Atomic Energy for Military Purposes (The Smyth Report)



8.1. The necessity for pushing the design and construction of the full-scale plutonium plant simultaneously with research and development inevitably led to a certain amount of confusion and inefficiency. It became essential to investigate many alternative processes. It became necessary to investigate all possible causes of failure even when the probability of their becoming serious was very small. Now that the Hanford plant is producing plutonium successfully, we believe it is fair to say that a large percentage of the results of investigation made between the end of 1942 and the end of 1944 will never be used-at least not for the originally intended purposes. Nevertheless had the Hanford plant run into difficulties, anyone of the now superfluous investigations might have furnished just the information required to convert failure into success. Even now it is impossible to say that future improvements may not depend on the results of researches that seem unimportant today.

8.2. It is estimated that thirty volumes will be required for a complete report of the significant scientific results of researches conducted under the auspices of the Metallurgical Project. Work was done on every item mentioned on the research program presented in the last chapter. In the present account it would be obviously impossible to give more than a brief abstract of all these researches. We believe this would be unsatisfactory and that it is preferable to give a general discussion of the chain-reacting units and separation plants as they now operate, with some discussion of the earlier developments.


8.3. In Chapter I and other early chapters we have given brief accounts of the fission process, pile operation, and chemical separation. We shall now review these topics from a somewhat different point of view before describing the plutonium production plants themselves.

8.4. The operation of a pile depends on the passage of neutrons through matter and on the nature of the collisions of neutrons with the nuclei encountered. The collisions of principal importance are the following:

I. Collisions in which neutrons are scattered and lose appreciable amounts of energy. (a) Inelastic collisions of fast neutrons with uranium nuclei. (b) Elastic collisions of fast or moderately fast neutrons with the light nuclei of the moderator material; these collisions serve to reduce the neutron energy to very low (so-called thermal) energies.

II. Collisions in which the neutrons are absorbed. (a) Collisions which result in fission of nuclei and give fission products and additional neutrons. (b) Collisions which result in the formation of new nuclei which subsequently disintegrate radioactively (e.g., 92U239 which produces 94Pu239).

8.5. Only the second class of collision requires further discussion. As regards collisions of Type II (a), the most important in a pile are the collisions between neutrons and U-235, but the high-energy fission of U -238 and the thermal fission of Pu-239 also take place. Collisions of Type II (b) are chiefly those between neutrons and U-238. Such collisions occur for neutrons of all energies, but they are most likely to occur for neutrons whose energies lie in the "resonance" region located somewhat above thermal energies. The sequence of results of the Type II (b) collision is represented as follows:

92U238 + 0n192U239 + gamma rays

92U239 → (23 minutes) 93Np239 + -1e0

93Np239 → (2.3 days) 94Pu239 + -1e0 + gamma rays

8.6. Any other non-fission absorption processes are important chiefly because they waste neutrons; they occur in the moderator, in U-235, in the coolant, in the impurities originally present, in the fission products, and even in plutonium itself.

8.7. Since the object of the chain reaction is to generate plutonium, we would like to absorb all excess neutrons in U-238, leaving just enough neutrons to produce fission and thus to maintain the chain reaction. Actually the tendency of the neutrons to be absorbed by the dominant isotope U-238 is so great compared to their tendency to produce fission in the 140-times-rarer U-235 that the principal design effort had to be directed toward favoring the fission (as by using a moderator, a suitable lattice, materials of high purity, etc.,) in order to maintain the chain reaction.


8.8. All the chain-reacting piles designed by the Metallurgical Laboratory or with its cooperation consist of four categories of material-the uranium metal, the moderator, the coolant, and the auxiliary materials such as water tubes, casings of uranium, control strips or rods, impurities, etc. All the piles depend on stray neutrons from spontaneous fission or cosmic rays to initiate the reaction.

8.9. Suppose that the pile were to be started by simultaneous release (in the uranium metal) of N high-energy neutrons. Most of these neutrons originally have energies above the threshold energy of fission of U -238. However, as the neutrons pass back and forth in the metal and moderator, they suffer numerous inelastic collisions with the uranium and numerous elastic collisions with the moderator, and all these collisions serve to reduce the energies below that threshold. Specifically, in a typical graphite-moderated pile a neutron that has escaped from the uranium into the graphite travels on the average about 2.5 cm between collisions and makes on the average about 200 elastic collisions before passing from the graphite back into the uranium. Since at each such collision a neutron loses on the average about one sixth of its energy, a one-Mev neutron is reduced to thermal energy (usually taken to be 0.025 electron volt) considerably before completing a single transit through the graphite. There are, of course, many neutrons that depart from this average behavior, and there will be enough fissions produced by fast neutrons to enhance slightly the number of neutrons present. The enhancement may be taken into account by multiplying the original number of neutrons N by a factor ε which is called the fast-fission effect or the fast-multiplication factor.

8.10. As the average energy of the Nε neutrons present continues to fall, inelastic collision in the uranium becomes unimportant, the energy being reduced essentially only in the moderator. However, the chance of non-fission absorption (resonance capture) in U-238 becomes significant as the intermediate or resonance energy region is reached. Actually quite a number of neutrons in this energy region will be absorbed regardless of choice of lattice design. The effect of such capture may be expressed by multiplying Nε by a factor p, (which is always less than one) called the "resonance escape probability" which is the probability that a given neutron starting with energy above the resonance region will reach thermal energies without absorption in U-238. Thus from the original N high-energy neutrons we obtain Nεp neutrons of thermal energy.

8.11. Once a neutron has reached thermal energy the chance that it will lose more energy by collision is no greater than the chance that it will gain energy. Consequently the neutrons will remain at this average energy until they are absorbed. In the thermal-energy region the chance for absorption of the neutron by the moderator, the coolant and the auxiliary materials is greater than at higher energies. At any rate it is found that we introduce little error into our calculations by assuming all such unwanted absorption takes place in this energy region. We now introduce a factor f, called the thermal utilization factor, which is defined as the probability that a given thermal neutron will be absorbed in the uranium. Thus from the original N fast neutrons we have obtained Nεpf thermal neutrons which are absorbed by uranium.

8.12. Although there are several ways in which the normal mixture of uranium isotopes can absorb neutrons, the reader may recall that we defined in a previous chapter a quantity η, which is the number of fission neutrons produced for each thermal neutron absorbed in uranium regardless of the details of the process. If, therefore, we multiply the number of thermal neutrons absorbed in uranium, Nεpf, by η, we have the number of new high speed neutrons generated by the original N high speed neutrons in the course of their lives. If Nεpfη is greater than N, we have a chain reaction and the number of neutrons is continually increasing. Evidently the product εpfη = k, the multiplication factor already defined in Chapter IV.

8.13. Note that no mention has been made of neutrons escaping from the pile. Such mention has been deliberately avoided since the value of k as defined above applies to an infinite lattice. From the known values of k and the fact that these piles do operate, one finds that the percentage of neutrons escaping cannot be very great. As we saw in Chapter II, the escape of neutrons becomes relatively less important as the size of the pile increases. If it is necessary to introduce in the pile a large amount of auxiliary material such as cooling-system pipes, it is necessary to build a somewhat larger pile to counteract the increase in absorption.

8.14. To sum up, a pile operates by reducing high-energy neutrons to thermal energies by the use of a moderator-lattice arrangement, then allowing the thermal-energy neutrons to be absorbed by uranium, causing fission which regenerates further high-energy neutrons. The regeneration of neutrons is aided slightly by the fast neutron effect; it is impeded by resonance absorption during the process of energy reduction, by absorption in graphite and other materials, and by neutron escape.


8.15. Even at the high power level used in the Hanford piles, only a few grams of U-238 and of U-235 are used up per day per million grams of uranium present. Nevertheless the effects of these changes are very important. As the U-235 is becoming depleted, the concentration of plutonium is increasing. Fortunately, plutonium itself is fissionable by thermal neutrons and so tends to counterbalance the decrease of U-235 as far as maintaining the chain reaction is concerned. However, other fission products are being produced also. These consist typically of unstable and relatively unfamiliar nuclei so that it was originally impossible to predict how great an undesirable effect they would have on the multiplication constant. Such deleterious effects are called poisoning.


8.16. There are two main parts of the plutonium production process at Hanford: actual production in the pile, and separation of the plutonium from the uranium slugs in which it is formed. We turn now to a discussion of the second part, the separation process.

8.17. The uranium slugs containing plutonium also contain other elements resulting from the fission of U-235. When a U-235 nucleus undergoes fission, it emits one or more neutrons and splits into two fragments of comparable size and of total mass 235 or less. Apparently fission into precisely equal masses rarely occurs, the most abundant fragments being a fragment of mass number between 134 and 144 and a fragment of mass number between 100 and 90. Thus there are two groups of fission products: a heavy group with mass numbers extending approximately from 127 to 154, and a light group from approximately 115 to 83: These fission products are in the main unstable isotopes of the thirty or so known elements in these general ranges of mass number. Typically they decay by successive beta emissions accompanied by gamma radiation finally to form known stable nuclei. The half-lives of the various intermediate nuclei range from fractions of a second to a year or more; several of the important species have half-lives of the order of a month or so. About twenty different elements are present in significant concentration. The most abundant of these comprises slightly less than 10 per cent of the aggregate.

8.18. In addition to radioactive fission products, U-239 and Np-239 (intermediate products in the formation of plutonium) are present in the pile and are radioactive. The concentrations of all these products begin to build up at the moment the pile starts operating. Eventually the rate of radioactive decay equals the rate of formation so that the concentrations become constant. For example, the number of atoms of U-239 produced per second is constant for a pile operating at a fixed power level. According to the laws of radioactive disintegration, the number of U-239 atoms disappearing per second is proportional to the number of such atoms present and is thus increasing during the first few minutes or hours after the pile is put into operation. Consequently there soon will be practically as many nuclei disintegrating each second as are formed each second. Equilibrium concentrations for other nuclei will be approached in similar manner, the equilibrium concentration being proportional to the rate of formation of the nucleus and to its half-life. Products which are stable or of extremely long half-life (e.g., plutonium) will steadily increase in concentration for a considerable time. When the pile is stopped, the radioactivity of course continues, but at a continually diminishing absolute rate. Isotopes of very short half-life may "drop out of sight" in a few minutes or hours; others of longer half-life keep appreciably active for days or months. Thus at any time the concentrations of the various products in a recently stopped pile depend on what the power level was, on how long the pile ran, and on how long it has been shut down. Of course, the longer the pile has run, the larger is the concentration of plutonium and (unfortunately) the larger is the concentration of long-lived fission products. The longer the "cooling" period, i.e., the period between removal of material from the pile and chemical treatment, the lower is the radiation intensity from the fission products. A compromise must be made between such considerations as the desire for a long running and cooling time on the one hand and the desire for early extraction of the plutonium on the other hand.

8.19. Tables can be prepared showing the chemical concentrations of plutonium and the various fission products as functions of power level, length of operation, and length of cooling period. The half-life of the U-239 is so short that its concentration becomes negligible soon after the pile shuts down. The neptunium becomes converted fairly rapidly to plutonium. Of course, the total weight of fission products, stable and unstable, remains practically constant after the pile is stopped. For the Clinton and Hanford operating conditions the maximum plutonium concentration attained is so small as to add materially to the difficulty of chemical separation.


8.20. The problem then is to make a chemical separation at the daily rate of, say, several grams of plutonium from several thousand grams of uranium contaminated with large amounts of dangerously radioactive fission products comprising twenty different elements. The problem is especially difficult as the plutonium purity requirements are very high indeed.

8.21. Four types of method for chemical separation were examined: volatility, absorption, solvent extraction, and precipitation. The work on absorption and solvent extraction methods has been extensive and such methods may be increasingly used in the main process or in waste recovery, but the Hanford Plant was designed for a precipitation process.

Paragraphs 8.22-8.26 are quoted or paraphrased from a general report of the Metallurgical Laboratory prepared in the spring of 1945.

8.22. The phenomena of co-precipitation, i.e., the precipitation of small concentrations of one element along with a "carrier" precipitate of some other element, had been commonly used in radioactive chemistry, and was adopted for plutonium separation. The early work on plutonium chemistry, confined as it was to minute amounts of the element, made great use of precipitation reactions from which solubility properties could be deduced. It was therefore natural that precipitation methods of separation were the most advanced at the time when the plant design was started. It was felt that, should the several steps in the separations process have to be developed partly by the empirical approach, there would be less risk in the scale-up of a precipitation process than, for example, of one involving solid-phase reactions. In addition, the precipitation processes then in mind could be broken into a sequence of repeated operations (called cycles), thereby limiting the number of different equipment pieces requiring design and allowing considerable process change without equipment change. Thus, while the basic plant design was made with one method in mind, the final choice of a different method led to no embarrassments.

8.23. Most of the precipitation processes which have received serious consideration made use of an alternation between the (IV) and (VI) oxidation states of plutonium. Such processes involve a precipitation of plutonium (IV) with a certain compound as a carrier, then dissolution of the precipitate, oxidation of the plutonium to the (VI) state, and reprecipitation of the carrier compound while the plutonium (VI) remains in solution. Fission products which are not carried by these compounds remain in solution when plutonium (IV) is precipitated. The fission products which carry are removed from the plutonium when it is in the (VI) state. Successive oxidation-reduction cycles are carried out until the desired decontamination is achieved. The process of elimination of the fission products is called decontamination and the degree of elimination is tested by measuring the change in radioactivity of the material.


8.24. It is possible to combine or couple the various types of process. Some advantages may be gained in this way since one type of process may supplement another. For example, a process which gives good decontamination might be combined advantageously with one which, while inefficient for decontamination, would be very efficient for separation from uranium.

8.25. At the time when it became necessary to decide on the process to serve as the basis for the design of the Hanford plant (June 1943), the choice, for reasons given above, was limited to precipitation processes and clearly lay between two such processes. However, the process as finally chosen actually represented a combination of the two.

8.26. The success of the separation process at Hanford has exceeded all expectations. The high yields and decontamination factors and the relative ease of operation have amply demonstrated the wisdom of its choice as a process. This choice was based on a knowledge of plutonium chemistry which had been gleaned from less than a milligram of plutonium. Further developments may make the present Hanford process obsolete, but the principal goal, which was to have a workable and efficient process for use as soon as the Hanford piles were delivering plutonium, has been attained.


8.27. The Argonne Laboratory was constructed early in 1943 outside Chicago. The site, originally intended for a pilot plant, was later considered to be too near the city and was used for reconstructing the so-called West Stands pile which was originally built on the University of Chicago grounds and which was certainly innocuous. Under the direction of E. Fermi and his colleagues, H. L. Anderson, W. H. Zinn, G. Weil, and others, this pile has served as a prototype unit for studies of thermal stability, controls, instruments, and shielding, and as a neutron source for materials testing and neutron-physics studies. Furthermore, it has proved valuable as a training school for plant operators. More recently a heavy-water pile (see below) has been constructed there.

8.28. The first Argonne pile, a graphite-uranium pile, need not be described in detail. The materials and lattice structure are nearly identical to those which were used for the original West Stands pile. The pile is a cube; it is surrounded by a shield and has controls and safety devices somewhat similar to those used later at Clinton. It has no cooling system and is normally run at a power level of only a few kilowatts. It has occasionally been run at high-power levels for very brief periods. Considering that it is merely a reconstruction of the first chain-reacting unit ever built, it is amazing that it has continued in operation for more than two years without developing any major troubles.

8.29. One of the most valuable uses of the Argonne pile has been the measurement of neutron-absorption cross sections of a great variety of elements which might be used in piles as structural members, etc., or which might be present in pile materials as impurities. These measurements are made by observing the change in the controls necessary to make keff equal to 1.00 when a known amount of the substance under study is inserted at a definite position in the pile. The results obtained were usually expressed in terms of "danger coefficients."

8.30. An opening at the top of the pile lets out a very uniform beam of thermal neutrons that can be used for exponential-pile experiments, for direct measurements of absorption cross sections, for Wilson cloud chamber studies, etc.

8.31. An interesting phenomenon occurring at the top of the pile is the production of a beam or flow of "cold" neutrons. If a sufficient amount of graphite is interposed between the upper surface of the pile and an observation point a few yards above, the neutron energy distribution is found to correspond to a temperature much lower than that of the graphite. This is presumed to be the result of a preferential transmission by the crystalline graphite of the slowest ("coldest") neutrons, whose quantum-mechanical wave-length is great compared to the distance between successive planes in the graphite crystals.

8.32. More recently a pile using heavy water as moderator was constructed in the Argonne Laboratory. The very high intensity beam of neutrons produced by this pile has been found well-suited to the study of "neutron optics," e.g., reflection and refraction of neutron beams as by graphite.

8.33. A constant objective of the Argonne Laboratory has been a better understanding of nuclear processes in uranium, neptunium, and plutonium. Repeated experiments have been made to improve the accuracy of constants such as thermal-fission cross sections of U-235, U-238, and Pu-239, probabilities of non-fission neutron absorption by each of these nuclei, and number of neutrons emitted per fission.


8.34. In Chapter VI we mentioned plans for a "pilot" plant for production of plutonium to be built at the Clinton site in Tennessee. By January 1943, the plans for this project were well along; construction was started soon afterward. M. D. Whitaker was appointed director of the Clinton Laboratories. The pilot-plant plans were made cooperatively by du Pont and the Metallurgical Laboratory; construction was carried out by du Pont; plant operation was maintained by the University of Chicago as part of the Metallurgical Project.

8.35. The main purposes of the Clinton plant were to produce some plutonium and to serve as a pilot plant for chemical separation. As regards research, the emphasis at Clinton was on chemistry and on the biological effects of radiations. A large laboratory was provided for chemical analysis, for research on purification methods, for fission-product studies, for development of intermediate-scale extraction and decontamination processes, etc. Later a "hot laboratory," i.e., a laboratory for remotely-controlled work on highly radioactive material, was provided. There is also an instrument shop and laboratory that has been used very actively. There are facilities for both clinical and experimental work of the health division, which has been very active. There is a small physics laboratory in which some important work was done using higher neutron intensities than were available at the Argonne Laboratory. The principal installations constructed at the Clinton Laboratory site were the pile and the separation plant; these are briefly described below.


8.36. In any steadily operating pile the effective multiplication factor k must be kept at 1, whatever the power level. The best k that had been observed in a uranium-graphite lattice could not be achieved in a practical pile because of neutron leakage, cooling system, cylindrical channels for the uranium, protective coating on the uranium, and other minor factors. Granted air-cooling and a maximum safe temperature for the surface of the uranium, a size of pile had to be chosen that could produce, 1,000 kw. The effective k would go down with rising temperature but not sufficiently to be a determining factor. Though a sphere was the ideal shape, practical considerations recommended a rectangular block.

8.37. The Clinton pile consists of a cube of graphite containing horizontal channels filled with uranium. The uranium is in the form of metal cylinders protected by gas-tight casings of aluminum. The uranium cylinders or slugs may be slid into the channels in the graphite; space is left to permit cooling air to flow past, and to permit pushing the slugs out at the back of the pile when they are ready for processing. Besides the channels for slugs there are various other holes through the pile for control rods, instruments, etc.

8.38. The Clinton pile was considerably larger than the first pile at Chicago (see Chapter VI). More important than the increased size of the Clinton pile were its cooling system, heavier shields, and means for changing the slugs. The production goal of the Clinton plant was set at a figure which meant that the pile should operate at a power level of 1,000 kw.

8.39. The instrumentation and controls are identical in principle to those of the first pile. Neutron intensity in the pile is measured by a BF3 ionization chamber and is controlled by boron steel rods that can be moved in and out of the pile, thereby varying the fraction of neutrons available to produce fission.

8.40. In spite of an impressive array of instruments and safety devices, the most striking feature of the pile is the simplicity of operation. Most of the time the operators have nothing to do except record the readings of various instruments.


8.41. Here, as at Hanford, the plutonium processes have to be carried out by remote control and behind thick shields. The separation equipment is housed in a series of adjacent cells having heavy concrete walls. These cells form a continuous structure (canyon) which is about 100 feet long and is two-thirds buried in the ground. Adjacent to this canyon are the control rooms, analytical laboratories, and a laboratory for further purification of the plutonium after it has been decontaminated to the point of comparative safety.

8.42. Uranium slugs that have been exposed in the pile are transferred under water to the first of these cells and are then dissolved. Subsequent operations are performed by pumping solutions or slurries from one tank or centrifuge to another.


8.43. The Clinton pile started operating on November 4, 1943, and within a few days was brought up to a power level of 500 kw at a maximum slug surface temperature of 110o C. Improvements in the air circulation and an elevation of the maximum uranium surface temperature to 150o C. brought the power level up to about 800 kw, where it was maintained until the spring of 1944. Starting at that time, a change was made in the distribution of uranium, the change being designed to level out the power distribution in the pile by reducing the amount of metal near the center relative to that further out and thereby to increase the average power level without anywhere attaining too high a temperature. At the same time improvements were realized in the sealing of the slug jackets, making it possible to operate the pile at higher temperature. As a result, a power level of 1,800 kw was attained in May 1944; this was further increased after the installation of better fans in June 1944.

8.44. Thus the pile performance of June 1944 considerably exceeded expectations. In ease of control, steadiness of operation, and absence of dangerous radiation, the pile has been most satisfactory. There have been very few failures attributable to mistakes in design or construction.

8.45. The pile itself was simple both in principle and in practice. Not so the plutonium-separation plant. The step from the first chain-reacting pile to the Clinton pile was reasonably predictable; but a much greater and more uncertain step was required in the case of the separation process, for the Clinton separation plant was designed on the basis of experiments using only microgram amounts of plutonium.

8.46. Nevertheless, the separation process worked! The first batch of slugs from the pile entered the separation plant on December 20, 1943. By the end of January 1944, metal from the pile was going to the separation plant at the rate of 1/3 ton per day. By February 1, 1944, 190 mg of plutonium had been delivered and by March 1, 1944, several grams had been delivered. Furthermore, the efficiency of recovery at the very start was about 50 per cent, and by June 1944 it was between 80 and 90 per cent.

8.47. During this whole period there was a large group of chemists at Clinton working on improving the process and developing it for Hanford. The Hanford problem differed from that at Clinton in that much higher concentrations of plutonium were expected. Furthermore, though the chemists were to be congratulated on the success of the Clinton plant, the process was complicated and expensive. Any improvements in yield or decontamination or in general simplification were very much to be sought.

8.48. Besides the proving of the pile and the separation plant and the production of several grams of plutonium for experimental use at Chicago, Clinton, and elsewhere, the Clinton Laboratories have been invaluable as a training and testing center for Hanford, for medical experiments, pile studies, purification studies, and physical and chemical studies of plutonium and fission products.

8.49. As typical of the kind of problems tackled there and at Chicago, the following problems-listed in a single routine report for May 1944-are pertinent:

Problems Closed Out during May 1944: Search for New Oxidizing Agent, Effect of Radiation on Water and Aqueous Solutions, Solubility of Plutonium Peroxide, Plutonium Compounds Suitable for Shipment, Fission Product Distribution in Plant Process Solutions, Preliminary Process Design for Adsorption Extraction, Adsorption Semi-Works Assistance, Completion of Adsorption Process Design.

New Problems Assigned during May 1944: New Product Analysis Method, Effect of Radiation on Graphite, Improvement in Yield, New Pile Explorations, Waste Uranium Recovery, Monitoring Stack Gases, Disposal of Active Waste Solutions, Spray Cooling of X Pile, Assay Training Program, Standardization of Assay Methods, Development of Assay Methods, Shielded Apparatus for Process Control Assays, Cloud Chamber Experiment, Alpha Particles from U-235, Radial Product Distribution, Diffraction of Neutrons.


8.50. It is beyond the scope of this report to give any account of the construction of the Hanford Engineer Works, but it is to be hoped that the full story of this extraordinary enterprise and the companion one, the Clinton Engineer Works, will be published at some time in the future. The Hanford site was examined by representatives of General Groves and of du Pont at the end of 1942, and use of the site was approved by General Groves after he had inspected it personally. It was on the west side of the Columbia River in central Washington north of Pasco. In the early months of 1943 a 200-square-mile tract in this region was acquired by the government (by lease or purchase) through the Real Estate Division of the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Eventually an area of nearly a thousand square miles was brought under government control. At the time of acquisition of the land there were a few farms and two small villages, Hanford and Richland, on the site, which was otherwise sage-brush plains and barren hills. On the 6th of April, 1943, ground was broken for the Hanford construction camp. At the peak of activity in 1944, this camp was a city of 60,000 inhabitants, the fourth largest city in the state. Now, however, the camp is practically deserted as the operating crew is housed at Richland.

8.51. Work was begun on the first of the Hanford production piles on June 7, 1943, and operation of the first pile began in September 1944. The site was originally laid out for five piles, but the construction of only three has been undertaken. Besides the piles, there are, of course, plutonium separation plants, pumping stations and water-treatment plants. There is also a low-power chain-reacting pile for material testing. Not only are the piles themselves widely spaced for safety several miles apart -but the separation plants are well away from the piles and from each other. All three piles were in operation by the summer of 1945.


8.52. No one who lived through the period of design and construction of the Hanford plant is likely to forget the "canning" problem, i.e., the problem of sealing the uranium slugs in protective metal jackets. On periodic visits to Chicago the writer could roughly estimate the state of the canning problem by the atmosphere of gloom or joy to be found around the laboratory. It was definitely not a simple matter to find a sheath that would protect uranium from water corrosion, would keep fission products out of the water, would transmit heat from the uranium to the water, and would not absorb too many neutrons. Yet the failure of a single can might conceivably require shut-down of an entire operating pile.

8.53. Attempts to meet the stringent requirements involved experimental work on electroplating processes, hot-dipping processes, cementation-coating processes, corrosion-resistant alloys of uranium, and mechanical jacketing or canning processes. Mechanical jackets or cans of thin aluminum were feasible from the nuclear-physics point of view and were chosen early as the most likely solution of the problem. But the problem of getting a uniform, heat-conducting bond between the uranium and the surrounding aluminum, and the problem of effecting a gas-tight closure for the can both proved very troublesome. Development of alternative methods had to be carried along up to the last minute, and even up to a few weeks before it was time to load the uranium slugs into the pile there was no certainty that any of the processes under development would be satisfactory. A final minor but apparently important modification in the preferred canning process was adopted in October 1944, after the first pile had begun experimental operation. By the summer of 1945, there had been no can failure reported.


8.54. During the fall of 1944 and the early months of 1945 the second and third Hanford piles were finished and put into operation, as were the additional chemical separation plants. There were, of course, some difficulties; however, none of the fears expressed as to canning failure, film formation in the water tubes, or radiation effects in the chemical processes, have turned out to be justified. As of early summer 1945 the piles are operating at designed power, producing plutonium, and heating the Columbia River*. The chemical plants are separating the plutonium from the uranium and from the fission products with better efficiency than had been anticipated. The finished product is being delivered. How it can be used is the subject of Chapter XII.

* The actual rise in temperature is so tiny that no effect on fish life could be expected. To make doubly sure, this expectation was confirmed by an elaborate series of experiments.


8.55. In previous chapters there have been references to the advantages of heavy water as a moderator. It is more effective than graphite in slowing down neutrons and it has a smaller neutron absorption than graphite. It is therefore possible to build a chain-reacting unit with uranium and heavy water and thereby to attain a considerably higher multiplication factor, k, and a smaller size than is possible with graphite. But one must have the heavy water.

8.56. In the spring of 1943 the Metallurgical Laboratory decided to increase the emphasis on experiments and calculations aimed at a heavy-water pile. To this end a committee was set up under E. Wigner, a group under H. C. Vernon was transferred from Columbia to Chicago, and H. D. Smyth, who had just become associate director of the Laboratory, was asked to take general charge.

8.57. The first function of this group was to consider in what way heavy water could best be used to insure the overall success of the Metallurgical Project, taking account of the limited production schedule for heavy water that had been already authorized.

8.58. It became apparent that the production schedule was so low that it would take two years to produce enough heavy water to "moderate" a fair-sized pile for plutol1ium production. On the other hand, there might be enough heavy water to moderate a small "laboratory" pile, which could furnish information that might be valuable. In any event, during the summer of 1943 so great were the uncertainties as to the length of the war and as to the success of the other parts of the DSM project that a complete study of the possibilities of heavy-water piles seemed desirable. Either the heavy-water production schedule might be stepped up or the smaller, experimental pile might be built. An intensive study of the matter was made during the summer of 1943 but in November it was decided to curtail the program and construction was limited to a 250-kw pile located at the Argonne site.


8.59. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the uranium and heavy-water pile at the Argonne is its small size. Even with its surrounding shield of concrete it is relatively small compared to the uranium-graphite piles.

8.60. By May 15, 1944, the Argonne uranium and heavy-water pile was ready for test. With the uranium slugs in place, it was found that the chain reaction in the pile became self sustaining when only three fifths of the heavy water had been added. The reactivity of the pile was so far above expectations that it would have been beyond the capacity of the control rods to handle if the remainder of the heavy water had been added. To meet this unusual and pleasant situation some of the uranium was removed and extra control rods were added.

8.61. With these modifications it was possible to fill the tank to the level planned. By July 4, 1944, W. H. Zinn reported that the pile was running satisfactorily at 190 kw, and by August 8, 1944, he reported that it was operating at 300 kw.

8.62. In general the characteristics of this pile differed slightly from those of comparable graphite piles. This pile takes several hours to reach equilibrium. It shows small (less than 1 per cent) but sudden fluctuations in power level,. probably caused by bubbles in the water. It cannot be shut down as completely or as rapidly as the graphite pile because of the tendency of delayed gamma rays to produce (from the heavy water) additional neutrons. As anticipated, the neutron density at the center is high. The shields, controls, heat exchanger, etc., have operated satisfactorily.


8.63. The major objective of the health group was in a sense a negative one, to insure that no one concerned suffered serious injury from the peculiar hazards of the enterprise. Medical case histories of persons suffering serious injury or death resulting from radiation were emphatically not wanted. The success of the health division in meeting these problems was remarkable. Even in the research group where control is most difficult, cases showing even temporary bad effects were extremely rare. Factors of safety used in plant design and operation are so great that the hazards of the home and the family car are far greater for the personnel than any arising from the plants.

8.64. To achieve its objective the health group worked along three major lines:

(1) Adoption of pre-employment physical examinations and frequent re-examinations, particularly of those exposed to radiation.

(2) Setting of tolerance standards for radiation doses and development of instruments measuring exposure of personnel; giving advice on shielding, etc.; continually measuring radiation intensities at various locations in the plants; measuring contamination of clothes, laboratory desks, waste water, the atmosphere, etc.

(3) Carrying out research on the effects of direct exposure of persons and animals to various types of radiation, and on the effects of ingestion and inhalation of the various radioactive or toxic materials such as fission products, plutonium and uranium.


8.65. The white blood-corpuscle count was used as the principal criterion as to whether a person suffered from overexposure to radiation. A number of cases of abnormally low counts were observed and correlated with the degree of overexposure. Individuals appreciably affected were shifted to other jobs or given brief vacations; none has shown permanent ill effects.

8.66. At the same time it was recognized that the white blood-corpuscle count is not an entirely reliable criterion. Some work on animals indicated that serious damage might occur before the blood count gave any indication of danger. Accordingly, more elaborate blood tests were made on selected individuals and on experimental animals in the hope of finding a test that would give an earlier warning of impending injury.


8.67. The Health Division had principal responsibility for the development of pocket meters for indicating the extent of exposure of persons. The first of these instruments was a simple electroscope about the size and shape of a fountain pen. Such instruments were electrostatically charged at the start of each day and were read at the end of the day. The degree to which they became discharged indicated the total amount of ionizing radiation to which they had been exposed. Unfortunately they were none too rugged and reliable, but the error of reading was nearly always in the right direction-i.e., in the direction of overstating the exposure. At an early date the practice was established of issuing two of these pocket meters to everyone entering a dangerous area. A record was kept of the readings at the time of issuance and also when the meters were turned in. The meters themselves were continually although gradually improved. The Health Division later introduced "film badges," small pieces of film worn in the identification badge, the films being periodically developed and examined for radiation blackening. These instruments for individuals such as the pocket meter and film badge were extra and probably unnecessary precautions. In permanent installations the shielding alone normally affords complete safety. Its effect is under frequent survey by either permanently installed or portable instruments.

8.68. The Health Division cooperated with the Physics Division in the development and use of various other instruments. There was "Sneezy" for measuring the concentration of radioactive dust in the air and "Pluto" for measuring a-emitting contamination (usually plutonium) of laboratory desks and equipment. Counters were used to check the contamination of laboratory coats before and after the coats were laundered. At the exit gates of certain laboratories concealed counters sounded an alarm when someone passed whose clothing, skin or hair was contaminated. In addition, routine inspections of laboratory areas were made.

8.69. One of the studies made involved meteorology. It became essential to know whether the stack gases (at Clinton and at Hanford) would be likely to spread radioactive fission products in dangerous concentrations. Since the behavior of these gases is very dependent on the weather, studies were made at both sites over a period of many months, and satisfactory stack operation was specified.


8.70. Since both the scale and the variety of the radiation hazards in this enterprise were unprecedented, all reasonable precautions were taken; but no sure means were at hand for determining the adequacy of the precautions. It was essential to supplement previous knowledge as completely as possible. For this purpose, an extensive program of animal experimentation was carried out along three main lines: (1) exposure to neutron, alpha, beta and gamma radiation; (2) ingestion of uranium, plutonium and fission products; (3) inhalation of uranium, plutonium and fission products. Under the general direction of Dr. Stone these experiments were carried out at Chicago, Clinton and the University of California principally by Dr. Cole and Dr. Hamilton. Extensive and valuable results were obtained.


8.71. Both space and security restrictions prevent a detailed report on the work of the laboratories and plants concerned with plutonium production.

8.72. Two types of neutron absorption are fundamental to the operation of the plant: one, neutron absorption in U-235 resulting in fission, maintains the chain reaction as a source of neutrons; the other, neutron absorption in U-238 leads to the formation of plutonium, the desired product.

8.73. The course of a nuclear chain reaction in a graphite- moderated heterogeneous pile can be described by following a single generation of neutrons. The original fast neutrons are slightly increased in number by fast fission, reduced by resonance absorption in U-238 and further reduced by absorption at thermal energies in graphite and other materials and by escape; the remaining neutrons, which have been slowed in the graphite, cause fission in U-235, producing a new generation of fast neutrons similar to the previous generation.

8.74. The product, plutonium, must be separated by chemical processes from a comparable quantity of fission products and a much larger quantity of uranium. Of several possible separation processes the one chosen consists of a series of reactions including precipitating with carriers, dissolving, oxidizing and reducing.

8.75. The chain reaction was studied at low power at the Argonne Laboratory beginning early in 1943. Both chain reaction and chemical separation processes were investigated at the Clinton Laboratories beginning in November 1943, and an appreciable amount of plutonium was produced there.

8.76. Construction of the main production plant at Hanford, Washington, was begun in 1943 and the first large pile went into operation in September 1944. The entire plant was in operation by the summer of 1945 with all chain-reacting piles and chemical-separation plants performing better than had been anticipated.

8.77. Extensive studies were made on the use of heavy water as a moderator and an experimental pile containing heavy water was built at the Argonne Laboratory. Plans for a production plant using heavy water were given up.

8.78. The Health Division was active along three main lines: (1) medical examination of personnel; (2) advice on radiation hazards and constant check on working conditions; (3) research on the effects of radiation. The careful planning and exhaustive research work of this division have resulted in an outstanding health record at Hanford and elsewhere in the project.