Polioforever's Blog

Making the Bomb

The Manhattan Project, shortened from Manhattan Engineer District (MED) was famously prompted into being after the news of “chain reaction” was brought to the United States in January of 1939 by Danish physicist Niels Bohr.
    “Szilard was in bed with a high temperature… The news from Bohr had reached him, and his memory surged back to 1933 and 1934…[and] the patent passed to the British Admiralty to keep it from wrong hands…  He left his bed and wrote a letter to Mr. Lewis L. Strauss, former presidential secretary, banker, man of affairs, gregarious collector of potential genius, future head of a vast atomic energy complex… The letter made Lewis Strauss the first public figure in America to be alerted to the nuclear future.” [p171, The Deadly Element, by Lennard Bickel, 1979]
    In 1940 as Europe became engulfed in conflict, another letter written by Hungarian Leo Szilard and signed by Albert Einstein was sent via Alexander Sachs to Roosevelt [‘sent’ in August, ‘delivered’ in October] warning of the danger and urging action. Several months passed before a Uranium Committee was created to investigate the potential of a new program for making an atomic weapon…
   In the spring of 1939, “board members of the Union Miniere [de Haute Katanga uranium mines of the Congo]..had agreed with [its] president, Edgar Sengier, it was time to close Shinkolobwe until the [radium] market improved… Sengier was a far-seeing tycoon… It was not long..before a new view took shape in Sengier’s mind. From Paris. Frederic Joliot-Curie…called him early in April 1939 to describe the new potential in uranium, to ask for assurances that supplies of refined ore would be available… Joliot-Curie also said he would come to Brussels to discuss possible joint-action..” [for a French-Belgian bomb project in the Sahara]… “Sengier..set up his base in New York with a new company subsidiary he called African Metals. His reasons for leaving Brussels must remain a mystery at least until his papers are opened for public scrutiny. He died in 1965 and in his will, place a 50-year moratorium on his records.” ref.p112, p135, The Deadly Element] Sengier waited over 3 years (1939-1942) for the United States to take an interest in his stockpile of uranium oxide (yellow-cake) sitting outside the Archer Daniels Midland warehouse on the Port Richmond Terrace at Staten Island, New York. The Belgian ore was kept from both the French and British who desperately wanted the high-grade Shinkolobwe uranium for their own projects. Instead, it was sealed in drums and quietly lugged from the Union Miniere’s refinery near Antwerp, and later from the African coast, and shipped by freighter to New York. In all, when the Manhattan Project was signed into being with General Groves in charge, it took all of one day to acquire the entire reserve of Sengier’s ready ore, a bounty of 4,000 tons of the richest known uranium in existence. “The deal in Sengier’s office on September 18, 1942 was followed by immediate action… the ores moved at once to the Seneca Army Ordnance Depot in Orange, New Jersey; from there, the uranium went in 100-ton lots to the Canadian Port Hope refinery to become high-grade oxide. From this was made the few dozen pounds of metals…” [p214, ibid.]
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   There was no actual “race for the bomb” with Germany during World War II as popular history promotes. On record, the French, under the leadership of Frederic Joliot-Curie, were the first to initiate a bomb project** in 1939, stopped by the outbreak of war according to accounts.  The real “race” many historians say, was a postwar phenomenon with the Soviet Union, later acknowledged to have been technically ahead of the United States.
**the following link notes the French 1939 ‘reactor’ project; Lewis Strauss called it “an experimental bomb in the Sahara” on page 316 of Men and Decisions  — http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Union_Mini%c3%a8re_du_Haut_Katanga
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 Uranium Committee at the Bohemian Club
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The “Fathers” of the Bomb: Bohr, Einstein and Szilard
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      Niels Bohr      Einstein and Szilard (reenacting)
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James B. Conant, Harvard University president and Manhattan Project executive, admitted he had “resorted to the argument that the Germans might get the bomb first in order to pressure recalcitrant contractors and scientists.” [ref. James B. Conant, James Hershberg] The U.S.’s role in building and using the first bombs appears to have been a foregone conclusion, prepared as early as the mid-1920s with significant help from Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer representing the interests of the Rothschilds.
    The technology to prove the chain-reaction of fission did not need much added invention, it already existed in the form of particle accelerators and “neutron guns”, but it did need a few mad geniuses to carry off the necessary tinkering and experiments and be influential enough to protect their projects. Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, the foremost physicists of their generation, carried the war project through and lived sufficiently long to ensure the realization of their private goals.
   Niels Bohr was a scion of international Jewish bankers –his maternal grandparents, David B. Adler and Jenny Raphael, were English merchants in the pattern of the Rothschilds, their joint families in banking as holders of continental assets that included the ‘public debts’ of Denmark and Sweden. Bohr’s upbringing was comprised of a privileged education in the freemasonic style of closed societies. Leo Szilard, too, was a privileged son of Hungarian freemasons, however caught in the East European turmoil of the first World War.
   Szilard declared his early desire to create the first atomic bomb. He was the first, it seems, to patent a nuclear reactor in 1934, which was signed over to the British Admiralty. After WWII, Szilard turned to molecular biology and political agitation, joining other Manhattan Project veterans at the Salk Institute where the concept of “metabiology” has been practiced since the Salk’s physical inception in 1959.
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Background articles
Early development and preparation for nuclear weapons (1921-1939) http://jenniferlake.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/atomic-power-no-contest/;
“Fathers of the Bomb” http://www.rocfern.com/jennlake/index.html
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Edward Teller recalled that in 1932, during an extended period working with Enrico Fermi in Rome bombarding atomic nucleii, Fermi was apprised of the fission process in a letter from a German chemist’s wife –the chemist Walter Noddack. Fermi (it is said) discarded Noddack’s suggestion and maintained his line of experiments on “erroneous” calculations. Teller writes that Fermi “had the right theory but the wrong experimental information. Had he guessed the right result, the hunt for chain reactions would have started sooner.” [p81, Edward Teller “Memoirs”] If chain reactions were a matter of guessing rightly in 1932, perhaps someone somewhere had already accomplished it, and it had become a great secret. There is little else to explain how Albert Einstein could tell the American government in 1936 that nuclear weapons were still an impossibility, perhaps decades away, when his friend Szilard had already patented a reactor design. In fact, many teams of physicists were producing crude schematics in advance of confirming chain-reaction. It can only be supposed that the more public announcement which broke out after the New Year of 1939 was no longer containable, and that the logical step of accomplishing a chain-reaction had breached a quantitative threshold among the physicists. Not one of them could say that they didn’t understand the implications, and it was merely a matter of months afterwards that the world was tripped into war.
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In the eyes of history, Einstein was so stupendously ‘wrong’ with his initial advice to FDR that one can surmise the legitimacy in claims of Einstein’s plagiarism and irreconcilable discontinuity of persona.  Similar to his friend Szilard,  their individual ‘genius’ seems best supported by the circumstance of having powerful patrons. From 1933 onwards, Einstein was ensconced at Princeton and Szilard was busily organizing the “rescue of science” with the British. Niels Bohr in Copenhagen attended what Teller called “the first assembly point of the Diaspora of the German physicists”. In the ’30s, the pieces were not yet in place, and it would have been most untimely to propose a need for an earth-shattering weapon in the absence of crimes horrible enough to match. Justification in the propaganda of war most often hangs on the axis of secretly pre-arranged bargains, some of which never come to light.
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According to the official DoE Manhattan Project website:
“The possibility of an atomic explosion alarmed a number of scientists within the United States.  Émigré physicists, who had fled their native countries because of the expansion of Nazi Germany, were particularly wary and directed their efforts toward keeping ongoing nuclear research a secret and obtaining governmental support for further research.   Science had been built on the free exchange of information, but a group of leading scientists, including Fermi and the Hungarian trio of Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Edward Teller, convinced most within the American and British scientific community to voluntarily withhold future publication of information that might aid a Nazi atomic bomb program.  This attempt at self-censorship largely collapsed, however, when the French physicist Frederic Joliot-Curie refused to cooperate.  His determination to publish his own research prompted scientists in other countries to continue to do likewise.  Not until late 1940, when the European scientists had succeeded in enlisting government interest and support, did publication on nuclear research generally cease.”
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Some film is better than no film (offered despite historical inaccuracies): Manhattan Project http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwHds1any9Y&feature=related
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Uranium for the MED
Manhattan Project
Lewis Strauss wrote that “the origin of our supply of the potent element begins..and revolves about the granitic figure of an engineer and industrialist, Sir Edgar Sengier…[who] controlled a mine in the Congo which was the world’s richest producer of uranium ore…[and] the concentration..was uniquely high. Despite all the prospecting that has occurred within the past twenty years, no other deposit has ever rivaled the Shinkolobwe mine for richness.
…”We had both [Sengier and Strauss] been connected with Hoover’s Commission for Relief of Belgium in World War I, and our friendship dated from those days…In the field of atomic energy, a special relationship thus existed between the United States and Belgium, and the two governments have closely co-operated ever since.” [p317, Men and Decisions, by Lewis L. Strauss, 1962] www.polioforever.wordpress.com/lewis-l-strauss/
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Edgar Sengier “arrived at the beginning of the European mining of Africa and over the next forty years he was to oversee Belgium’s large share in the world markets trading copper, cobalt, tin, diamonds and uranium. He came to manipulate and maneuver an enormous industrial empire of such complexity that very few ever came to lnow, let alone understand, how a deep uranium mine –called Shinkolobwe– in the heart of Africa could be the source of radium, a miracle cancer cure, and then become the piece of earth most wanted by the military for the nuclear armaments of World War II…  Sengier moved easily within the international business worlds of Brussels, Paris, London and New York and knew as soon as did the scientists around the world of the momentous scientific breakthrough… It was he who sent the uranium ore to a Staten Island warehouse [owned by Archer Daniels Midland ??]. It was nearly two years before the Manhattan Project managers knew about that uranium ore and realised they needed it. M.Sengier spent the war years in New York City –and Saratoga Springs… He set up a branch of Union Miniere on Broad Street in Lower Manhattan –named African Minerals, to funnel uranium ore from the Belgian Congo through New York Harbor to Middlesex, New Jersey and Port Hope Ontario on its way to a more pure existence in the bombs of America… The office of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Manhattan District was in Madison Square..about half way between Pregel’s office in the Rockefeller Center and Sengier’s near Wall Street –the three of them almost in a straight line… Sengier was the most critical supplier of all.” http://www3.amherst.edu/~mrhunt/uranium/scene2.htm
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 “The fission and fusion bombs are no longer much of a secret: they have been rather thoroughly described –notably in publications outside the United States. Here then are the main features of the bombs… First, the fission bomb. Its paramount feature was, of course, its unprecedented energy. The so-called blockbusters of World War II –the biggest bombs of the old-fashioned chemical variety– contained about one ton of TNT. In contrast, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the explosive force of 20,000 tons [20 kilotons], yet the bomb itself, including its firing mechanism, probably weighed less than 5 tons. Thus its destructive power per ton of payload was about 4,000 times that of the TNT bomb… The fission of one pound of uranium produces as much energy as…9,000 tons of TNT. This huge release of energy is accomplished through the capture of neutrons by the fuel –uranium 235 or plutonium 239. Upon absorbing a neutron, the U-235 nucleus splits in two and in the process releases two or three neutrons which can trigger further fissions of neighboring uranium nuclei. If the mass of uranium is big enough so that neutrons are captured by nuclei at a faster rate than they escape from the surface of the mass, a chain reaction develops and the mass explodes.
   “If the critical mass were simply packed into a bomb casing, it would quickly be triggered to explode by a wandering neutron from the ever-present cosmic-ray debris. This would make a very unsatisfactory bomb. What is needed is an assembly of two or more subcritical masses with a mechanism which can bring them together quickly on signal to form the critical mass.
   “At least two different devices have been used. One of these bombs is called ‘the thin man’. It consists of a long pipe with chunks of fissionable material at its two ends. To set off the bomb, the two pieces are simply fired toward each other and form the critical mass when they meet in the middle of the barrel. This straightforward appraoch, however, is wasteful of the bomb material. More sophisticated and economical is the bomb called ‘the fat man’. It employs ‘implosion’ to bring the critical mass together. (The anatomy of ‘the fat man’ was the ‘atomic secret’ passed on to the Russians by the spy David Greenglass.) …The fissionable material is in the form of a hollow ball. This sphere is surrounded by a shell of ordinary explosive, made up of accurately machined sections. When the triggering mechanism is set off, all the sections fire simultaneously and ‘implode’ toward the center, collapsing the fissile ball. The fissile material is compressed into a dense, critical mass; while the pressure of the implosion holds the mass together, a heavy shower of neutrons from a small but intense neutron source at the center starts a fission chain reaction throughout the fissile fuel. The bomb tested at Alamogordo and later used at Nagasaki was the ‘fat man’ with plutonium as the fuel… The fusion bomb, better known as the hydrogen bomb, is a more elaborate affair…” [pp13-15, Fallout, ed. John M. Fowler, 1960]
For a description of hydrogen bombs, see the Fallout page www.polioforever.wordpress.com/fallout/
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[Chicago ‘Met Lab’photo enlargement  http://www.mbe.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/met_lab_alumni.htm]
  Wigner         Teller        James Franck

The Met Lab

                Enrico Fermi

Oral histories from the 1994 DoE Openness Project

Robert E. Rowland, biophysicist/radium specialist: “I was hired at Argonne, June of 1950. I worked in an old brewery called Site B at that time.. just south of the campus of the University of Chicago.” [Q: Wasn’t that the site of the Met Lab?] “Yes, it certainly was, in part… The Met Lab was spread out, going as far as the Argonne Woods Forest Preserve where they moved the reactor after the demonstration [of CP-1, Dec.1942 ]… They moved it out to the Argonne Woods… The brewery had been used for some time, and several other sites.. including the Museum of Science and Industry. There were offices down there, as well..” http://www.hss.doe.gov/HealthSafety/ohre/roadmap/histories/0461/0461_a.html

 CP-1, Dec.2, 1942      

LOS ALAMOS (page in progress)

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