The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb
Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation
The K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant
Eleven miles southwest of Oak Ridge on the Clinch River was the site of the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant upon which so much hope had rested when it was authorized in late 1942. Championed by the British and placed first by the Lewis committee, gaseous diffusion seemed to be based on sound theory but had not yet produced samples of enriched uranium-235. At Oak Ridge, on a relatively flat area of about 5,000 acres, site preparation for the K-25 power plant began in June. Throughout the summer, contractors contended with primitive roads as they shipped in the materials needed to build what became the world's largest steam electric plant. In September work began on the cascade building, plans for which had changed dramatically since the spring. Now there were to be fifty four-story buildings (2,000,000 square feet) in a U-shape measuring half a mile by 1,000 feet. Innovative foundation techniques were required to avoid setting thousands of concrete piers to support load-bearing walls.
Since it was eleven miles from the headquarters at Oak Ridge, the K-25 site developed into a satellite town. Housing was supplied, as was a full array of service facilities for the population that reached 15,000. Dubbed Happy Valley by the inhabitants, the town had housing similar to that in Oak Ridge, but, like headquarters, it too experienced chronic shortages. Even with a contractor camp with facilities for 2,000 employees nearby, half of Happy Valley's workers had to commute to the construction site daily.