The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation

Reworking the Racetracks

It became clear to Groves that he would have to find a way for a combination of isotope separation processes to produce enough fissionable material for bombs. This meant making changes in the racetracks so that they could process the slightly enriched material produced by K-25. He then concentrated on further expansion of the electromagnetic facilities. Lawrence, seconded by Oppenheimer, believed that four more racetracks should be built to accompany the nine already finished or under construction. Groves agreed with this approach, though he was not sure that the additional racetracks could be built in time.

As K-25 stock continued to drop and plutonium prospects remained uncertain, Lawrence lobbied yet again for further expansion of Y-12, arguing that it provided the only possible avenue to a bomb by 1945. His plan was to convert all tanks to multiple beams and to build two more racetracks. By this time even the British had given up on gaseous diffusion and urged acceptance of Lawrence's plan.

Time was running out, and an element of desperation crept into decisions made at a meeting on July 4, 1944. Groves met with the Oak Ridge contractors to consider proposals Lawrence had prepared after assessing once again the resources and abilities of the Radiation Laboratory. There was to be no change in the completed racetracks; there simply was not enough time. Some improvements were to be made in the racetracks then under construction. In the most important decision made at the meeting, Lawrence was to throw all he had into a completely new type of calutron that would use a thirty-beam source. Technical support would come from both Westinghouse and General Electric, which would cease work on four-beam development. It was a gamble in a high-stakes game, but sticking with the Alpha and Beta racetracks might have been an even greater gamble.

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