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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

General Kenneth Nichols’s Interview – Part 3

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.

Date of Interview:
January 5, 1965
Location of the Interview:


General Kenneth Nichols: —found we did not have the authority to satisfy DuPont.

Stephane Groueff: But why did DuPont challenge your authority?

Nichols: Because they had trouble, in World War I, being called munitions makers and investigated after World War I, so they are more conservative than most companies. And they wanted to have in their files copies of our authorities. And what we had, which I have shown you, and that is satisfactory to them.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: So we started checking on what authorities we needed— you can see the date, how late it was, April 17, 1944. We had been operating for almost two years. In this document, Under Secretary Judge [Robert] Patterson delegated [General Leslie] Groves, in effect, the full war power authority of the Secretary of War.

Groueff: So he could affix salaries?

Nichols: No, this was to where he had the full authority as Secretary of War. Whatever was legal for the Secretary of War to approve, General Groves could approve.

Groueff: I see. And General Groves could delegate to you.

Nichols: General Groves in turn then delegated that part of it to the District Engineer.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: And these are the limitations of General Groves’ delegation. In effect, the District Engineer could sign any contract without limit, but if they were over five million, they needed his approval.

Groueff: Groves’ approval.

Nichols: Groves’ approval.

Groueff: But up to five million dollars, you could sign?

Nichols: Or have someone else sign. In other words, there is always a signer and an approver.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: If it was over five million, I would sign, Groves would approve.

Groueff: And under five?

Nichols: If it was under five million, somebody in my command could sign, and I would approve.

Groueff: And you approve. But you had the full power to approve up to—

Nichols: Five million.

Groueff: Five million. Without referring to anyone?

Nichols: That is right. But it is rather interesting that we did not formalize this until 1944.

Groueff: Now between ’42 and ’44—

Nichols: We were signing contracts.

Groueff: And the DuPont people were drawing their—

Nichols: We were negotiating with DuPont, working on a letter of intent, which we had to sign.

Groueff: I see. But their people were paid by their organization?

Nichols: Oh, no, we paid.

Groueff: Oh, you paid?

Nichols: Oh, yes, we—

Groueff: Salaries and everything?

Nichols: On the letter of intent.

Groueff: So they kept their old salaries?

Nichols: We reimbursed them for salaries, whatever DuPont was paying to their people.

Groueff: They continued to draw the same salary?

Nichols: Right, that is right.

Groueff: The individual scientists.

Nichols: But it is rather interesting that we operated for two years without ever finding out what authority we had. We thought we had adequate. And our main interest was that we were legal.

Groueff: That is quite an unusual way, no?

Nichols: The delegation would be effective as of 1 September ’42.

Groueff: That’s right, it is retroactive.

Nichols: Retroactive, so that covered all the past.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: So what we did on contracts of over five million that we had been working on up to that time, we then took up to General Groves to have him formally approve them.

Groueff: Talking about all those millions that were spent during the Manhattan Project, how did the budget people present that in the budget?

Nichols: I have forgotten the exact authority.

Groueff: Did they know—

Nichols: Or the appropriation.

Groueff: Did they know what the money was spent for? Or the secret was kept?

Nichols: The budget—what was the name of the General? [George] Richards, I think. General Richards was the Budget Officer for the War Department.

Groueff: The War Department.

Nichols: And he knew what we were doing and which ones had been appropriated for us. They were, in each case, put in a part of the regular War Department budget. I have forgotten the exact designation but as I recall, they would be carried under two or three different designations. I know one was Expediting Production.

Groueff: So just the General—

Nichols: But it was known that that had been put in there for our use. It was money which Judge Patterson had approved and had been appropriated by Congress. And only a few Congressmen on the Appropriation Committee for the House and Senate knew the intention of how it was going to be used.

Groueff: But wasn’t anyone asking questions? Because so many hundreds of millions, you cannot just say they are for. What do you call it? This Expediting—

Nichols: Well, that was one of the categories. What the others were, I do not remember.

Groueff: But you had no problem—I mean, newspapermen or Congressmen?

Nichols: They were a part of a much larger appropriation.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: And there had been no concealment from key people in Congress. Mr. [Henry] Stimson had taken care of that personally.

Groueff: Yeah, the three Congressmen.

Nichols: There were three in the House and three in the Senate.

Groueff: And three in the Senate.

Nichols: Until 1945. And in the spring of ’45, certain Congressmen questioned these appropriations.

Groueff: That was the case with Mr. [Albert] Engel.

Nichols: I think Mr. Engel is covered in The New World.

Groueff: Yes.

Nichols: There were certain Congressmen who questioned it. The compromise made with them was that the regular appropriation committee—the subcommittee who were military— would go to Oak Ridge and would conduct a secret hearing. That was done in the spring of 1945 and at that time, I believe, we were asking for either six or eight hundred million dollars more to complete the Project.

Groueff: In the spring of ’45?

Nichols: In the spring of ’45. Because normally, the way we operated was to have money available for our obligation that we had committed plus what it would cost to stop. We never worried about having a full amount of money to complete the Project.

Groueff: But what do you mean, to stop? If you at least continue—

Nichols: Just close out the Project.

Groueff: I see. So you had to pay a lot of—

Nichols: If we had to just close it out, what it would cost us to close it out. We always had enough money to do that. But we never asked for enough money in the beginning to complete the Project, although from time to time, we submitted to the President the estimate of what we thought it would cost to complete the Project. And that was the authority then for the Secretary of War to arrange for these monies. They were then turned over, as we needed them, to the Manhattan District for disbursement.

Groueff: So the decision—the high-level decision about money was—

Nichols: Made by the President.

Groueff: Secretary Stimson?

Nichols: And Mr. Stimson.

Groueff: And the President. And Patterson was Treasury?

Nichols: Well, Patterson handled the fiscal affairs.

Groueff: Fiscal, I see. He was—

Nichols: He was the Undersecretary.

Groueff: —Defense, I see.

Nichols: Well, then, you only had the Navy and War Department.

Groueff: So he knew the whole story.

Nichols: Mr. Stimson was very current with the whole story.

Groueff: How about Mr. Patterson?

Nichols: Mr. Patterson was current to the extent of knowing what money we needed, and not the detail about it being extended, but what the status was and the money at any particular time.

Groueff: But in peacetime, would it have been possible to spend so much money without attracting public—

Nichols: No, it would be impossible. It would also be undesirable.

Groueff: Yeah. I can’t imagine building cities and all this. So the war helped the secrecy. I mean, the whole atmosphere was—

Nichols: You could never have carried out the secrecy, except in a time of war. I doubt if you could ever, in this country, carry out a project as large in secrecy in a time of peace. You might be able to get by with a few tens of millions, but to get into hundreds of millions, why, I doubt if you could do that. And you should not be permitted to.

Groueff: Not in a democracy. But I think the secrecy of this project was fantastic because over the years, it lasted for about three or four years, and so many thousands of people are being involved. How come the general public—and I mean also members of Congress and even probably members of Cabinet—never heard of all of those things?

Nichols: Well, for example, Mr. Truman, who had the Truman Committee, started to dig into our affairs and was asked by President Roosevelt to lay off.

Groueff: And he was the Vice President.

Nichols: Not at that time. At the time, he was Senator.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: Before he was Vice President.

Groueff: But I read a lot about this—

Nichols: He became Vice President in ’44.

Groueff: Yes. And when the President died, only then he was briefed to the details.

Nichols: That is what I have heard. Now whether that is correct or not, I do not know.

Groueff: Yeah, that is what—

Nichols: I imagine that would be in his memoirs.

Groueff: He says in his memoirs.

Nichols: I know it was fortunate that Mr. Stimson had been just briefed by being at Oak Ridge. In fact, the day he was there or the day after is when FDR died.

Groueff: That is when you received them and you had a party at the—

Nichols: At the house, yes.

Groueff: At your house.

Nichols: We showed him the whole business at that time, the status. So he was able to assure Truman, and he was right up to date and had just been down there.

Groueff: What was his reaction of Oak Ridge when he first saw it?

Nichols: Well, I thought he was very much impressed. He was a pleasure to take around in the place.

Groueff: Was he a pleasant man?

Nichols: Very pleasant, very pleasant.

Groueff: Not cold and distant?

Nichols: No, he was actually warm. I enjoyed taking him around, and many of the people there thought we were planning to bring in the President, because we had built ramps into several of the plants. It looked like we were preparing for a wheelchair. In any case, we drove an automobile right into the plant in various parts of it, because Mr. Stimson was pretty elderly then.

Groueff: I think they thought it was for the wheelchair.

Nichols: A good many thought it was for the wheelchair for Franklin D. Roosevelt. So we had quite a turnout when we brought Mr. Stimson around. But he enjoyed the visit and in order to spare him, he met no one at the plants. In other words, no one shook hands with him—it was just a case of showing him around. Then the idea of the party at my house was for him to meet the—

Groueff: And who came to your party that you remember, the key people?

Nichols: Oh, I do not remember, but all the key people at Tennessee Eastman and Carbide & Carbon and scientists were there. I do not know how many were there, I have forgotten, but it was a pretty good-sized party—probably twenty, twenty-five key people.

I know it was rather amusing because Stimson’s aide, Colonel [William] Kyle, had tried to formalize it to spare the Secretary by having him sitting on a sofa with the idea he would bring up two at a time to talk to him and allocate them about two minutes. But Mr. Stimson would have no part of that. He proceeded to—

Groueff: To talk to whomever he wanted?

Nichols: To talk to everybody and remain on his feet. I escorted him from one individual to another, introduced them, and he was enjoying some of my hard-to-get whiskey down there. He liked an Old Fashioned, and talked to everyone.

Groueff: And he knew what he was talking about.

Nichols: And he wanted to meet the people.

Groueff: He was a very intelligent man.

Nichols: I know at one point, he said, “Are you certain I have met everyone and talked to everyone?” When I assured him he had, he was ready to go back to the hotel and take a rest. It was a pretty rugged trip for the old man.

Groueff: And he was not in very good health?

Nichols: I do not think it is so much his health, it is his age, where he needed to take a break. About every two or three hours, he would take a nap.

Groueff: I see. But very alert mentally?

Nichols: Very alert mentally, yeah, for a reasonable length of time. Then he would take his nap and an hour later, he would be alert again. But he spared himself that way.

Groueff: Now it is much easier, we have all heard at least heard about atomic energy, atomic bombs. But at that time, when that was a monopoly or a privilege only of a few scientists, how political men like Stimson or even the President could understand it? Did they have the necessary grasp?

Nichols: Why do they need to? They were interested primarily in our outstanding people: do they believe it can be done, and what would be the type of weapon you had when you completed it and the results.

Groueff: But they did not have to make decisions on that?

Nichols: They did not have to make decisions on that. That type of decision was made by Groves and the scientists and the various people.

Groueff: For instance, whether plutonium or uranium-235 or separation or this, it never—

Nichols: That never got to them, although they were in the letter to the President what they were planning to do, so that we knew what our authority was.

Groueff: But they must have been very impressed to arrive to Oak Ridge and to see this huge—for instance, the K-25 that must have been exciting, incredible.

Nichols: Well, just the number of people we had and the progress we had made would impress any individual that had ever seen a construction project.

Groueff: Even specialized.

Nichols: And he had seen many, being the Secretary of War.

Groueff: Yeah. Could you give me a description of your headquarters there? Where you were located and what it looked like, what address?

Nichols: Well, I have got photographs, mainly showing housing and schools. [Laughs] This is the center of the town of Oak Ridge, and the headquarters was on the hill. It is off the photograph here. It looked like an ordinary wooden barracks, two stories high.

Groueff: In Oak Ridge?

Nichols: In Oak Ridge, with about ten wings that we built as we needed them.

Groueff: The typical wartime—

Nichols: Just wartime wooden construction, where we would build one wing at a time.

Groueff: And you occupied what kind of offices?

Nichols: Oh, I had an office about the size of this room, and I think I had a little bit deluxe. We had linoleum on the floor, didn’t we, Virginia?

Virginia Olsson: You know, I can’t even remember.

Nichols: I think that was the only concession we made in my office, was it had linoleum on the floor.

Groueff: And Miss Olsson was with you?

Nichols: Miss Olsson had been Colonel [James] Marshall’s secretary and as I told you yesterday, at Colonel Marshall’s office. At the time he left, he had one request and that was—he knew I was moving the headquarters to Oak Ridge. He asked at that time that I keep her as my secretary at Oak Ridge and keep the secretary I had, Miss Phillips, in New York. He knew I was going to maintain both offices personally. I visited New York every week. So Miss Olsen becomes the secretary in Oak Ridge, and Miss Phillips remained my secretary in New York. Between the two, they kept my papers straight because if I went on a train, why, they would load me up with a briefcase. When I got to the other end, I would just hand it over.

Groueff: Did you live near the offices at Oak Ridge?

Nichols: At Oak Ridge, I occupied a house up on the hill about a quarter of a mile from the office.

Groueff: With your family?

Nichols: At that time, my family consisted of my wife. That is the type of house we lived in. That is not the house.

Groueff: So it looks like a suburban—

Nichols: The houses that were built for $7,000—maximum price that we paid for the D type house was, I believe, about $7,000 a unit. The rent we charged for civilians that—no, the cost was $6,691.

Groueff: That was the type of house you had?

Nichols: That was the type of house I had. The rent was $68.50 per month. Except being a Colonel, I think I paid $120. I lost that rental allowance. But a civilian could rent it for $68.50. But those houses are still in use in Oak Ridge.

Groueff: I see. They are wooden houses?

Nichols: No, they are cemesto.

Groueff: What is it?

Nichols: It is a cemesto board house.

Groueff: Cemesto board.

Nichols: It is a very unique design. We built a total of 3,000 like that, and then changed to an even cheaper variety. See them in all the various sizes.

Groueff: But your pad is quite pretty. Anyhow, in the photograph, it looks—

Nichols: And one house, it was a little bit better. I think they called it an E type house or F, I guess it was. That was a later version, which was a little bit more impressive.

Groueff: Yeah, bigger.

Nichols: That one cost $7,382.

Groueff: But everybody had to pay the rent?

Nichols: Everybody paid rent. The military, of course, part of their pay is a rental allowance. If the quarters are not furnished, why then you draw that rental allowance. But if quarters are furnished by the government, you lose it. So I lost my rental allowance so my rent was, I think at that time, $120 a month. But later, we shifted to temporary type houses. This is the cheapest type of housing.

Groueff: Yes. It looks like a trailer without wheels.

Nichols: That cost only $1,897 a unit. No, that was built right on the place.

Groueff: Who was building this part? Stone and Webster were in charge?

Nichols: These houses were built under contract by competition. We would let out these houses a thousand at a time, and we would take bids from about six to eight contractors. So they were built on a competitive basis to where contractors had won the bid—like J. H. Owens, for example, bid on it and he won, I think, a total of 2,000 houses. But there were other contractors that also won the competition, and we did not want any one to be building all of them. So as we needed houses, we would authorize extra houses. In fact, the housing is one of the few things that I finally, in self-defense, asked General Groves to write me an order stating to build no more houses without his personal written authority.

Groueff: Why?

Nichols: Because everybody wanted houses and I thought we had enough. And finally, I discovered we did not have, so finally had to ask him to authorize 2,000 more. But that is the only authorization in writing, as I recall, that we had at Oak Ridge, that one-billion-dollar project. But that was solely in order to keep better relations with the contractor. I said, “You cannot convince me anymore. You have to convince General Groves.” But it was done intentionally.

You can see the various types of houses built down there. We started from scratch, and built the fifth largest city in Tennessee.

Groueff: It was about what, 75,000?

Nichols: About 75,000—

Groueff: People on the peak.

Nichols: —living there. In addition, 40,000 a day were going in and out, that lived outside of the reservation.

Groueff: But what did people in the area think? How did you keep the secret?

Nichols: Well, only the key people knew what we were doing. Generally, you told a man no more than he needed to know to do his job. We would have cover stories like in training. Say, for example, the Tennessee Eastman employees were operating electromagnetic plant, we would give them a cover story, classified. So they would think it was a secret or confidential.

Groueff: What kind, for instance?

Nichols: One of the things we used, for example, is that we were making a catalyst for gasoline to extend the range of bombers. But we had several such stories, so that no two—

Groueff: Trying to look very authentic and very classified.

Nichols: We would classify it, give them to them in a formal lesson, as part of their education how to operate. One of the big questions in the beginning, as far as the electromagnetic plant was concerned, was whether you could operate it with anything less than a PhD. It was rather interesting, because Tennessee Eastman trained the people. I believe the average education of the employees that were running these complicated electrical units was less than eighth grade—mostly girls.

Groueff: How did they—or each one—

Nichols: We would teach them each a specific operation. It was rather interesting because Ernest Lawrence, at one time, he would break in each new unit. He came to Oak Ridge with about twenty people from the laboratory in Berkeley. As we would start up a unit, he would put on the operating team until we found out how to operate it. And then he would turn it over to Tennessee Eastman and they would turn it over then, train these girls to operate it.

I commented to him one day after we had several units operating, that the girls were out-producing his PhDs, that the units that had been turned over produced more material than the units that he had his people running. Of course, he thought I was crazy. We checked and sure enough, they were. And he said, “Oh, that is just because they do not try.”

I said, “Make them try. I do not think they can out-produce these girls.”

So he had them try and sure enough, the girls could out-produce them. The reason was that a girl was perfectly content to follow instructions. If the needle went over to the right so far, she was told to turn a knob so far. She would turn it and go back to her knitting, where the PhD would look at it and turn the knob, get it back, and then start wondering why it did that and start fiddling.

Groueff: So it was a successful thing, using the girls?

Nichols: Yes, it was a beautiful training job by Tennessee Eastman.

Like I mentioned yesterday, one of the difficulties in how do you get the plant tight enough, the gaseous diffusion plant, vacuum tight. They realized they had to have a more precise weld than you normally would have on a piping job. So they set up a school to train the welders in these new techniques that they developed that would give you a better weld. That was typical of the Project all the way through, when you ran into something more difficult.

Groueff: They were local welders?

Nichols: Some of them were not even welders.

Groueff: You created welders?

Nichols: We would try to get welders. Actually, the distribution of labor—see, we had top priority for all crafts in the United States. We split the country that was east of the Mississippi River, we would recruit them for Oak Ridge and those west for Hanford. But we had recruiting teams out all the time, so we would bring in the type of labor that we wanted.

Groueff: Where did they bring them from?

Nichols: All over the country.

Groueff: And telling them what? Just, “There is a job”?

Nichols: Just a construction job. In other words, a carpenter did not worry what we were making. He might be building a dormitory or working in one of the plants. He did not know what it was going to be. He would just operate from the plan.

Groueff: And at Oak Ridge, they did not have any limitations of their movements or censorship of their letters like Los Alamos?

Nichols: We did not have any censorship of letters. We had, of course, a control of movements in and out, but we did not try to keep anyone from leaving if they wanted to leave at any time. And people were free to go in and out, as long as they had a pass to go in and out. We did monitor telephone calls. We did it openly, and we told people that any call that they made at Oak Ridge was subject to being monitored.

Groueff: But they thought it was for some—

Nichols: Oh, no, they knew it was a secret project. So you know, what we were trying to instill in all of them, “Do not talk over the telephone, anything. If you do know what the business is about, do not talk over the telephone.”

Groueff: If they talked, they would be kept out.

Nichols: Well, we did not monitor every phone call. I think the only one that I had orders to monitor everyone, was whenever General Groves called. No matter who he called, I would get his conversation inside of about thirty seconds.

Groueff: [Laugh] But your telephones, did you have a special code, machine?

Nichols: No. Well, as far as scramblers, yes, we had scramblers. If I wanted to talk to General Groves, I could use a scrambler.

Groueff: How did that work? A scrambler is what?

Nichols: I never did know how it worked. All I know was if you wanted a scrambler, why, you would tell the operator to put it on the scrambler. It was a secret device for scrambling, mixing up the conversation. Then you had to have a scrambler on the other end.

Groueff: It looked like any ordinary telephone?

Nichols: Oh, yeah, absolutely. All we did is tell the central exchange, wasn’t it?

Virginia Olsson: I think so.

Groueff: So you tell them and they do whatever?

Nichols: That is right. In other words, that was controlled by the Signal Corps.

Groueff: You did not have a special sort of up—

Nichols: No.

Groueff: —line or something like that. But so much was written about the so-called compartmentalization. It is a difficult—

Nichols: The idea was that no one should know more than they needed to know for their job.

Groueff: Was that a policy established knowingly? Or it developed as such—

Nichols: No, that was established knowingly with the consent of the scientists, the top scientists.

Groueff: Who established that?

Nichols: Oh, that was more or less a standard military policy. In other words, we never went the way England did—just because you were the right family and you lived on a tight little island, that you should be exposed to everything. In other words, the standard policy in the military was a need to know if something is classified. In other words, you did not tell everybody when you were going to invade Normandy. So we applied the same thing in the Manhattan Project.

Groueff: Even a scientist who has all the clearances for one phase of the operation—

Nichols: For example, we saw no reason why a scientist working on the electromagnetic plant should keep themselves up to date of what was going on in the part of Hanford.  Our part, we just did not tell him. Nor did he need to know what progress was being made at Los Alamos—except for a few.

Groueff: Yeah, who had to know.

Nichols: Who had to know. Like for example, we had to have a close liaison with Los Alamos to determine what type of material we should turn out, what the specifications were, and what the relative worth of the material was. We could produce 80% material, 90% material, or 95% material. Each had a different value in the bomb, and we had to weigh the worth in the bomb as compared to cost of production and the ability to produce. We had to have a certain number of men that had a flow back and forth of information, so that we knew what we were doing. We never compartmentalized to the extent that people that needed to know—

Groueff: Yeah, but those men, for example, probably did not know anything about Hanford.

Nichols: That is right. They did not need to know. And another reason is, we did not want to spend their time finding out. That is the trouble that goes on with projects in peacetime. Because a good scientist will spend about 50% of his job on his main effort, and the other 50% of his time trying to keep abreast of the field. We wanted them 100% on the job they were doing. That caused some dissension.

Groueff: Yeah, you could have trouble with the scientists. Could they understand that?

Nichols: Well, some of them understood it. I think they all understood it, but some of them complained that it was not necessary.

Groueff: But you did not have any particular problem or trouble?

Nichols: Oh, you would have complaints, and you would have people that would say we were following the wrong policy and that we were making mistakes because people did not know. But that was one of my jobs—[James B.] Conant’s job and Groves. We would go from place to place and if we saw somebody that was doing something that was not consistent with some other part of the Project, we would designate who was to get together to thrash it out.

Groueff: But in Oak Ridge and Hanford, who decided about what scientists should know? You had this authority, in case of conflict?

Nichols: No. You have to keep in mind, all the way through, that this authority was delegated just generally.

Groueff: I know.

Nichols: We did not even worry about formalizing it. If Arthur Compton felt some man ought to come to Oak Ridge to get some powder to Los Alamos, that could be arranged. In other words, he would send him. Now, we did have a restriction—like at times, we had a restriction on Hanford, for example, at the request of DuPont, not to let every Joe Dokes from Chicago come dashing out there. They wanted to get the plants operating. They did not want to spend their time educating the scientists of what they had created. Arthur Compton went along with that, to where he would have to okay any visit to Hanford.

Groueff: Even the top scientists?

Nichols: Yeah, but the main thing was to keep it under control. Because you can imagine the curiosity of these people having created this thing, to try and see what it looked like when you build it. But you could not satisfy everyone’s curiosity, of course. That caused resentment.

Groueff: Did you have a special officer under you, who was in charge of secrecy?

Nichols: No.

Groueff: Or just normal security?

Nichols: Well, you had security people.

Groueff: Security people.

Nichols: And they would be looking out, if you maintained the rules and locked your safe at night. For example, if someone talked on a train on the way down, we would frequently have a security man onboard the train. He would call when somebody got off, he would tell the conversation and then ride them out to give them hell. In the same way, preserving papers.

Groueff: You did not have any serious problem in Oak Ridge or Hanford, for instance, sabotage?

Nichols: Not that we knew of that was caused by an enemy agent. We had some sabotage by disgruntled employees.

Groueff: But not by the Germans?

Nichols: Not that we know of, no.

Groueff: Or later by the Russians?

Nichols: No.

Groueff: At that time, were you already conscious of the fact that the Russians are going to be the big problem after the war?

Nichols: General Groves and I were concerned. We were.

Groueff: You were.

Nichols: No question about it. In other words, neither one of us ever trusted a Russian or the idea we would ever get along with them. We did have a lot of people that felt differently about that.

In fact, we had a hell of a time, like on uranium, keeping Harry Hopkins from sending it over to Russia. That happened to fall in my bailiwick, and in the early days of the Project when I was trying to corner the uranium market. We would find Lend-Lease wanted to ship some to Russia. So we would say, “Well, where can they buy it? Tell us where they can buy it. We’ll then tell you whether they can have a permit.” So as soon as they tell us where they could buy it, we would go buy it and say, “Okay, go try to buy it.”

Groueff: But you personally, your feelings about Russians at that time, you were not among the very enthusiastic allies? You were skeptical?

Nichols: No. In other words, I figured that we were in there in the war as Allies but at the end of the war, we probably would not be.

Groueff: I see. So you would be very cautious and watchful about some undue interests on the part of the Russians?

Nichols: I figured that we were fighting at the time. I questioned whether we were fighting the right people.

Groueff: Yeah.

Nichols: I used to have a little simple theory, having lived in Germany, in that part of the world, before as a student. I said, “Well, what we should have done it at the beginning of the war, we let the Germans and Russians fight it out and we supply both sides.”

Groueff: By the way, when you were in Germany, did you meet some of the scientists?

Nichols: Not in this category, no.

Groueff: Not in this category.

Nichols: No, I was studying hydraulics.

Groueff: I see. And what about the big spy stories that came? [Klaus] Fuchs and Alan May, what was it—May.

Nichols: That was primarily Los Alamos.

Groueff: Fuchs?

Nichols: Fuchs was in Los Alamos. That is typical of the suspicious and proper mind that General Groves had. He fought a losing fight, and lost it with the British. He wanted to clear—when we cooperated with the British, at the Quebec Conference, of letting them come into various parts of the Project.

Groueff: Yeah, Dobie Keith told me that he also proposed that visit to K-25—

Nichols: Groves wanted to pass on every individual that came from Britain. In other words, he wanted to see the security record and pass on it. And the British said, “That is an infringement of their sovereignty.” And he lost that fight. That went to the President.

Groueff: And that—you felt like—

Nichols: Well, Groves always felt that if he had seen Klaus Fuchs’ background, why, he probably would have questioned this. He did the French.

Groueff: You personally, you felt like Groves, rather than like the highest people who were authorized, I mean, on this.

Nichols: Well, I felt, why do you trust anybody? In other words, why work anybody, unless you need to? Of course, you can look in Arthur Compton’s book. I am on the record there as having cleared [James] Franck. See, he was a Jewish refugee from Germany, and he could never get cleared. We had the right to clear anybody, so I decided to clear him. I figured, “Well, if Arthur Compton felt he needed him,” and I had seen enough of the treatment of Jews in Germany to where I figured, “Well, at least he was going to be loyal as hell as far as [laugh] licking Hitler was concerned,” and that was our primary objective at that time. But we used judgment on it. But I think in each case, you should look at the background.

Groueff: But Fuchs did it at Los Alamos. Alan May, it was in Canada, I think, no?

Nichols: Yeah.

Groueff: And [Julius] Rosenberg?

Nichols: He was working—

Groueff: Los Alamos?

Nichols: That was Los Alamos. I have forgotten all the detail.

Groueff: Yeah. But no major spy incident at Oak Ridge or Hanford?

Nichols: Not that we know of, no.

Groueff: Now do you think—

Nichols: That does not mean there were not any.

Groueff: But one question I do not know how to answer. When I study the history of the separation of the uranium and also production of plutonium, I see there are so many complications, so many tricks that you found with great difficulties just one after the other. Now, do you think that the Russians took some shortcuts because of the espionage? In other words, how much—

Nichols: Actually, it took the Russians longer to accomplish than it did us.

Groueff: Why?

Nichols: If you just take—

Groueff: Until ‘49, yes.

Nichols: If you take the time, I am pretty much convinced they were working on it before the end of the war. The biggest problem in any nation starting this from scratch is to keep the top support. I have always felt that the biggest thing we got from England was not the scientists, but the support of Churchill and Lord Cherwell and Sir James Chadwick to where they constantly kept Churchill telling FDR, “We must keep this top priority.” You have to hand it to Churchill, to FDR, and in particular, to Mr. Stimson that they kept their faith in a few individuals that this could be done.

Groueff: Without priority—

Nichols: And once having known it could done—I mean, for another other nation like Russia to do it. You do not have that problem of convincing Joe Stalin of the wisdom of doing it or of the fact that it can be done.

Groueff: But they can say—

Nichols: They have the old business of, you know, the story of standing an egg on end. Once you know it can be done, why, then you have the toughest part.

Groueff: But once you know that, for instance—

Nichols: And they knew the methods we used.

Groueff: Yeah, how did they know?

Nichols: The spies’ report.

Groueff: Because you had to start at the beginning exploring at least five different—

Nichols: Well, in the early days, of course, the scientists write this first letter. That was essentially written by Bush and Conant and the scientists. Recommended the things that worked, plus the centrifuge. Okay, so they had four processes, three of which worked, which we finally built.

Groueff: The plutonium, the—

Nichols: And the only thing they added later was a thermal diffusion, which we added at Oak Ridge. But we canceled the centrifuge.

Groueff: But even in each one, there are so many different ways, for instance—the cooling of the pile or separation.

Nichols: So there was another case where we got into a tangle with a scientist. We set up the DuPont relationship and we told DuPont we wanted four piles—that is what they called them in those days. We finally got the first one okayed as to what they would build, and [Crawford] Greenewalt rotating back and forth and received all the okays from the scientists that this was it. Then we had a revolution because DuPont said, “Okay, we will build four identical.” We later changed it to three. Of course, the scientists wanted to make every one different.

Groueff: And just as an exercise?

Nichols: Of course, that is typical of the type of thing we had to step into—I am talking “we” in the military. DuPont said to me one day, “Which do you want, Nichols? Do you want plutonium or you want to advance the art?” [Laugh]

“We want plutonium.” This is when you had to get General Groves in because, typical scientists, if they knew a decision was being made, they wanted [inaudible] at the top. But we sat and listened and made a decision that all our plants would be the same.

Groueff: So you do not think that the spies helped—

Nichols: Yeah, I think they did.

Groueff: They did, but—

Nichols: Sure, I think Klaus Fuchs helped Russia.

Groueff: Mostly in what phase do you think that? The designing of the bomb?

Nichols: Designing plus the fact it was working.

Groueff: The diffusion and the—this part?

Nichols: No, but he had access at one time to the diffusion plant. But I do not think that he helped much. I think the best way to illustrate that is in ’49, I went over representing the US because I had questioned Sir Roger Makins – I would not say veracity but just the English veracity – as to what state they were in building a gaseous diffusion plant. We were negotiating an agreement. We were planning to—it failed—to where we would cooperate after the war. What we wanted was for England to build a gaseous diffusion plant in Canada. In return, we would give them weapon information, to try to make a joint project. But we did not want a gaseous diffusion plant in England. That just shows how sensitive we were right after the war. Well, this was 1949.

I questioned him one day when he said, “Well, we have all this.”

I said, “That is what you told us during the war and at the end of the war, you did not.”

And he said, “Well, come over and see.”

I said, “Well, I will come provided you show me everything and everything you do not show me, I will still tell you to your face you do not have.”

He said, “That is a deal.” [Laughter]

So it was amusing to go to look at the status and their gaseous diffusion plant and talk to [Christopher] Hinton, who was their Chief Engineer. I asked him what his problems were. The deal was they would tell me everything, I would tell them nothing. I said, “Well, how are you coming?”

He said, “Well, we still have problems.”

I said, “What are they?”

He said, “Well, we had difficulty developing a seal, we had difficulty developing a barrier, and we had difficulty making the thing tight.”

Groueff: The same you had in ‘44.

Nichols: They are building the compressor. I said, “Well, that is amusing because that is the same pile we started with.”

He said, “Yes, I know it.” And he said, “Any help you can give would be appreciated.”

I said, “Well, didn’t your scientists come back and report how we did it?”

He said, “No, all you ever let loose in the plants were physicists.” He says, “They told us you had a seal that was so tight. They would tell us you had a barrier, and it had a certain coefficient. But there wasn’t a soul that could describe the seal to me. There was not anybody who could tell me how you made the barrier.” He said, “Why don’t you let a few engineers in there [laughter]?”

Groueff: That is, you know, very strange because by then, I would think that it was more or less common knowledge among the specialists, no?

Nichols: Right today, you cannot find—in other words, the French, for example, would give any amount of money if we would sell them the seals, the barrier compressors, or the barrier.

Groueff: How did they do it? Or the Chinese?

Nichols: Well, of course, you can do it, but England never built one as efficient as ours. I do not think the French have.

Groueff: But you can get enough to make a bomb?

Nichols: A bomb, yeah. But then there is a big difference in producing it. We were producing it at less than twelve dollars a gram.

Groueff: And that is much, yeah—

Nichols: England has shut down her plant temporarily with the idea of trying to improve it.

Groueff: The French, did they try the uranium?

Nichols: Yeah, really, gaseous diffusion.

Groueff: That seems to be the most complicated, no?

Nichols: It is very simple. Just engineering know-how. Like I have always said, anybody that had taken a look at these seals could tell you how to build them.

Groueff: So that is why you do not like—

Nichols: That is why we didn’t people have look at them.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: And that has been a well-kept secret.

Groueff: And the barriers too—

Nichols: But it has been interesting that it has been kept better than any other part of the whole Project, because it was handled almost 100% by industrial people.

Groueff: But those industrial people, they quit that job after a few years, then they traveled.

Nichols: The average industrial person is not interested in writing a paper on what he knows, like a scientist is.

Groueff: Yeah, but spies are. They can go and find them.

Nichols: Yeah, but most of these people are trained. The industrial people tend to keep their mouth shut.

Groueff: But actually, that again, the first idea of writing a book was exactly what I wanted to say—that everybody knows the principles, but it does not mean that you can produce the bomb because that is the industrial—

Nichols: Now Klaus Fuchs was industrial, but actually in the weapon end.

Groueff: The weapon end.

Nichols: Yeah, so he was working at Los Alamos.

Groueff: But he went with this British commission. Keith told me that when they asked for some advice or help, they asked the British, and the British were most interested by acting in the control.

Nichols: The mathematics of it.

Groueff: And they say that it cannot be done this way, or your people say it—

Nichols: We sat one day in New York—General Groves and I and Van Bush and Conant and [Richard] Tolman, Dobie Keith, [George ] Felbeck, and all the top scientists on the gaseous diffusion plant with Sir James Chadwick and [Rudolf] Peierls. We spent three days where the British were trying to convince us it could not be done. It was not originally Conant but Conant finally took Sir James Chadwick to one side and said, “Now listen, I do not think you, as a British scientist, should be judging what Allis-Chalmers can do in the line of compressors.” Like one of the statements was, you could not possibly turn out the number of compressors before 1947, and that would be too late. That was typical of their idea of our industry.

Groueff: And also, kind of superiority—

Nichols: And we said, “We are interested in your comments in regard to whether or not you can control this plant, whether the mathematics, the theory is right. But we want no comment on what American industry can build. We can design that.”

Groueff: I think at that moment, they said, “All right, but show us.” I understand that from General Groves and probably you and Keith and all those people, you were not very hot about that. You were overruled because they complained through the channels, I do not know, probably to the President. And the order was, he should let them see.

Nichols: Right, but they still did not see any more than what they could see by the naked eye [laugh].

Groueff: So you managed not to show them.

Nichols: We never felt any reason to show anybody, unless they were going to help us.

Groueff: So Fuchs and his colleagues did not see things like that?

Nichols: Nobody ever saw how we made the barrier, and nobody—the British that I know of—ever saw how we made—

Groueff: Even your best friends, British—I mean, those top people—

Nichols: If we found that any one of them were able to contribute to make that seal, we would have showed it to them. But we felt, here are the key items. We did not show it to every Tom, Dick, and Harry in America that wanted to see it.

Groueff: Even, let’s say, somebody from Los Alamos?

Nichols: We showed Ernest Lawrence, but we saw no reason to educate [J. Robert] Oppenheimer and the others on how to make a seal.

Groueff: Even this caliber, Oppenheimer?

Nichols: Why should we? They had nothing to do with the quality of the material.

Groueff: It is the different techniques?

Nichols: It is a different technique, and we felt he knew nothing about it. So that was part of our compartmentalization. It was not just against the British.

Groueff: And the pumps, also, the compressors, that was also major?

Nichols: Yeah, that is right. We turned the job over to Allis-Chalmers and told them what they had to pump—uranium hexafluoride—and what the pressures that be on the intake and outlet, Dobie Keith provided that, and they designed the pump and built them. And that is something the British said could not be done in the time scale that we had said.

Groueff: But it must be—

Nichols: I do not ever remember any problem about it. [Laughter] What we did was in each case, was to pick the man or the company we thought could do the best job. I remember in the case of the pump, we picked another company first.

Groueff: Not Allis-Chalmers?

Nichols: Not Allis-Chalmers. I remember going to visit them, because Colonel Marshall went to visit them with Dobie Keith and a few others. As we came out, I shook my head to Marshall. I said, “I do not think they are the people, do you?”

He said, “God, no.”

When we started to tell them we had an important project and would they put so many men on it, who did they have? We had the men we wanted to put on it. Oh, they had people who were committing suicide from overwork and nervous breakdowns. We would tell them, we had an important project and it would be top priority of anything they had in the plant. Our reaction to that particular company was, we did not like the top management. They all looked like weak sisters. [Laugh] So we went around, “Who is next?” It was Allis-Chalmers.

Groueff: Is there in Allis-Chalmers one person that can be given particular credit for trying to—

Nichols: I do not know who the one person would be. I was dealing with a Mr. [Walter] Geist, who I believe was President at the time, and a fellow by the name of Roberts—not Roberts. Roberts was in it, but there was a guy ahead of him, the general manager. I forget his name.

Groueff: At Houdaille-Hershey, was it a man? Because I have not contacted them, either.

Nichols: Houdaille-Hershey was making the barrier.

Groueff: Yeah, but was there any man—

Nichols: Frequently, the man I knew might not be the technical man.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: In each case when we dealt with a company, we looked at—at my level or General Groves’ level or Colonel Marshall—we looked who in that company could issue an order that nobody could contradict. Like at Carbide and Carbon, it was Jim Rafferty. Now, every company is different. Sometimes it might be the Chairman of the Board. In another case, it might be the Executive Vice President. But we looked to see who ran that company. If we had a problem or if they were not going fast enough, we would go see that individual and have him call in the technical people, where we would—

Groueff: His business [inaudible].

Nichols: —put the pressure on to get it done. We would set up the necessary technical liaison. But if the company was not performing fast enough or good enough or they had a problem, why, we would see the man that we thought had control of the company. So like every time General Groves came to New York, he and I would visit Jim Rafferty.

Groueff: For Carbide?

Nichols: For Carbide. Now, George Felbeck was a guy that was a top man full-time. For all day-to-day contacts, I would contact George Felbeck and he would get mad as hell at me sometimes when I would then proceed to go with Groves or by myself. I can remember negotiating a fee with George Felbeck because he wanted to negotiate a contract. I told him his fee was too high, it ought to be the following. He said, “No, we do not work for that low a price.”

I said, “You do not.” So I just stopped negotiating. Next time in New York, I stopped in to see Jim Rafferty.

Groueff: Who was his superior?

Nichols: Yeah, and I just told Rafferty, I said, “Well, now, I do not think you should ask for this fee. I can give it to you but frankly, every other main contractor is working either for a dollar fee or a very low fee because this whole thing may flop. If you show you are in to make a profit, you are vulnerable.”

He is not greedy. “You name the fee.”

So I told him what I thought it ought to be. He said, “Well, tell George to accept it.”

Groueff: [Laugh] So he was not very happy, probably.

Nichols: No, not happy with me, because I’d gone to see Rafferty. I said, “Well, hell, I gave you a chance. I told you what the fee was.”

Groueff: And who was the top man in DuPont? [Walter] Carpenter?

Nichols: Well, Carpenter was the top man for decisions. But once we got the decision for DuPont to go ahead and sign, that really made that their top research then. Once we got the decision to go ahead, then Roger Williams became the top guy. Well, really, [Edward] Yancey. Roger Williams was under Yancey in the Explosives Department. So my contacts were always with Roger Williams or Yancey. Now for construction, Slim Reed; for design, Tom Gary.

Groueff: I met Tom Gary very—

Nichols: So Tom Gary worked for [Granville] Slim Read. Slim Read was a big buddy of Groves’ because he was building all the TNT plants before. I had had contact with Slim Read before because I had been Area Engineer in the Pennsylvania ordnance, where DuPont was furnishing the design, so I knew the people. But Roger Williams was the so-called Project Manager for DuPont.

Groueff: For DuPont. Do you remember, talking about DuPont, the first time you went with General Groves to Wilmington, that was to convince them to take the job?

Nichols: Well, no, there was much earlier contact than that. I do not know—I can dig it out of the diary, I suppose—but the first contact with DuPont was a little—it is not even correct in the New World. It is partially correct.

Groueff: They said that it was [Willis] Harrington and Groves?

Nichols: No, no, the first contact was Arthur Compton and myself. We set up Stone and Webster to handle everything initially. We had eighty million dollars. We signed a contract with Stone and Webster for seventy-eight million and said, “You are our engineer.”

Groueff: For all the—

Nichols: Everything, everything. “You give us any service we want. As we learn what is to be done, we will take out pieces, hand them to somebody else. The only assurance we give you,” we told Mr. [John] Lotz and Russell Bryants, “The only assurance we give you is when it is all parceled out, you will have a piece, something. But we will decide from time to time who does what, and all you are is working for us as an engineering firm until such time as we parcel it out.”

Well, they started at Chicago. They put people in Chicago, put people out at the electromagnetic at Berkeley. And Chicago, I remember what first came up was Arthur Compton complaining to me—I used to go out once a week—and complaining to me that we needed a chemical company, and that Stone and Webster did not have the know-how. So of course, you had this bunch of physicists and a few chemists. I always remember Arthur Compton saying, “Well, now, when we get this stuff, we will have it in a hole, with a manhole, with a different outlet, a ladle, and then have to separate chemically.” [Laughter] Well, when they start figuring out how you work the ladle, they realized they needed more talent. So they borrowed Charlie Cooper from DuPont to help them. So they decided to go out and borrow somebody.

Groueff: Stone and Webster borrowed him?

Nichols:  No.

Groueff: Chicago?

Nichols: Chicago. I said, “Well, let’s get DuPont.”

So he said, “Yes, we ought to have somebody like DuPont.”

I said, “I know those people. I have been working with them.”

So I called up [Thomas] Chilton, who I knew, and told Chilton we were coming to see him. I told him I wanted him to take on a letter of intent to come up with a design for separating an unknown element—plutonium [laugh]—from a mess of other stuff. We wanted him to put some people on it, and “You can get dope from your man that has been working on this.”

Arthur Compton said, “Well, show us what it will cost.” He said, “Oh, about a million dollars.”

I said, “Well, I have got two million left. Let’s sign a letter of intent for them.” So I signed up DuPont for chemical separation.

Groueff: And that is before—

Nichols: Yeah, and then about two weeks later, Chilton came to me and he raised hell with me. He said, “You took advantage of me.” He says, “God, they do not even have this stuff. There is none in existence. How do you build a plant when you do not even know where it is?” He said, “Who is your boss?”

I said, “Colonel Marshall.”

“Who is his boss?” This is in September, it was General Groves. He said, “Well, I want to see the boss man on this, because DuPont Company is not going to risk their neck on something that we do not know whether it will work or not.”

Chilton wanted to set up a review committee to determine whether this thing was feasible before they would continue work.

Groueff: What was his position, Chilton?

Nichols: He was under Tom Gary.

Groueff: I see. Not one of the—

Nichols: Oh no, he was one of their good technical men and he was able to sign this million-dollar contract [laugh], get the letter of intent. That started the ball rolling to where they set up the committee, which I referred to in there, and Groves added to it. He told Chilton, and we got in, at that time, Slim Read.

DuPont could not review this thing. But we would let DuPont set up a committee. We would add a couple more, which we did—H.K. Lewis and Murphree. “So you’re going to review the whole damn thing. We would like to have it reviewed—not just plutonium, but everything.”

Groueff: That is the Lewis Committee?

Nichols: That is what started the ball rolling on the thing. Then they came up with a complete blueprint of industry that we should use, and back the gaseous diffusion plant.

Groueff: Greenewalt was not on—

Nichols: Greenewalt was the secretary of this committee. And they really did a job. That, to my mind, was the outstanding appraisal job done by a committee.

Groueff: They went to Lawrence?

Nichols: They went everywhere.

Groueff: To [John] Dunning? To [Harold] Urey?

Nichols: So they were in Chicago—

Groueff: In Chicago.

Nichols: —the day the Fermi pile went critical. And that committee, I have always felt, never got the credit it should. Because they gave us a blueprint not only of what should be done, but who should do it.

Groueff: And Tom Gary was on this committee, too?

Nichols: Tom Gary was on it.

Groueff: He gave me some of that. He is quite a colorful guy.

Nichols: In my mind, that is the best job of any group of appraisal that has been done. You started with the idea just that they wanted to see whether DuPont would participate in this end of it. I think I always remember [Charles] Stine, he was skeptical as hell. That first meeting, I think that was one before Groves was in on it. It was just Arthur Compton and myself. But I know I can remember Stine saying, he said, “I do not think you have a prayer of getting this thing done in five years, but I do not see how the nation can afford not to try it.” [Laughter] He said, “I just think it is too big, too difficult.”

Groueff: That was before—

Nichols: Then he came in, of course, with the most amazing comment. “But if there is anybody that is going to do the plutonium end of it, there is only one company that could possibly do it, and that is DuPont.” [Laughter] “But I would prefer to have no part of it.” He did not believe it could be done in the time.

Groueff: The time, yeah.

Nichols: But I have always admired Stine, the way he put the thing. Of course, there is no modesty in his appraisal of DuPont as being the best. And it is right—DuPont was probably the only company that had the depth.

Groueff: But they had some complex now about being accused of, after the first war, of being—

Nichols: They were afraid of being munitions makers, and it is typical of that in their contract. They specified in the contract we finally negotiated that they would be relieved of all responsibility and replaced by some other contractor within six months of the end of hostilities. Not the end of the war, end of hostilities.

Groueff: That is when General Electric took over?

Nichols: Yeah, and that is why we put in General Electric.

Groueff: And they did it only for one dollar, huh? The contract was cost plus one dollar?

Nichols: Yeah. Well, plus having everything. DuPont did not lose anything. No, the whole idea was no profit, no loss.

Groueff: But the Chicago people did not like the decision of giving it to DuPont?

Nichols: Now, you have to be careful when you say “Chicago people.” The original idea was Arthur Compton’s. [Laugh]

Groueff: Yeah, I mean, the group under Compton?

Nichols: Now, they protested to Arthur Compton that Stone and Webster was not strong enough. What they wanted to do was call the shots. What they would have liked to have had was the DuPont Company working for them.

Groueff: I see.

Nichols: That was part of our job in the Army. How do you keep these prima donna companies and prima donna technical organizations from slicing each other’s throats? Typical of an approach—in the original design of the Hanford reactor, [Eugene] Wigner and Greenewalt originally discussed all this on fifteen hundred tubes. Greenewalt, coming back to Wilmington so he could get the engineers working on it, then came back. “Okay, if fifteen hundred is the right number, we will put in two thousand.” The scientists revolted again. That is insult to their intelligence.

DuPont’s attitude was very simple. This typical type thing would come to me. “We have never built anything without a factor of safety. If fifteen hundred is the right answer, two thousand is the minimum you should put in.” Because you want a factor of safety.

Groueff: And the fact that they did not have any experience—

Nichols: They had no experience. We ruled, of course, being an engineer, ruled in favor of putting in a factor of safety. Well, that factor of safety turned out to save the whole Hanford project. They had missed the cross-section of—

Groueff: This gas that—

Nichols: Oh, what was it? It was—

Groueff: Exena?

Nichols: Xenon. Xenon, it was 235 or 135, whatever the hell it is. They had missed the cross-section of that, number of barns. So the piles started up. Two days later, it [B Reactor] went down and died. God, did we have a crisis on that one.

Groueff: Did you go there?

Nichols: Sure, then we spent about three days in Chicago. Well, the answer was simple. Use some of the extra five hundred holes. [Laugh]

Groueff: And that is what saved—

Nichols: It saved the day, right. That is mentioned casually.

Groueff: In The New World, yes.

Nichols: But that’s the type of thing we get into, in trying to make people who had never worked before with engineers, say, “How do you get an engineering judgment in these projects?”

Groueff: But it seems to me that as a general rule, the engineers showed and the industry showed more comprehension to the scientists, than the scientists to industry.

Nichols: Engineers had been accustomed all their life to get their knowledge from wherever it may exist, and how do you translate it into a practical subject.

Groueff: Initially, even a sort of respect to the scientists.

Nichols: Sometimes they thought they were crazy as hell and were convinced they were, even after it was all over. For example, I do not know how well this is written up, but I can remember the precision required by the scientists for building the Hanford piles. Like DuPont one time told me, we had to build them at night then keep them covered because the sun, temperature effect, will throw everything out. If you lay it out, the temperature effects are more than—you cannot possibly control this degree of precision they have laid down. So our answer was, “Well, do the best you can,” and it was the straightness of the tubes. It is where the slugs would go through.

Well, after the war or near the end of the war, we got into what is called a Wigner Effect, if you ever look that up, where the graphite swells. The tubes all had bends in them. We spent hours and thousands of dollars to get the precision. We found a way to still work with a bent tube.

Groueff: [Laugh]

Nichols: But there was that type of problem on the degree of precision. Sometimes you had to have it and sometimes you did not. The thought on the engineer was, when would he exercise his judgment over the scientist’s?

Groueff: And in case of a conflict, it was up to you to—

Nichols: In case it got bad enough, we would get into it to settle it.

Groueff: And you just tell them, before they’d even—

Nichols: We would listen and then get what advice we could, usually by getting the people around the table that we felt could contribute. Before we would leave the table, we would have the answer. It was not a case of where you would make a formal decision.

Groueff: Or was it a case of, “If you do not listen, I resign,” or things like that, the scientists—

Nichols: Very few ever brought that up. But you would try to thresh it out with the people involved, and frequently one of my jobs was just to keep them around the table long enough to settle it. They would usually settle it themselves, if you kept them there and insist they stay there and argue it out. Once they found what side we were tending to support, they frequently would line up without ever a decision being made.

Copyright 1965 Stephane Groueff. From the Stephane Groueff Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Exclusive rights granted to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.