Bill Wilcox was an original resident of Oak Ridge, TN, and served as the Official Historian for the City of Oak Ridge, TN. A chemistry graduate from Washington & Lee University in 1943, he was hired by the Tennessee Eastman Company on a secret project in an unknown location he and his friends nicknamed “Dogpatch.” He worked with uranium, which was referred to only by its codename “Tuballoy.” Wilcox worked at Y-12 for five years and then at K-25 for 20 years, retiring as Technical Director for Union Carbide Nuclear Division. Wilcox actively promoted preservation of the “Secret City” history through the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association and by founding the Partnership for K-25 Preservation. He also published several books on Oak Ridge, including a history of Y-12 and “Opening the Gates of the Secret City.”
James S. Cole is an American engineer. He served as an airplane engineer during World War II, and began working at the K-25 plant at Oak Ridge, TN in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Cole later worked at the Y-12 plant. In this interview, he recalls his early days at Oak Ridge and how he adjusted to the new environment. He shares several stories about his time working at K-25, including finding ways to fix broken pumps and valves. He also explains the importance of the Special Engineer Detachment and members of the military to the Manhattan Project.
Gordon Fee is the retired president of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems and the former manager of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. He began working at Oak Ridge at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in 1956. In this interview, he describes his career at Oak Ridge, and shares stories about his work at Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In particular, he focuses on scientific developments connected with Oak Ridge, including the growth of the Nuclear Navy, the use of radioisotopes in medicine, and more. He also discusses the challenges of trying to explain Oak Ridge’s complex history to the public.
Hal Behl and his wife, Reggie, an art teacher, arrived in Oak Ridge in 1945. A member of the Special Engineer Detachment, Behl served as Assistant Supervisor in an Engineering Department laboratory at the K-25 plant. He focused mainly on designing and building laboratory, process, health physics, and quality assurance equipment. In this interview, Behl describes everyday life at Oak Ridge and his experiences renting various rooms around the “Secret City.” He also discusses how his Manhattan Project work helped lead to his postwar career in aerospace and weapon system technology.
J.C. Hobbs was an American inventor and engineer who created a key part of the valves used in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Hobbs was brought on to the Manhattan Project by the head of the Kellex Corporation, Percival Keith, to improve the piping system in the K-25 plant. In part three of his interview with Stephane Groueff, Hobbs discusses the key role he played in troubleshooting problems for K-25 and for other power plants across the country. He emphasizes the importance of the efficiencies he introduced at K-25, and describes some of the technical challenges he and his colleagues faced.
General Kenneth Nichols was the District Engineer for the Manhattan Engineering District, and oversaw the design and operation of the Hanford and Oak Ridge sites. He was responsible for securing the initial deals with Stone & Webster and the DuPont Company to develop the industry for the site, and lived for a time with his wife at Oak Ridge. He discusses sabotage and Klaus Fuchs, dealings with the British, and the very start of the Manhattan Project. He recalls some conflict between the scientists and engineers, the importance of industry in the project, and the initial problems with the startup of the B Reactor.
J.C. Hobbs was an American inventor and engineer who created a key part of the valves used in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Hobbs was brought on to the Manhattan Project by the head of the Kellex Corporation, Percival Keith, to improve the piping system in the K-25 plant. In this interview, Hobbs discusses his career in industrial engineering, the work environment in New York, and the development of the valves that proved crucial to the success of gaseous diffusion.
Theodore “Ted” Rockwell was born in Chicago in 1923. As a graduate student at Princeton University, Ted was recruited to work as an engineer at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN in late 1943. Rockwell was assigned to the “Tiger Team” at Oak Ridge, which responded to problems that arose in the Y-12 Plant. After the war, Rockwell continued his career in nuclear technology, becoming Technical Director for Admiral Hyman Rickover. In this interview, Ted explains how the electromagnetic separation process of the calutrons worked at the Y-12 Plant and how the gaseous diffusion process at the K-25 Plant worked. He discusses his duties in the Manhattan Project and his work with Admiral Rickover in the years after the war. He also explains why he thinks safety concerns over nuclear reactors, nuclear waste, and radiation are usually blown out of proportion.
Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende were transferred into the Manhattan District, the branch of the United States Army Corps of Engineers tasked with overseeing the construction of critical Manhattan Project sites, shortly after its formation in 1942. They both lived and worked at Oak Ridge during the war and were closely involved in the design and construction of the site’s thousands of residential units and cafeterias and recreational facilities, as well as the Y-12 and K-25 Plants and the X-10 Graphite Reactor. Their work required close coordination with private architectural and engineering firms, like Stone & Webster and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They discuss the power structure of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, the restrictions imposed on Oak Ridge residents for the maintenance of secrecy, and the compartmentalization of building projects. They also explain the challenges of life in Oak Ridge and how the government had to step in to provide maintenance and services.
In the second part of his in-depth interview with journalist Stephane Groueff, General Kenneth Nichols discusses his key role in the Manhattan Project and the chain of command. He explains his relationship with fellow Manhattan Project directors General Leslie R. Groves, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and scientists Vannevar Bush and James B. Conant. Nichols recalls purchasing 1,200 tons of uranium ore from Belgian Edgar Sengier for the project and the challenges of developing a barrier for the gaseous diffusion plant. He also discusses financial accountability and Congressional oversight of the project.