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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

James Cole’s Interview

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’s Interview

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.

Thomas Mason’s Interview

Thomas (Thom) Mason is the President and CEO of Triad National Security, LLC and the director designate of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A condensed matter physicist, he previously served as the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007-2017, and as Senior Vice President for Global Laboratory Operations at Battelle. In this interview, Mason describes some of the major scientific projects at Oak Ridge from the Manhattan Project to today, including the Spallation Neutron Source, nuclear reactor development, scientific computing, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He also explains why he believes that the science done at universities and national laboratories creates “a fertile ground” for innovation.

Samuel Beall Jr.’s Interview

Sam Beall is an American nuclear engineer. During the Manhattan Project, he worked for the DuPont Company at the Chicago Met Lab, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA. After the war, he stayed at Oak Ridge and ultimately became head of the Reactor Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In this interview, Beall discusses his involvement with various nuclear reactors at Oak Ridge and recalls his friendship with former ORNL director Alvin Weinberg. He also describes his childhood in Richland, Georgia.

Milton Levenson’s Interview

Milton Levenson is an American chemical engineer and former president of the American Nuclear Society who has worked in the nuclear energy field for more than 60 years. During the Manhattan Project, he worked at Decatur, IL, and Oak Ridge, TN, where he was a supervisor at the X-10 plant. In this interview, he describes how he joined the Manhattan Project and his experiences at Oak Ridge, including his memories of segregation there. Levenson then talks about his post-war career as an expert on nuclear safety, including his role in responding to the SL-1, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl accidents. He also recalls having to tell Enrico Fermi that he could not perform an experiment for safety reasons.

Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende’s Interview

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.

Robert Holmberg’s Interview

Robert Holmberg began working on the Manhattan Project at the Chicago Met Lab and at Ames Laboratory in Iowa. He was then drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment and sent to Oak Ridge. He describes his life at Oak Ridge, where he met his wife and settled down, and recalls what he and his colleagues thought of General Leslie Groves at the time.

Alvin M. Weinberg’s Interview

Alvin Weinberg was an American nuclear physicist who was in charge of the multiplication factor estimates for reactors in the Manhattan Project. He served as an assistant to Eugene Wigner, with whom he began to work at the University of Chicago in 1941, while taking frequent trips to Oak Ridge. Along with Wigner’s team, Weinberg assisted in designing reactors. He also contributed to the development of peaceful applications of nuclear power. Weinberg discusses Wigner’s rush to create the reactor due to the threat of a German atomic bomb, highlighting both the conflict and cooperation with DuPont.