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The Manhattan Project - A Stan Klos Company

Reinstitute a "Manhattan Project" of Energy

Our national rate of fossil fuel consumption will in this century exceed world supply unless we put politics aside and assemble our best scientific minds to discover safe and virtually limitless energy sources. A new "Manhattan Project" of Energy, not geared solely towards the harnessing of the nuclear atom, could be convened by our government. All aspects of power -- solar, wind, hydrogen, water etc. should be investigated with collaborative openness within our present scientific masterminds of energy.

Breeder Reactor Research (A nuclear reactor that manufactures more fissionable isotopes than it consumes) which was halted in the 1970's should be immediately reinstituted. Most of the supposedly nuclear “waste” about to be buried under Yucca Mountain could give the US an almost immediate relief from the power shortages gripping the nation. Most importantly, a new generation of 21st Century breeder reactors could release us from the fossil fuel stranglehold on the United States while the research marches on for an alternative and improved energy source by 2010.

If we pull together now and provide our diversified and vast national scientific mastermind with the capital, organization, and a clearly defined objective (as was done in the 1940's at Los Alamos or in the 1960's to safely land and return a Man from the Moon) surely new energy sources and systems could be in place by the end of this decade. The goal would be to discover (or re-discover) innovative, safe, and vastly inexpensive energy methods that would propel a 21st Century "Quality of Life" far beyond the 20th Century's benchmark of inventions.

Energy needs a Manhattan Project

We Need a Manhattan Project for Retail Energy Restructuring




The Manhattan Project

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"Jumbo" atomic device being positioned for "Trinity" test at Alamogordo, New Mexico - Courtesy of the National Archives

In 1939, the Nazis were rumored to be developing an atomic bomb. The United States initiated its own program under the Army Corps of Engineers in June 1942. America needed to build an atomic weapon before Germany or Japan did.

General Leslie R. Groves, Deputy Chief of Construction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was appointed to direct this top-secret project.

General Leslie R. Groves established three large engineering and production centers at remote U.S. sites: the Clinton Engineer Works at Oak Ridge, Tenn.; the Hanford Engineer Works in eastern Washington State; and Project Y, a code-named site 100 miles north of Albuquerque at Los Alamos, N.M. - Courtesy of the National Atomic Museum

For the Costs of the Manhattan Project click here

Einstein Letter to Roosevelt
Text Courtesy of Chrisites Auction House

EINSTEIN, Albert. Autograph letter signed ("A. Einstein") to Dr. Leo Szilard (1898-1964), n.p. [Peconic, Long Island], n.d. [probably 9 August 1939], ½ page, 4to, expertly matted with the above and framed with a photographic portrait of Einstein, after Karsh. For text see below.


The atomic bomb, tested successfully at Alamogordo, New Mexico on 15 July 1945 and first used in warfare with chilling and awesome destructive effects less than a month later at Hiroshima (6 August), was the culmination of a massive and prolonged secret research project involving hundreds of American, British and European refugee scientists engineers and technicians. Its achievement decisively split human history into pre-atomic and atomic eras. The Manhattan Project was itself the outgrowth of a committee convened at the order of the President Roosevelt in October 1939. Roosevelt's historic and momentous initiative was itself a direct response to a remarkable letter from the world's foremost theoretical physicist and an avowed pacifist; a man who, at that time, seemed a virtual personification of modern science: Albert Einstein. This, the alternate version of this fateful letter, reads in full:

F. D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC August 2, 1939


Recent work in nuclear physics made it probable that uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy. New Experiments performed by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which have been communicated to me in manuscript, make it now appear likely that it will be possible to set up a chain reaction in a large mass of uranium and thereby to liberate considerable quantities of energy. Less certain, but to be kept in mind, is the possibility of making use of such chain reactions for the construction of extremely powerful bombs. Such bombs may be too heavy for transportation by air plane, but not too heavy for being carried by boat, and a single bomb exploded in a port might very well destroy the port together with the surrounding territory.

This being the situation, you may find it desirable that some contact be established between the Administration and the group of physicists who are working in this country on the subject of chain reactions. One possible way of achieving this would be for you to entrust a person who has your confidence, and who could perhaps act in an inofficial capacity, with this task.

I understand that Germany has stopped the sale of uranium. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizdcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

The United States has only poor ores of uranium. Better ores in moderate quantities are mined in the former Czechoslovakia and in Canada, while the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo."

Very Truly Yours,

Albert Einstein

The impulse which led to the letter originated not with Einstein but with the Hungarian-born physicist Leo Szilard, a former student of Einstein's, who, like Fermi, Teller, Einstein and a host of other European scientists and researchers, had been driven from his homeland to the United States by the threat of Hitler's European aggression and persecution. In fact, the collaboration of Einstein and Szilard, motivated by their fears of German war preparations and nuclear research, generated not one, but two nearly identical letters: both composed at the same time, both typed on the same typewriter and finally, both signed with the same pen by Einstein. One of the two, longer by a few sentences, was delivered to the President. That version--arguably the most influential single letter of the twentieth century, its text quoted in many histories and biographies--has rested, since 1945, in the permanent collections of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York. The other, alternate version of that historic communication, retained by Szilard, is offered here, together with Einstein's handwritten letter transmitting both letters to Szilard. (A good account of the letter is Robert E. Lapp, "The Einstein Letter that Started It All," New York Times Magazine, 2 August 1964, pp. 13ff.).

Szilard, who has been justly termed "the prophet of the nuclear age" and "the father of the bomb" had taken out a patent in England as early as 1934 outlining the process by which a chain reaction might be created and controlled experimentally. But it remained a purely theoretical construct, though, until German scientists at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin, accidentally chanced upon an isotope of uranium, U235, the only naturally occurring element whose special atomic structure rendered it fissionable. News of the splitting of the atom was communicated to Szilard and other American physicists through Neils Bohr of Denmark on a visit to the United States in January 1939. Within a few weeks, the German experiments had been confirmed and duplicated by several researchers in different laboratories: Joliet-Curie in Paris, Szilard and Pegram at Columbia University and Enrico Fermi at Princeton. The sinister military implications of the liberation of the atom's energy were not lost on these men, and in Leo Szilard's mind, the possibility of the Nazi regime developing and perfecting such a weapon constituted a harrowing and frightful threat to the free world.

Szilard enlisted Columbia physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the neutron-induced nuclear reaction, and, at Szilard's urging, Fermi approached officials in the Office of the Naval Operations in Washington in March 1939. The results were profoundly disappointing: the committee showed virtually no interest in the military possibilities of uranium. In the meantime, Hitler had seized Czechoslovakia, gaining control of some of the world's only active uranium mines, and had immediately placed an embargo on uranium ore, powerfully signaling that Germany might already be planning to build, and use, an atomic weapon. Next, Szilard approached Princeton physicist, Eugene Wigner, and the two discussed ways to prevent German access to the other main source of uranium, the mines in the Congo controlled by Belgium. As Szilard has recounted:

"...It occured to me that Einstein knew quite well the Queen of Belgium, and so I suggested [to Wigner] that we visit Einstein, tell him about the situation, and ask him whether he might not write to the Queen. We knew that Einstein was somewhere out on Long Island, but we didn't know precisely where, so I phoned the Princeton office and was told he was staying at Dr. Moore's cabin at Peconic, Long Island. Wigner had a car and we drove out to Peconic and tried to find Dr. Moore's cabin." (S.R. Weart and G.W. Szilard, eds. Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts, Cambridge [Mass.], 1968, pp. 82-83).

Einstein was briefed by the two physicists at a wooden table on the cabin's screen porch. He was immediately receptive to their plan regarding Belgian uranium, but suggested a letter to a Belgian cabinet minister. It was also agreed a copy would be sent to the American State Department. Returning to New York, Szilard typed out a draft letter and mailed a copy to Einstein. In the meantime, Szilard conferred with Dr. Alexander Sachs of the Lehmann Corporation, an influential economist who had earlier worked for Roosevelt in the National Recovery Organization. "Sachs proposed that Einstein write another letter. The subject was far too important for any government department. Sachs would deliver the message personally to President Franklin D. Roosevelt...Delighted to agree that only the White House could help him, Szilard drafted a letter to Roosevelt, mailed it to Einstein, and asked for comments over the telephone. Einstein preferred another meeting" (Peter Wyden, Day One: Before Hiroshima and After, New York, 1985, p. 33).

This time, Szilard recruited Edward Teller of George Washington University, another expatriate Hungarian physicist, to drive him to Einstein's retreat in Peconic. Einstein, wearing slippers and an old robe, served them tea. In Szilard's words: "Einstein dictated a letter in German which Teller took down, and I used this German text as a guide in preparing two drafts of a letter to the President, a shorter one and a longer one, and left it up to Einstein to choose which he liked best. I wondered how many words we could expect the President to read. How many words does the fission of uranium rate?" (Weart & Szilard, p.84).

The two letters were sent to Einstein for his final approval and signing. (Szilard at this time also relayed a suggestion made by Sachs that perhaps the aviator Charles Lindbergh or Bernard Baruch might be an even better emissary to deliver the letter). The version in the Roosevelt papers consists of 45 lines; this Szilard version is a more condensed 25 lines. The opening text regarding Fermi and Szilard's work and the possibility of building a bomb is broken into four short paragraphs in the Hyde Park version, rather than the single large paragraph of the shorter draft. The term "nuclear physics" in the first line of the Szilard version is absent in the longer letter, but it adds a mention of "new quantities of new radium-like elements." Both letters contain nearly identical paragraphs describing the world sources for uranium ore and the German embargo of Czechoslovakian ore, but the position of the two is interchanged. The shorter letter does not include the suggestion that a liaison person help secure a supply of ore for the U.S.A. and that private funding and industrial cooperation be sought. Where the Hyde Park draft speaks of establishing "some permanent contact" between government and physicists, the Szilard draft adopts the wording "some contact" (Weart & Szilard, pp. 94-96).

Einstein signed both letters, "his signature reflecting the old man's legendary modesty; it was barely larger than the typing" (Wyden, p.35), and returned then to Szilard with a letter of transmittal in German (included here) which reads: "I have just signed both letters but would give preference to the more detailed one. I also attach an introduction to Lindbergh. I now hope that you will finally conquer your inner resistance ["widerstand"]; it is always dubious ["bedenklich"] when one wants to accomplish something too cleverly." Szilard acknowledged Einstein's letter on 9 August and wrote to Lindbergh. In the end the approach to Lindbergh came to naught: he maintained later that he had not received such a letter. On 15 August, Szilard mailed Sachs the longer of the two letters to Roosevelt. Sachs chose not to contact Roosevelt immediately, and on 1 September Hitler's armies invaded Poland; matters concerning the European war filled the President's schedule. It was not until 11 October that Sachs was finally ushered into the President's White House study, carrying Einstein's letter and a quantity of technical reports and papers supplied by Szilard. At their first meeting on the subject, Roosevelt seemed distracted and Sachs was unable to communicate the depth of the scientists' concern. At a second meeting the following morning, Sachs began with a long parable concerning Napoleon Bonaparte's lack of interest in Fulton's steamboat, whose invention might have enabled him to invade England. "Alex," Roosevelt interrupted, "what you are after is to see that the Nazis don't blow us up." He called in his secretary, Brigadier General Edwin M. ("Pa") Watson, handed him the papers and said "Pa, this requires action." "Sachs left the room with Watson and by evening the Briggs Committee had been set up, a small group of men presided over by Dr. Lyman J. Briggs, director of the U.S. Bureau of Standards, charged with investigating the potentialities of nuclear fission" (Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York, 1984, p. 677).

It is highly ironic that, despite his crucial role as a catalyst in initiating the research which led to the development of the atomic bomb, Einstein came to bitterly regret his involvement. In 1950, to A.J. Muste, he wrote that his only contribution to the project had been "a letter to Roosevelt" (Clark, p. 694). Einstein was never informed, officially or even unofficially, of the progress of the secret project on which so many of his scientific colleagues would be engaged for the next five years. On 6 August 1945, while vacationing at Lake Saranac, the author of the Theory of Relativity overheard a radio announcement of the destruction of Hiroshima: the horrific, spectacular proof of his 1905 equation of equivalence: E = mc2. When asked by a reporter for his opinion on the bomb, Einstein remarked "The world is not ready for it." Late in life, he confided to Linus Pauling that "I made one great mistake in my life--when I signed a letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made"

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Photo Courtesy of the National Archives


The first major challenge faced in the Manhattan Project was the ability to find an acceptable and plentiful source of fuel for the bombs - University of Texas

Eyewitness Account -- Trinity Test July 16, 1945
by O.R Frisch

I watched the explosion from a point said to be about 20 (or 25) miles away and about north of it, together with the members of the coordinating council. Fearing to be dazzled and to be burned by ultraviolet rays, I stood with my back to the gadget, and behind the radio truck. I looked at the hills, which were visible in the first faint light of dawn (0530 M.W. Time). Suddenly and without any sound, the hills were bathed in brilliant light, as if somebody had turned the sun on with a switch. It is hard to say whether the light was less or more brilliant than full sunlight, since my eyes were pretty well dark adapted. The hills appeared kind of flat and colorless like a scenery seen by the light of a photographic flash, indicating presumably that the retina was stimulated beyond the point where intensity discrimination is adequate. The light appeared to remain constant for about one or two seconds (probably for the same reason) and then began to diminish rapidly. After that I turned round and tried to look at the light source but found it still too bright to keep my eyes on it. A few short glances gave me the impression of a small very brilliant core much smaller in appearance than the sun, surrounded by decreasing and reddening brightness with no definite boundary, but not greater than the sun. After some seconds I could keep my eye on the thing and it now looked like a pretty perfect red ball, about as big as the sun, and connected to the ground by a short gray stem. The ball rose slowly, lengthening its stem and getting gradually darker and slightly larger. A structure of darker and lighter irregularities became visible, making the ball look somewhat like a raspberry. Then its motion slowed down and it flattened out, but still remained connected to the ground by its stem, looking more than ever like the trunk of an elephant. Then a hump grew out of its top surface and a second mushroom grew out of the top of the first one, slowly penetrating the highest cloud layers. As the red glow died out it became apparent that the whole structure, in particular the top mushroom, was surrounded by a purplish blue glow. A minute or so later the whole top mushroom appeared to glow feebly in this color, but this was no longer easy to see, in the increasing light of dawn.

A very striking phenomenon was the sudden appearance of a white patch on the underside of the cloud layer just above the explosion; the patch spread very rapidly, like a pool of spilt milk, and a second or two later, a similar patch appeared and spread on another cloud layer higher up. They marked no doubt the impact of the blast wave on the cloud layers. They appeared, I believe, before the red ball bad started to flatten out.

When I thought it was soon time for the blast to arrive, I sat on the ground, still facing the explosion, and put my fingers in my ears. Despite that, the report was quite respectable and was followed by a long rumbling, not quite like thunder but more regular, like huge noisy wagons running around in the hills.

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, Potsdam, vol. 2 (Washington: USGPO, 1960), p. 1371. Reprinted in Philip L. Cantelon, Richard G. Hewlett, and Robert C. Williams, The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).

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Atomic Energy Commission Proving Ground, Nevada...Marines prepare to charge an "objective" seconds after an atomic explosion. Twenty-one hundred Marines, commanded by Brigadier General Joseph C. Burger, comprised the largest number of troops to participate in the tests to date. (NWDNS-127-N-A325011) - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives


General Groves' Report on the Trinity Test

Washington, 18 July 1945. 

Top Secret 




SUBJECT: The Test.

1. This is not a concise, formal military report but an attempt to recite what I would have told you if you had been here on my return from New Mexico.

2. At 0530, 16 July 1945, in a remote section of the Alamogordo Air Base, New Mexico, the first full scale test was made of the implosion type atomic fission bomb. For the first time in history there was a nuclear explosion.

And what an explosion! 

The bomb was dropped from an airplane but was exploded on a platform on top of a 100-foot high steel tower.

3. The test was successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of anyone. Based on the data which it has been possible to work up to date, I estimate the energy generated to be in excess of the equivalent of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT; and this is a conservative estimate. Data based on measurements which we have not yet been able to reconcile would make the energy release several times the conservative figure. There were tremendous blast effects. For a brief period there was a lighting effect within a radius of 20 miles equal to several suns in midday; a huge ball of fire was formed which lasted for several seconds. This ball mushroomed and rose to a height of over ten thousand feet before it dimmed. The light from the explosion was seen clearly at Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Silver City, El Paso and other points generally to about 180 miles away. The sound was heard to the same distance in a few instances but generally to about 100 miles. Only a few windows were broken although one was some 125 miles away. A massive cloud was formed which surged and billowed upward with tremendous power, reaching the sub stratosphere at an elevation of 41,000 feet, 36,000 feet above the ground, in about five minutes, breaking without interruption through a temperature inversion at 17,000 feet which most of the scientists thought would stop it. Two supplementary explosions occurred in the cloud shortly after the main explosion. The cloud contained several thousand tons of dust picked up from the ground and a considerable amount of iron in the gaseous form. Our present thought is that this iron ignited when it mixed with the oxygen in the air to cause these supplementary explosions. Huge concentrations of highly radioactive materials resulted from the fission and were contained in this cloud.

4. A crater from which all vegetation had vanished, with a diameter of 1200 feet and a slight slope toward the center, was formed. In the center was a shallow bowl 130 feet in diameter and 6 feet in depth. The material within the crater was deeply pulverized dirt. The material within the outer circle is greenish and can be distinctly seen from as much as 5 miles away. The steel from the tower was evaporated. 1500 feet away there was a four-inch iron pipe 16 feet high set in concrete and strongly guyed. It disappeared completely.

5. One-half mile from the explosion there was a massive steel test cylinder weighing 220 tons. The base of the cylinder was solidly encased in concrete. Surrounding the cylinder was a strong steel tower 70 feet high, firmly anchored to concrete foundations. This tower is comparable to a steel building bay that would be found in typical 15 or 20 story skyscraper or in warehouse construction. Forty tons of steel were used to fabricate the tower which was 70 feet high, the height of a six story building. The cross bracing was much stronger than that normally used in ordinary steel construction. The absence of the solid walls of a building gave the blast a much less effective surface to push against. The blast tore the tower from its foundation, twisted it, ripped it apart and left it flat on the ground. The effects on the tower indicate that, at that distance, unshielded permanent steel and masonry buildings would have been destroyed. I no longer consider the Pentagon a sage shelter from such a bomb. Enclosed are a sketch showing the tower before the explosion and a telephotograph showing what it looked like afterwards. None of us had expected it to be damaged.

6.The cloud traveled to a great height first in the form of a ball, then mushroomed, then changed into a long trailing chimney-shaped column and finally was sent in several directions by the variable winds at the different elevations. It deposited its dust and radioactive materials over a wide area. It was followed and monitored by medical doctors and scientists with instruments to check its radioactive effects. While here and there the activity on the ground was fairly high, at no place did it reach a concentration which required evacuation of the population. Radioactive material in small quantities was located as much as 120 miles away. The measurements are being continued in order to have adequate data with which to protect the Government's interests in case of future claims. For a few hours I was none too comfortable about the situation.

7. For distances as much as 200 miles away, observers were stationed to check on blast effects, property damage, radioactivity and reactions of the population. While complete reports have not yet been received, I now know that no persons were injured nor was there any real property damage outside our Government area. As soon as all the voluminous data can be checked and correlated, full technical studies will be possible. 

8. Our long range weather predictions had indicated that we could expect weather favorable for our test beginning on the morning of the 17th and continuing for four days. This was almost a certainty if we were to believe our long range forecasters. The prediction for the morning of the 16th was not so certain but there was about an 80% chance of the conditions being suitable. During the night there were thunder storms with lightning flashes all over the area. The test had been originally set for 0400 hours and all the night through, because of the bad weather, there were urgings from many of the scientists to postpone the test. Such a delay might well have crippling results due to mechanical difficulties in our complicated test set-up. Fortunately, we disregarded the urgings. We held firm and waited the night through hoping for suitable weather. We had to delay an hour and a half, to 0530, before we could fire. This was 30 minutes before sunrise.

9. Because of bad weather, our two B-29 observation airplanes were unable to take off as scheduled from Kirtland Field at Albuquerque and when they finally did get off, they found it impossible to get over the target because of the heavy clouds and the thunder storms. Certain desired observations could not be made and while the people in the airplanes saw the explosion from a distance, they were not as close as they will be in action. We still have no reason to anticipate the loss of our plans in an actual operation although we cannot guarantee safety.

10. Just before 1100 the news stories from all over the state started to flow into the Albuquerque Associated Press. I then directed the issuance by the Commanding Officer, Alamogordo Air Base of a news release as shown on the enclosure. With the assistance of the Office of Censorship we were able to limit the news stories to the approved release supplemented in the local papers by brief stories from the many eyewitnesses not connected with our project. One of these was a blind woman who saw the light.

11. Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell was at the control shelter located 10,000 yards south of the point of explosion. His impressions are given below:

"The scene inside the shelter was dramatic beyond words. In and around the shelter were some twenty-odd people concerned with last minute arrangements prior to firing the shot. Included were: Dr. Oppenheimer, the Director who had borne the great scientific burden of developing the weapon from the raw materials made in Tennessee and Washington and a dozen of his key assistants -- Dr. Kistiskowsky, who developed the highly special explosive; Dr. Bainbridge, who supervised all the detailed arrangements for the test; Dr. Hubbard, the weather expert, and several others. Besides these, there were a handful of soldiers, two or three Army officers and one Naval officer. The shelter was cluttered with a great variety of instruments and radios.

"For some hectic two hours preceding the blast, General Groves stayed with the Director, walking with him and steadying his tense excitement. Every time the director would be about to explode because of some untoward happening, General Groves would take him off and walk with him in the rain, counseling with him and reassuring him that everything would be all right. At twenty minutes before zero hour, General Groves left for his station at the base camp, first because it provided a better observation point and second, because of our rule that he and I must not be together in situations where there is an element of danger, which existed at both points.

"Just after General Groves left, announcements began to be broadcast of the interval remaining before the blast. They were sent by radio to the other groups participating in and observing the test. As the time interval grew smaller and changed from minutes to seconds, the tension increased by leaps and bounds. Everyone in that room knew the awful potentialities of the thing that they thought was about to happen. The scientists felt that their figuring must be right and that the bomb had to go off but there was in everyone's mind a strong measure of doubt. The feeling of many could be expressed by "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." We were reaching into the unknown and we did not know what might come of it. It can be safely said that most of those present -- Christian, Jew and Atheist -- were praying and praying harder than they had ever prayed before. If the shot were successful, it was a justification of the several years of intensive effort of tens of thousands of people--statesmen, scientists, engineers, manufacturers, soldiers, and many others in every walk of life.

"In that brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startlingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarcely breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he started directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted "Now!" and there came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growing roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.

"The tension in the room let up and all started congratulating each other. Everyone sensed "This is it!" No matter what might happen now all knew that the impossible scientific job had been done. Atomic fission would no longer be hidden in the cloisters of the theoretical physicists' dreams. It was almost full grown at birth. It was a great new force to be used for good or for evil. There was a feeling in that shelter that those concerned with its nativity should dedicate their lives to the mission that it would always be used for good and never for evil.

"Dr. Kistiakowsky, the impulsive Russian, threw his arms around Dr. Oppenheimer and embraced him with shouts of glee. Others were equally enthusiastic. All the pent-up emotions were released in those few minutes and all seemed to sense immediately that the explosion had far exceeded the most optimistic expectations and wildest hopes of the scientists. All seemed to feel that they had been present at the birth of a new age--The Age of Atomic Energy--and felt their profound responsibility to help in guiding into right channels the tremendous forces which had been unlocked for the first time in history.

"As to the present war, there was a feeling that no matter what else might happen, we now had the means to insure its speedy conclusion and save thousands of American lives. As to the future, there had been brought into being something big and something new that would prove to be immeasurably more important than the discovery of electricity or any of the other great discoveries which have so affected our existence.

"The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous and terrifying. No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined. It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. Thirty seconds after the explosion came first, the air blast pressing hard against the people and things, to be followed almost immediately by the strong, sustained, awesome roar which warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with the forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty. Words are inadequate tools for the job of acquainting those not present with the physical, mental and psychological effects. It had to be witnessed to be realized."

12. My impressions of the night's high points follow:

After about an hour's sleep I got up at 0100 and from that time on until about five I was with Dr. Oppenheimer constantly. Naturally he was nervous, although his mind was working at its usual extraordinary efficiency. I devoted my entire attention to shielding him from the excited and generally faulty advice of his assistants who were more than disturbed by their excitement and the uncertain weather conditions. By 0330 we decided that we could probably fire at 0530. By 0400 the rain had stopped but the sky was heavily overcast. Our decision became firmer as time went on. During most of these hours the two of us journeyed from the control house out into the darkness to look at the stars and to assure each other that the one or two visible stars were becoming brighter. At 0510 I left Dr. Oppenheimer and returned to the main observation point which was 17,000 yards from the point of explosion. In accordance with our orders I found all personnel not otherwise occupied massed on a bit of high ground.

At about two minutes of the scheduled firing time all persons lay face down with their feet pointing towards the explosion. As the remaining time was called from the loud speaker from the 10,000 yard control station there was complete silence. Dr. Conant said he had never imagined seconds could be so long. Most of the individuals in accordance with orders shielded their eyes in one way or another. There was then this burst of light of a brilliance beyond any comparison. We all rolled over and looked through dark glasses at the ball of fire. About forty seconds later came the shock wave followed by the sound, neither of which seemed startling after our complete astonishment at the extraordinary lighting intensity. Dr. Conant reached over and we shook hands in mutual congratulations. Dr. Bush, who was on the other side of me, did likewise. The feeling of the entire assembly was similar to that described by General Farrell, with even the uninitiated feeling profound awe. Drs. Conant and Bush and myself were struck by an even stronger feeling that the faith of those who had been responsible for the initiation and the carrying on of this Herculean project had been justified. I personally thought of Blondin crossing Niagara Falls on his tight rope, only to me this tight rope had lasted for almost three years and of my repeated confident-appearing assurances that such a thing was possible and that we would do it.

13. A large group of observers were stationed at a point about 27 miles north of the point of explosion. Attached is a memorandum written shortly after the explosion by Dr. E.O. Lawrence which may be of interest.

14. While General Farrell was waiting about midnight for a commercial airplane to Washington at Albuquerque--120 miles away from the site--he overheard several airport employees discussing their reaction to the blast. One said that he was out on the parking apron; it was quite dark; then the whole southern sky was lighted as though by a bright sun; the light lasted several seconds. Another remarked that if a few exploding bombs could have such an effect, it must be terrible to have them drop on a city.

15. My liaison officer at the Alamogordo Air Base, 60 miles away, made the following report:

"There was a blinding flash of light that lighted the entire northwestern sky. In the center of the flash, there appeared to be a huge billow of smoke. The original flash lasted approximately 10 to 15 seconds. As the first flash died down, there arose in the approximate center of where the original flash had occurred an enormous ball of what appeared to be fire and closely resembled a rising sun that was three-fourths above a mountain. The ball of fire lasted approximately 15 seconds, then died down and the sky resumed an almost normal appearance.

"Almost immediately, a third, but much smaller, flash and billow of smoke of a whitish-orange color appeared in the sky, again lighting the sky for approximately 4 seconds. At the time of the original flash, the field was lighted well enough so that a newspaper could easily have been read. The second and third flashes were of much lesser intensity.

"We were in a glass-enclosed control tower some 70 feet above the ground and felt no concussion or air compression. There was no noticeable earth tremor although reports overheard at the Field during the following 24 hours indicated that some believed that they had both heard the explosion and felt some earth tremor."

16. I have not written a separate report for General Marshall as I feel you will want to show this to him. I have informed the necessary people here of our results. Lord Halifax after discussion with Mr. Harrison and myself stated that he was not sending a full report to his government at this time. I informed him that I was sending this to you and that you might wish to show it to the proper British representatives.

17. We are all fully conscious that our real goal is still before us. The battle test is what counts in the war with Japan.

18. May I express my deep personal appreciation for your congratulatory cable to us and for the support and confidence which I have received from you ever since I have had this work under my charge.

19. I know that Colonel Wyle will guard these papers with his customary extraordinary care.

Major General, USA 

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States: Conference of Berlin (Potsdam), vol. 2, 1361-1368.

Click Here to Enlarge

Frenchman's Flat, Nevada - Atomic Cannon Test - History's first atomic artillery shell fired from the Army's new 280-mm artillery gun. Hundreds of high ranking Armed Forces officers and members of Congress are present. The fireball ascending. (NWDNS-434-RF-10(2) - - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives

Petition to the President of the United States by Scientists at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

July 17, 1945 


Discoveries of which the people of the United States are not aware may affect the welfare of this nation in the near future. The liberation of atomic power which has been achieved places atomic bombs in the hands of the Army. It places in your hands, as Commander-in-Chief, the fateful decision whether or not to sanction the use of such bombs in the present phase of the war against Japan. 

We, the undersigned scientists, have been working in the field of atomic power. Until recently we have had to fear that the United States might be attacked by atomic bombs during this war and that her only defense might lie in a counterattack by the same means. Today, with the defeat of Germany, this danger is averted and we feel impelled to say what follows: 

The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and attacks by atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such attacks on Japan could not be justified, at least not unless the terms which will be imposed after the war on Japan were made public in detail and Japan were given an opportunity to surrender. 

If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese the they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which are involved. 

The development of atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction, and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of their future development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale. 

If after this war a situation is allowed to develop in the world which permits rival powers to be in uncontrolled possession of these new means of destruction, the cities of the United States as well as the cities of other nations will be in continuous danger of sudden annihilation. All the resources of the United States, moral and material, may have to be mobilized to prevent the advent of such a world situation. Its prevention is at present the solemn responsibility of the United States--singled out by virtue of her lead in the field of atomic power. 

The added material strength which this lead gives to the United States brings with it the obligation of restraint and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes. It would then be more difficult for us to live up to our responsibility of bringing the unloosened forces of destruction under control. 

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition, first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief, to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.  [Signed by 69 scientists at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory] 

Source: Dennis Merrill, ed., Documentary history of the Truman Presidency, vol. 1: The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan (University Publications of America:1995), 219.


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