Studies. Properties of U, Pu, Be, etc.
Engineering Studies. Phenomena basic to corrosion and similar studies essential to continued engineering development of processes."
7.47. An examination of this program gives an idea of the great range of investigations which were considered likely to give relevant information. Many of the topics listed are not specific research problems such as might be solved by a small team of scientists working for a few months but are whole fields of investigation that might be studied with profit for years. It was necessary to pick the specific problems that were likely to give the most immediately useful results but at the same time it was desirable to try to uncover general principles. For example, the effect of radiation on the properties of materials ("radiation stability") was almost entirely unknown. It was necessary both to make empirical tests on particular materials that might be used in a pile and to devise general theories of the observed effects. Every effort was made to relate all work to the general objective: a successful production plant.
ORGANIZATION OF THE PROJECT
7.48. There have been many changes in the organization and personnel of the project. During most of the period of construction at Clinton and Hanford, A. H. Compton was director of the Metallurgical Project; S. K. Allison was director of the Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago; and M. D. Whitaker was director of the Clinton Laboratory. The Chicago group was organized in four divisions: physics, chemistry, technology, and health. Later the Physics Division was split into general physics and nuclear physics. R. L. Doan was research director at Clinton but there was no corresponding position at Chicago. Among others who have been associate or assistant laboratory or project directors or have been division directors are S. T. Cantril, C. M. Cooper, F. Daniels, A. J. Dempster, E. Fermi, J. Franck, N. Hilberry, T. R.Hogness, W. C. Johnson, H. D. Smyth, J. C. Stearns, R. S. Stone, H. C. Vernon, W. W. Watson, and E. Wigner. Beginning in 1943 C. H. Thomas of the Monsanto Chemical Company acted as chairman of a committee on the Chemistry and Metallurgy of Plutonium. This committee correlated the activities of the Metallurgical Laboratory with those at Los Alamos (see Chapter XII) and elsewhere. Later the Monsanto Chemical Company did some work on important special problems arising in connection with the Los Alamos work.
7.49. It was the responsibility of these men to see that the research program described above was carried out and that significant results were reported to du Pont. It was their responsibility also to answer questions raised by du Pont and to approve or criticize plans submitted by du Pont.
COOPERATION BETWEEN THE METALLURGICAL LABORATORY AND DU PONT
7.50. Since du Pont was the design and construction organization and the Metallurgical Laboratory was the research organization, it was obvious that close cooperation was essential. Not only did du Pont need answers to specific questions, but they could benefit by criticism and suggestions on the many points where the Metallurgical group was especially well-informed. Similarly, the Metallurgical group could profit by the knowledge of du Pont on many technical questions of design, construction, and operation. To promote this kind of cooperation du Pont stationed one of their physicists, J. B. Miles, at Chicago, and had many other du Pont men, particularly C. H. Greenewalt, spend much of their time at Chicago. Miles and Greenewalt regularly attended meetings of the Laboratory Council. There was no similar reciprocal arrangement although many members of the laboratory visited Wilmington informally. In addition, J. A. Wheeler was transferred from Chicago to Wilmington and became a member of the du Pont staff. There was, of course, constant exchange of reports and letters, and conferences were held frequently between Compton and R. Williams of du Pont. Whitaker spent much of his time at Wilmington during the period when the Clinton plant was being designed and constructed.
7.51. By January 1943, the decision had been made to build a plutonium production plant with a large capacity. This meant a pile developing thousands of kilowatts and a chemical separation plant to extract the product. The du Pont Company was to design, construct, and operate the plant; the Metallurgical Laboratory was to do the necessary research. A site was chosen on the Columbia River at Hanford, Washington. A tentative decision to build a helium-cooled plant was reversed in favor of water-cooling. The principal problems were those involving lattice design, loading and unloading, choice of materials particularly with reference to corrosion and radiation, water supply, controls and instrumentation, health hazards, chemical separation process, and design of the separation plant. Plans were made for the necessary fundamental and technical research and for the training of operators. Arrangements were made for liaison between du Pont and the Metallurgical Laboratory.