The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation

Warning From Los Alamos

But in the midst of encouraging progress in construction and research on the electromagnetic process in July came discouraging news from Oppenheimer's isolated laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, set up in spring 1943 to consolidate work on atomic weapons. Oppenheimer warned that three times more fissionable material would be required for a bomb than earlier estimates had indicated. Even with satisfactory performance of the racetracks, it was possible that they might not produce enough purified uranium-235 in time. Lawrence responded to this crisis in characteristic fashion: He immediately lobbied Groves to incorporate multiple sources into the racetracks under construction and to build more racetracks. Groves decided to build the first four as planned but, after receiving favorable reports from both Stone & Webster and Tennessee Eastman, allowed a four beam source in the fifth. Convinced that the electromagnetic process would work and sensing that estimates from Los Alamos might be revised downward in the future, Groves let Lawrence talk him into building a new plant-in effect, doubling the size of the electromagnetic complex. The new facility, Groves reported to the Military Policy Committee on September 9, would consist of two buildings, each with two rectangular racetracks of ninety-six tanks operating with four-beam sources.

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