The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part IV: The Manhattan Engineer District in Operation


December 16, 1942, found Colonel Franklin T. Matthias of Groves' staff and two DuPont engineers headed for the Pacific Northwest and southern California to investigate possible production sites. Of the possible sites available, none had a better combination of isolation, long construction season, and abundant water for hydroelectric power than those found along the Columbia and Colorado Rivers. After viewing six locations in Washington, Oregon, and California, the group agreed that the area around Hanford, Washington, best met the criteria established by the Met Lab scientists and DuPont engineers. The Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams offered substantial hydroelectric power, while the flat but rocky terrain would provide excellent support for the huge plutonium production buildings. The ample site of nearly one-half million acres was far enough inland to meet security requirements, while existing transportation facilities could quickly be improved and labor was readily available. Pleased with the committee's unanimous report, Groves accepted its recommendation and authorized the establishment of the Hanford Engineer Works, codenamed Site W.

Now that DuPont would be building the plutonium production complex in the Northwest, Compton saw no reason for any pile facilities in Oak Ridge and proposed to conduct Met Lab research in either Chicago or Argonne. DuPont, on the other hand, continued to support a semiworks at Oak Ridge and asked the Met Lab scientists to operate it. Compton demurred on the grounds that he did not have sufficient technical staff, but he was also reluctant because his scientists complained that their laboratory was becoming little more than a subsidiary of DuPont. In the end, Compton knew the Met Lab would have to support DuPont, which simply did not have sufficient expertise to operate the semiworks on its own. The University of Chicago administration supported Compton's decision in early March.