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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Norman Brown’s Interview (2005)

Not long after completing his sophomore year at MIT, Norman Brown was recruited into the Manhattan Project. First stationed at Oak Ridge, he was deployed with the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos. Brown helped process the plutonium that was used in the Trinity test and in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He discusses barracks life, security at Los Alamos, and his impressions of J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. He also recounts his efforts to witness the Trinity test and a visit to the memorials at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ray Genereaux’s Interview

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.

Oswald Greager’s Interview

Oswald Greager was a high-ranking DuPont chemist when joined the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service at the start of World War II. He was later transferred to the Manhattan Project’s Hanford site and served as the Army’s liaison at the plutonium separation areas. After the War, Greager returned to Hanford and worked for General Electric as a Technical Manager in the separation areas. In this interview, Greager discusses the production of plutonium, the separation process, and the perils of transporting radioactive material. He also discusses the race against the German for the atomic bomb as well as Hanford’s role after the war ended in 1945.

John Wheeler’s Interview (1986)

John Archibald Wheeler was the leading physicist in residence at Hanford. He solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. Early in his career at Princeton, in 1939, Wheeler and Danish physicist Niels Bohr collaborated to develop the first general theory of the mechanism of fission, which included identifying the nuclei most susceptible to fission, a landmark accomplishment that helped make Wheeler, at age 28, world fa¬≠mous among nuclear physicists. After the war, at Los Alamos, he directed the group which produced the conceptual design for the first family of thermonuclear weapons. He became interested in astrophysics and coined the term “black holes.” In 1976, Wheeler joined the department of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was interviewed.

Steve Buckingham’s Interview

Steve Buckingham, a chemist, worked at the Hanford site beginning in 1947. He explains how the B Reactor worked, and applauds the ingenuity of the designers of the T-plant.