John Attanas worked as a chemical engineer and supervisor for the E.I. DuPont Company during World War II. In his interview, he describes living and working on the Manhattan Project at both the Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA sites. He recalls witnessing the Trinity Test and DuPont’s attention to radiation safety, as well as working for the Air Force and General Electric after the war. He shares anecdotes about his parents, family, childhood and interests in chemical engineering. He also reflects on his interactions with Jewish refugees in Manhattan, the Bataan Death March, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This program was recorded at the 25th anniversary of the construction of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, in Hanford, WA. Leading Manhattan Project scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, John Wheeler, Lombard Squires, and Norman Hilberry, as well as its military leaders, General Leslie R. Groves and Colonel Franklin Matthias, participated in the ceremony. They discussed the start of the Manhattan Project, how the reactor’s site was chosen, the challenges of building the reactor and the chemical separations plant, and the different processes that were considered to separate plutonium. They also recalled the relationship between the military and civilian scientists and why they became involved in the Manhattan Project to help win World War II. They philosophized on the significance of nuclear power and its potential for future projects, from agriculture to space exploration.
Colonel Franklin Matthias was the officer-in-charge at the Hanford site. In this interview, Matthias discusses his early life and his placement as the officer-in-charge at Hanford. He also talks about the relationships between DuPont and the military and the scientists, as well as how cooperation was essential. Matthias remembers the various problems that plagued the Hanford site and how he and his colleagues overcame them.
Gilbert P. Church was a civil engineer and Project Manager at the Hanford site during the Manhattan Project. In 1943, the DuPont Company selected Church to lead their Manhattan Project efforts. Church, along with Major Franklin T. Matthias and A.E.S. Hall, surveyed sites in Washington, Oregon, California, and California before choosing Hanford as the site for the world’s first full-scale nuclear production reactor. In this interview, Church describes the challenges faced throughout the project, such as creating a community for up to 45,000 builders, training and providing for these individuals, and completing one of the largest construction projects of the era within tight time constraints.
Daniel D. Friel was a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company who joined the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. Friel was assigned to design the optics for remote operations in Hanford’s T-Plant, a state-of-the-art chemical separations facility. Under Charles M. Cooper and George Monk, Friel invented equipment based on preexisting military technology to see behind walls at the separation plant and the B Reactor. Friel discusses the use of television and periscopes, describing how challenging it was to create a completely new technology without any precedent to refer to. After the war, Friel continued working for DuPont and making inventions.
Born in Ohio, Wakefield Wright had a degree in biological sciences from the University of Louisville. In 1943, he was assigned to a “super secret project” and sent to Oak Ridge, where he was trained in the separations process to separate plutonium from uranium that had been irradiated in a reactor. In September 1944, he was sent to Hanford, where he supervised “chemical operators” at the T-Plant. He recalls the technical aspect of the separations process, the emphasis on secrecy at Hanford and Oak Ridge, and life in Richland.
W.K. MacCready received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Alabama. During the war, MacCready worked as a liaison between the construction and operations teams at Hanford, and later was a supervisor of the construction plant. In this interview, MacCready elaborates on the exceptionally fast building of the B-, T-, and U-Plants at Hanford, and his role as the construction and operations team manager. He describes his work with plutonium research, and the safety and secrecy associated with such research. He finishes the interview by elaborating on a fatal accident that occurred at the plant. Vera Jo MacCready was from Alabama, and traveled to Richland to join her husband in June 1944.
Ray Genereaux was Design Project Manager for DuPont for the chemical separation facilities at Hanford, WA. He also visited the Chicago Met Lab. He was responsible for designing the massive buildings and innovative machinery that separated the plutonium from the irradiated uranium fuel elements after they were taken from the reactors. However, at several points in his interview, Genereaux refuses to take credit for the designs, saying his engineers were responsible. He discusses the challenges of designing and constructing the plants. Genereaux was born in Seattle, WA in 1902 and earned degrees from both Stanford and Columbia.
Harry Kamack worked as a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company during the early 1940s, when he was transferred to Chicago to work at the Metallurgical Laboratory. As a chemical engineer, Kamack admits that he did not have much knowledge of nuclear physics, but he quickly learned and was soon tasked with building a Geiger counter. In 1943, Kamack was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he continued work on developing processes for the separation of plutonium at the X-10 Graphite Reactor. In October of 1944, Kamack was transferred again to Hanford, where he continued research on the chemical separations process of the T-Plant.
Watson C. Warriner, Sr., a trained chemical engineer, worked for DuPont on the Manhattan Project. During the war he worked on building ordnance plants and acid plants, and helped design and build the chemical separation plants at Hanford (also known as the 221 T-plant or “Queen Marys”). He discusses the trains and cask car system used at Hanford and life in the dormitories on the secret site. He recalls going to New York City with his wife to celebrate V-J Day with thousands of other people crowded into the streets.