The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation

DuPont Joins the Team

Compton's original plans to build the experimental pile and chemical separation plant on the University of Chicago campus changed during fall 1942. The S-1 Executive Committee concurred that it would be safer to put Fermi's pile in Argonne and build the pilot plant and separation facilities in Oak Ridge than to place these experiments in a populous area. On October 3 DuPont agreed to design and build the chemical separation plant. Groves tried to entice further DuPont participation at Oak Ridge by having the firm prepare an appraisal of the pile project and by placing three DuPont staff members on the Lewis committee. Because DuPont was sensitive about its public image (the company was still smarting from charges that it profiteered during World War I), Groves ultimately obtained the services of the giant chemical company for the sum of one dollar over actual costs. In addition, DuPont vowed to stay out of the bomb business after the war and offered all patents to the United States government.

Groves had done well in convincing DuPont to join the Manhattan Project. DuPont's proven administrative structure assured excellent coordination (Crawford Greenewalt was given the responsibility of coordinating DuPont and Met Lab planning), and Groves and Compton welcomed the company's demand that it be put in full charge of the Oak Ridge plutonium project. DuPont had a strong organization and had studied every aspect of the Met Lab's program thoroughly before accepting the assignment. While deeply involved in the overall war effort, DuPont expected to be able to divert personnel and other resources from explosives work in time to throw its full weight into the Oak Ridge project.

Moving the pilot plutonium plant to Oak Ridge left too little room for the full-scale production plant at the X-10 site and also left too little generating power for yet another major facility. Furthermore, the site was uncomfortably close to Knoxville should a catastrophe occur. Thus the search for an alternate location for the full-scale plutonium facility began soon after DuPont joined the production team. Compton's scientists needed an area of approximately 225 square miles. Three or four piles and one or two chemical separation complexes would be at least a mile apart for security purposes, while nothing would be allowed within four miles of the separation complexes for fear of radioactive accidents. Towns, highways, rail lines, and laboratories would be several miles further away.