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Oswald Greager’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

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.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 1986
Location of the Interview:


[At top is the edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995.

For the full transcript that matches the audio of the interview, please scroll down.]

Book version:

I was in charge of the division at Oak Ridge which developed the separations process used at Hanford. I had 100 people, divided between Du Pont people, those hired by the Metallurgical Laboratory and soldiers who had scientific or engineering training.

At Hanford, my job was to keep the local Manhattan District office in-formed of what was going on in the separations area. Groves’ advice to all of his people was to stand back and let the contractor do the job, and not to get in his way. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t really feel I had anything I had to do. Du Pont was running the show, and that’s the way Groves wanted it. Groves said “Stand back and let them run the job.”

To run a batch of irradiated fuel through the cells in the canyon building, then to the concentration building, was a series of 12,13,14 operations, then it went to the isolation stage where the concentrated solution of plutonium was converted into a more or less pure plutonium compound for shipment. All this took a couple of weeks.

At the end, it was a semi-solid of jelly-like consistency and was put into a sample can, a strong spherical container of stainless steel. This was shipped to Los Alamos and they converted it into plutonium metal and made the parts for a weapon.

Now, plutonium is very, very toxic. You dont fool with plutonium. The lethal body burden was supposed to be a microgram. You don’t have to worry about being exposed to penetrating radiation, because the alpha rays of plu­tonium can be stopped with a piece of paper. What you had to be concerned about was toxicity. You couldn’t breathe it or swallow it, or have a wound or puncture of the skin.

It is hard to remember today what we got in the way of yield of pluto­nium from the irradiated fuel. One thing that sticks in my mind was they were worried if we would recover as much as 50 percent of the plutonium in the separations process. I bet a couple of bottles of scotch we would get 90 percent at Hanford with our first runs. We did better than that.

There was one big development that took place, involving implosion. In 1943 before they got to the implosion design (based on a technique of squeez­ing the plutonium, resulting in a more “efficient” and powerful explosion), the people at Los Alamos were asking for purity of plutonium that we didn’t believe was feasible. They wanted purities down to 10-thousandths of a per-cent, you know,­ 99 and about three more nines. We said there was no way we could make that sort of thing. It’s tough just to carry it out of solution, all the other stuff in the mess, we just can’t do it.

When implosion came along, then the matter of purity sort of dropped out of the picture, because with the implosion technique, any reasonable purity would do. Say, 99 percent pure plutonium, they were satisfied. I do know that eventually we had 9s after the decimal point. The gun-type bomb (where one chunk of U-235 is fired into another) is inefficient, because the uranium pieces get close enough for the reaction to occur prematurely. The competing impulses make the bomb pull apart again. They had to put tremendous explosive charges in it to make the pieces come together and get some kind of a yield.

But the implosion device where everything is pushed down and pressed together at the core, this seems to have a very much better effect and there were high explosive yields. High, for those days, was about 20 kilotons.

I was the one who received the plutonium from Du Pont for the military. The man I received it from was Du Pont’s operating head man in the isola­tion building, Lou Larson, my lab mate back at Du Ponts experimental station at Wilmington in 1930-31. He signed for Du Pont and I for the Manhattan District.

I don’t know if anyone has ever told you how this was done, what hap­pened after the Army took custody of the plutonium in those sample cans. We had a building that was back in the side of Gable Mountain. The doors on this thing were great big Mosier safe doors, tremendous things. Inside we had shelves and racks. We were very careful to keep the plutonium separated in an anti-critical mass geometry.

When Du Pont was ready to give the Manhattan District some pluto­nium at the 231 Building, we would make up a little caravan of one car with the plutonium, one car ahead of us and one car behind us, with Army person­nel with .45s and I think machine guns. It was about 10-12 miles from the 231 building to the storage building. The vault doors at the storage building re­quired two combinations to open. As I recall, nobody was supposed to know both combinations.

Before shipment to Los Alamos, the plutonium was in a quite viscous syrupy form, it was evaporated down. We didnt want it to splash around in the stainless steel shipping cans, very rugged containers designed to stand a lot of punishment, about the size of a volleyball. These sample cans were inside another steel container.

I never had any misgivings about working on the bomb. I had a brother who would have been in the first wave landing in Japan. He was in the 33rd Division, an infantry officer then in the Philippines. Even without the brother thing, well, I do know some in the Metallurgical Lab expressed reservations afterward, but I dont recall any of the people I worked with at the time saying anything except it was something we had to do, that’s all there was to it.

There was a great question in the minds of the people in the Metallurgi­cal Project as to how far along the Germans were. Even after the Germans surrendered, there was some worry that they had transferred a lot of their know-how to the Japanese. In my own case, I was in the chemical warfare reserve, and that’s why I was in uniform in 1942. Chemical warfare isn’t very pretty either. You get conditioned to the idea that if there will be a war, the important thing is to win it. Or, not to lose it, anyway.



S.L. Sanger: Oz Greager, July 25, 1986, Richland. One of the things, and it is not terribly important, but when Hanford was finished with the plutonium and it was ready to go – this is in the wartime period – when it was ready to go to Los Alamos, it was in kind of a syrupy form?

Oswald Greager: Yeah, a rather quite viscous, syrupy form. It was evaporated down too; we didn’t want it to splash around, and you may have had someone tell you about that.

Sanger: The containers?

Greager: The containers. They dropped it from what, thirty feet, 100 feet or something, and nothing happened to it.

Sanger: How much was in each of those, do you remember?

Greager: Well, that does not stick in my mind particularly, except I would imagine they had a sample can for roughly every day of output from the plant, the reactor, which would be about 250 megawatts. It could have been 500 grams.

Sanger: I mean, I’ve heard a description of the containers. The reactors, were they designed to produce 250 grams?

Greager: 250 megawatts. 

Sanger: Yeah, would that hold up in actual operation?

Greager: Later on, in post-warfare, they went way beyond that. After the initial trouble issue you heard about, of course, you heard about the B Reactor shutting itself down, after they got that corrected, they performed up to standard.

Sanger: They were supposed to turn out, theoretically, how much plutonium a day? 250 grams?

Greager: 250 megawatts, that was the reading.

Sanger: That would be quite a bit, wouldn’t it? That would not take too long to turn out bombs, at that rate. 

Greager: We were never told here in Hanford, how much it took to make a bomb. There have been speculations in the open literature since that time. I don’t really know.

Sanger: The figures are always funny on that. They vary a lot, from thirteen to twenty pounds, something like that for the Nagasaki bomb and Trinity. [General Leslie] Groves, in a report he made, which was secret at the time but later was declassified, said that the Trinity Bomb had about thirteen-and-a-half pounds of plutonium in it. I would assume that that figure was the same for the Nagasaki Bomb since they were the same, or almost the same. That is the authoritative figure I have seen. I have seen other ones, but from what I’ve read.

Greager: We had real compartmentalization in the war. All I knew was they wanted a lot and we did our best to please them.

Sanger: Thirteen-and-a-half pounds, if that is right, would be about six or seven kilograms. 

Greager: Yeah.

Sanger: And then, the Hiroshima bomb, I have never seen a figure on it that was authoritative. I saw one figure that was 130 pounds, which seemed like a lot.

Greager: I would not have any idea. 

Sanger: Then I read the other day in a history book that it was twenty-two pounds. Five pounds was in the projectile; it was fired into the seventeen pounds at the other end of the Hiroshima bomb. 

Greager: I have no idea. 

Sanger: I think that came from official declassified documents. I have always been curious about that, and I never could get a really good figure for it. Because most people like you would say that either you did not know, or if you did know, you were not sure it was declassified so you could not say. 

Greager: Both things are true. If I did know, I have no knowledge of it ever being declassified. As time went on, as you probably know, we graduated, you might say, from just producing plutonium as a material to actually getting involved in making plutonium metal and making plutonium shapes.

Sanger: That was after the war? 

Greager: That was after the war. That was an ongoing process of refinement. A lot of the work was done at Livermore [Laboratory] and Los Alamos, after it got into different configurations. Most of us just took the attitude, “We did not want to know.”

I got an embarrassing amount of information at one time that I really want to put out of my mind. It was around 1951 that the Los Alamos people were quite certain that if they could get the contamination levels that were in the plutonium down to a lower figure than what we were sending them, they could improve the yield, the yield being the amount of bang you get. I don’t know if you’ve run into any reference to Max Roy or not, but he was a head man on their bomb design work, I guess. He got the idea that he would call in some people from Oak Ridge who were producing the uranium-235, and some of us from up here, maybe two of us. Savannah River was not producing at that time. 

He apparently decided that the best way to get our cooperation and all that effort to improve the purity would be to tell us all about the bombs. He gave us the code names for the different designs. He told us how many of them were made, and he told us what the yields were and what they hoped they would get to. None of us wrote anything down because until up to that time, I had been kept completely away from that kind of knowledge.

It had his desired effect; the people from Oak Ridge and we both went home and busted our rear ends to do a better job of making pure stuff. We were given to understand that the yield did go up, and they were quite pleased with all of that. This was the first time I’d ever had any—

Sanger: I guess it wouldn’t have been necessary.

Greager: Well, we did not need to know. We needed to be impressed, I guess, with the fact that when you were talking impurities, you were down in not even tenths but hundreds of thousandths of a percent, that this was significant in the bomb work. 

Sanger: Back in the early days before the war ended, how pure was it normally, when you sent it over there?

Greager: I really do not know how to answer that question. I must have known at the time what the impurities were, but that is something you erase from your mind. In 1943, for example, before they got to the implosion design, they were asking for purity that we really did not believe was feasible. They wanted purities in the thousandths or ten-thousandths. 

Sanger: Ninety-nine?

Greager: You know, ninety-nine and about three more nines. We said, “There is no way we can make that sort of thing. We just cannot do it that pure.” Then when the implosion device came along, that settled it. The other thing that they found out was that plutonium led to pre-detonation. It was a bad actor. You control that by keeping the exposure down in the reactor. 

Sanger: So it did not have time to form.

Greager: Well, the longer it stayed in, the more 240 was formed. So the idea was to leave it in for a very short time, and that meant you had to process an awful lot of irradiated uranium. When the implosion device came along, the purity sort of dropped out of the picture. Anything reasonable that we can do – 99%, we will say – they would be happy with.

Sanger: Is it because it was more efficient, or what?

Greager: Well, the gun-type bomb is inefficient because when they get close enough together for the reaction to occur, then the competing impulse is to pull apart again.

Sanger: It starts occurring really before they even press together?

Greager: They had to put tremendous explosive charge in there to try to drive it together and get some kind of yield. But the implosion device, where everything is pushed down and compressed to the core, I do not know what percentage or how much better it is than the gun-type, but it was very much better and worked and they had high yield, high for those days, 20,000 tons. 

Sanger: The implosion type was about a third or so better.

Greager: Yeah, it was better.

Sanger: Before I forget, I asked you about that syrup, syrupy plutonium. The reason I asked is because I was talking a couple weeks ago to MacCready. Do you know him?

Greager: Yeah, Kim MacCready, very well.

Sanger: He worked out there after the war, so he said it was his recollection that they shipped it in a powdery form, but everybody else told me that it was syrupy.

Greager: It wasn’t powdery form.

Sanger: Maybe the powdery business came after the war.

Greager: I do not know if they ever shipped it in powder form. If they did, it was much later.

Sanger: Yeah. Everyone else has also said that, including you talking about it. It does not make any difference, but I just wanted to have an idea. I know that I also talked to a man who was at Los Alamos, he is at MIT now, Cyril Smith. Do you know him?

Greager: Oh yeah, he was the big metallurgist at the lab.

Sanger: I was trying to follow it through. He had charge of the metallurgy of the hemispheres, but he did not see it when it came in, he saw it after it had been processed at Los Alamos. He said it was a fluoride, it was powdery when it got to him, but it had gone through some stages.

Greager: I am not sure. Los Alamos had something called a Chem-n-Met, Chemistry and Metallurgical Division. I didn’t think I’d have trouble remembering his name, a very good friend was there and was really in charge of all that sort of thing. He went to Washington University later, and he died, I do not know, ten or fifteen years after the war. [Joseph W.] Kennedy.

Sanger: Kennedy, he was the other man. He was chemistry.

Greager: Well, he was not in metallurgy, but he received what we shipped him. I do not know if he took all the way to the metal, or whether he just converted to the fluoride so it could be put in a regular production bomb.

Sanger: That is how Smith got it, fluoride.

Greager: Okay.

Sanger: Or how his people got it. 

Greager: They tried to do some purifying on it too, re-crystallization.

Sanger: It was—

Greager: Joe Kennedy. 

Sanger: It would have been well above ninety-nine when it left here. 

Greager: How many nines, I just do not remember. I know we had nines after the decimal. 

Sanger: What was the last stage out here at Hanford, was it 231 building, was that the last? 

Greager: During the war, as far as they went was 231 building.

Sanger: What was that called, Isolation?

Greager: Yeah.

Sanger: You told me that before.

Greager: George Watt, who died a few years ago, was the chemist who had been with [Glenn] Seaborg and transferred out here. He was the one who had charge of isolating. When it went down there, it was in gallons. It had to be concentrated down to less then a liter from whatever it was, five gallons or ten gallons. We had a reminiscing session here, Seaborg’s favorites in 1968, that was also a twenty-fifth anniversary or something or other. There were four of us out there and Seaborg told us about laboratory work, and I forget where [Arthur] Squires came into this.

I told them about the development work in Oak Ridge, and George Watt told about the very first batch of stuff he received down in the Isolation Building, 231. He said it was a black gray mess. Squires was a DuPont operating technical boss, and we just talked about the way things went on in those days. It was not classified; it was twenty-five years later so it did not have to be classified.

There is an anecdote that may not have been put into print anywhere, but I always thought it was interesting. When I was down in Oak Ridge, I was on military leave from DuPont to the Army, and then on loan from the Army back to the Manhattan District, and on loan from DuPont to the metallurgical project. We closed down that organization after we got the process developed.

I came out here [to Hanford]. I was on the Corps of Engineers side of the fence because I had been in uniform all the time, but that was the end of my having any direct hands-on responsibilities. So I became part of the [Franklin] Matthias organization. I was called a “technical officer” for watching over what DuPont was doing in the 200 Area. It was a very amicable arrangement because I had done all this work down at Oak Ridge and I was a DuPont man to start with and all that stuff.

Sanger: But you were wearing a uniform?

Greager: I was in uniform, and therefore I was the one who received the plutonium from DuPont for the military.

Sanger: The first?

Greager: All of it until I left here. I left in April or somewhere. I was in process of transferring to the New York Madison Square office of the Manhattan District. That took place over a period from April to June. The man I received it from was DuPont’s operating headman. George Watt was a technical guy, had decided what you could do with it. The operating boss for 231 [building] in those days was Lou Larson. Lou and I had been lab mates at the DuPont Experimental Station back in 1930 and 1931.

Sanger: You had?

Greager: Yeah, he signed the first sheet for DuPont; I signed it for the Manhattan District. I do not know if anyone has ever told you the way this was done there. When the Army took custody of the plutonium in these sample cans, we had a building that was back in inside of a gable.

Sanger: Yeah, I heard about that. 

Greager: Doors on this thing were great big Northern Safe doors, tremendous. Inside we had shelves and racks, and we were very careful to keep it separated at that time. When DuPont was ready to give the District some plutonium, we would make up a little caravan. It would be one car, I would be in that car, and I would pick up the plutonium. There would be a car ahead of us and a car behind us with military personnel with forty-fives. I think they had machine guns too. From the 200 West Area over to this 213 Building, it would be about ten or twelve miles.

Sanger: In the mountain?

Greager: It was backed into—you could not see anything except these doors. It took two combinations to get the doors open. You were not supposed to know both combinations, you were supposed to take two different people with their combinations to get the doors open. DuPont gave up responsibility and custody back at 231 Building. From then on, it was all in military hands. There’s been a lot of misinformation about how the first sample came and got to Los Alamos.

Sanger: How did it? 

Greager: It was a Major Reilly, he lived next door to me, and Matthias decided that he was the man he wanted to be the courier to carry this. The sample can was inside of a metal carrier and we put that inside of a corrugated box, and it just looked like it was something with a hand sticking out. Reilly took it to Los Alamos by taking a train from here to wherever and then to San Francisco and then down to Santa Fe. Santa Fe goes into Lamy. This was about as super-secret as you can imagine. I mean, this idea of the very first plutonium, nobody is supposed to know what goes down there. General Groves had set up a whole courier system for getting classified documents that were too super-secret to be entrusted to the mail to him. They were supposed to be thoroughly imbued with the seriousness of what they were doing.

The first sample can went down and we waited with bated breath for it to return because it was to be reused. We had our doubts here about how circumspect Los Alamos people were on how to handle the contamination. When the courier arrived, he had gone back by rail from Los Alamos to Chicago and Chicago out here. I had indicated to the people in the District office down here that I wanted to be sure that we made a survey of this package before we began to fool with it because I did not want anyone to get contaminated before I could turn it back to the DuPont.

Sure enough, it turned up down there in the building [inaudible]. The couriers that were carrying these things were supposed to guard them with their lives, strap them to their wrists and never be separated from them. I open up the package. What in the hell do I find but a check tag from the package checkroom in Chicago. We here were just horrified that somebody would have checked this package in the package check room, but there it was, there was no question about it, identified what it was. I do not know whatever happened to that courier, because I did not want to know.

Sanger: He had just gone to Chicago and checked it for a while and picked it up again or what?

Greager: Well, he had to change trains in Chicago. Santa Fe comes in once a day, and you had to go over to another station to get on the Northern Pacific. You have to go over to the Chicago Northwestern station in order to get there. I forget where the Santa Fe comes in. Anyway, it was quite a ways there, and I am sure he would not have had anything better than a two- or as much as ten- or twelve-hour connection. I do not know whatever happened to him, but I am sure that when General Groves found out that this had happened, that somebody’s neck got chopped off.

Sanger: How much would have been in there?

Greager: This was an empty can.

Sanger: Oh, I see.

Greager: We were interested in checking it for whatever, whether or not they had been real careful in emptying it and not getting any contamination on the outside of the sample can or on the package. The residue was not important, and perhaps that is what this guy had in mind. But nonetheless there was enough there to identify what it was, and the fact that we had reached the stage where it was being shipped around the country which was something that Groves was—see, we were very much concerned about how far the Germans had gone.

Sanger: Yeah, and that was the first shipment from here?

Greager: Well, that was the first sample can that went down there and came back that way. 

Sanger: Matthias mentioned once something about going to take in a box and sell someplace.

Greager: I’ve heard Chris say this; I have never tried to remind him of what the facts were.

Sanger: Oh. In other words, it must have been a later shipment he was talking about.

Greager: Well, he talked about flying down. We had a very firm rule at that point in time that airplanes would not be used to transport this stuff. What we did, as soon as we got to the point where we had more than one or two cans to ship, we got a very rugged vehicle, it was actually a converted Army ambulance. Dual tires on the rear. We fixed it up so it had these shelves and compartments in it so the stuff could be kept geometrically safe and so forth. We had four brand new bright shiny-bar Second Lieutenants who were assigned to transport this stuff to Los Alamos. 

Sanger: One of them was Simpson, right?

Greager: One of them was Big Simpson.

Sanger: Yeah, he told the story.

Greager: They traveled in a caravan, car in front, car in back, and this converted ambulance with stuff in it. I never paid much attention to – I did not want to know just what way they went. Although I think I had found out somewhere that what they did was to go from here down to Salt Lake and over to the Hill to Grand Junction and then down to Cortez or somewhere, and then over to Santa Fe and up to Los Alamos. 

Sanger: What he said was, that they first I guess went all the way to Los Alamos from here, but later they decided it was too wearing. So they would go to Salt Lake and then Los Alamos would come there, and then they would make the switch and then they would go on and they would come back and do the same thing. 

Greager: They would bring the empties from Los Alamos and bring it back?

Sanger: He said they went all the way a few times, but apparently it was too wearing and they did not like to stop overnight so they would—

Greager: It is a long trip.

Sanger: So they went to Salk Lake, and it took twelve hours to stop for gas. It was 700 and some miles, he said, to Salt Lake City, from Fort Douglas.

Greager: In those days, it was all paved roads.

Sanger: Yeah, he said nothing ever happened. Some weather sometimes. But they would always leave from that storage vault. They would pick it up. 

Greager: Yeah.

Sanger: Is that still there?

Greager: As far as I know, it is still there, yeah, I do not think it has been used for anything for a long, long time.

Sanger: I would like to see it. DuPont, in fact in their history of Hanford, the unpublished thing they have, they call it “magazine storage.”

Greager: Yeah, “magazine storage.”

Sanger: They had a picture of it. 

Greager: That is from their explosives.

Sanger: Yeah, probably is a magazine vault, really.

Greager: They say it is dug back into the mountain.

Sanger: Yeah, all concrete.

Greager: I did not pay too much attention to it when it was being built. I am sure it is concrete.

Sanger: I am sure steel doors and bronze.

Greager: But the great big motorized safe doors.

Sanger: There were probably guards out there too all the time, right?

Greager: I do not remember any guards guarding it. I think with those safes that it took two different combinations to open, I think they figured, that was it.

Sanger: Who had the combinations?

Greager: I had one of them and I forget who the other fellow was.

Sanger: They were just the same combination for both doors?

Greager: No, no, no, no there were two different combinations.

Sanger: Okay.

Greager: I mean, it took two different combinations known to two different people. We kept it that way.

Sanger: Whose idea was it, do you remember, to outfit those ambulances or field vehicles for the transport?

Greager: No, I do not know. We had a lot to do where I was with setting up the geometry inside to keep them geometrically safe. I do not know who it was that decided; I read some place or other that the decision was that this was the most rugged vehicle of that particular type that was available. That is what they decided to use. 

Later on, around June or July, after I transferred back to New York, part of my responsibility there was for the uranium recovery operation to Uravan, which is another ninety miles from Grand Junction. I went down there to take a look at the place, and I got a very disturbing report. I was in the cafeteria eating lunch that day I was there. I overheard people at the next table talking about an Army vehicle which was going off the road down around Durango and rolled over in the canyon. They described in such a way that I knew it was one these converted ambulance vehicles. I did not want to let them know that I knew what it was, and they did not know what it was, they had just gotten word from somebody around there who had been with the Army vehicle. When I got back to New York, I made some discreet inquiries and found out, yes it had been. This was an empty, they were carrying empties, nobody was killed, and there was no breach of security either. I got the whole thing straightened out.

Sanger: I think Simpson said they had a wreck once but they were coming back empty when it happened. This was on this side of the run, a minor accident. He said that was the only— 

Greager: It wouldn’t be minor.

Sanger: The one he is talking about—

Greager: This was near Durango.

Sanger: Yeah, south of or headed to Los Alamos.

Greager: Halfway from Salt Lake to Santa Fe.

Sanger: It is lucky, I suppose, that nothing did happen when they were fully loaded, obviously. I guess the containers would have been– 

Greager: They would have withstood even a head-on crash for that matter. 

Sanger: They were stainless steel.

Greager: Yeah, and very rugged. As I told you, they dropped them from some terrific height just to make sure, and on a concrete surface. They had to stand up to that. They were spherical in shape, which was the optimum size for damage resistance.

Sanger: They would be what, something like this?

Greager: No, no, they were like a kid-size basketball.

Sanger: Oh, about that big.

Greager: Yeah, about that size, but not large. 

Sanger: Then was the plutonium inside another container inside that?

Greager: No, that is the sample can, and a lid was screwed on there. Then that went inside a steel container that was just a carrier.

Sanger: That was round?

Greager: That was round. It had flanges at the top and the bottom, and there was packing in there too, to cushion things. But the dropping test was done just on the pure stainless steel sample can. 

Sanger: How far was it dropped?

Greager: Well, I remember hearing thirty feet, but I also heard a figure higher than that. 

Sanger: Yeah, I would say—

Greager: Free fall at thirty feet is a bit of an impact.

Sanger: When did you start with DuPont?

Greager: In 1929. 

Sanger: Where?

Greager: Experimental Station in Wilmington. 

Sanger: In Wellington. Do you know of any crane operators around?

Greager: I am not sure that any of them are living. The one that everybody talks about a great deal was Frank Drum. Another crane operator was named Olson, I know more about that, but I did not know his name at the time, but his wife and my son’s wife are half-sisters, it turns out.

These crane operators, you know, had only monocular vision. Everybody marveled at the way they would manipulate things, use the crane hook hanging down on a long cable. We talked to them over the years and turns out they use all these sorts of little tricks, shadows as much as anything else, to tell them how far down they were. Of course, they could see what position they were on at least two axes, but they had no way to know where they were. All the equipment was maintained at the end of a crane hook.

Sanger: There was what a wall between the crane and—

Greager: There was a Mockup Building in the 200 West Area, mocked up to look like a cell. Most cells were standard. They had a standard set of connections, and you would have to replace a connection from here to here to a centrifuge to the wall. They designed it the way it is supposed to be, and then you would take it to this mockup area to make sure it would actually meet here and meet here like it was supposed to, because they used impact wrenches. They used an impact wrench to make all these connections. And again, at the end of a thirty or forty foot cable with a hook on it. 

Sanger: Did much go wrong with the separation equipment?

Greager: No, no. We built two separation plants to start with, actually built a T and a U and B over in the East Area. We only activated T-Plant, so we had these other places to use as mockup things. The Mockup Area did not get built until some years later. We had very little equipment problems in the very early days, and later on we were able to replace everything that we had to, taps and motor stirs and these fasteners were made by [inaudible].

Sanger: Yeah, he told me about that.

Greager: Generaux told you about that. The centrifuges were separating the liquids from the solids.

Sanger: Do you recall how long it would take to put a batch of fuel and rods or whatever through the first building?

Greager: Well, the secret to this whole thing in those days was that it was a batch operation, you did this, stopped, and you went to the next step. I do not know if we ever tried to figure out how long it took to go from here to here, but I would think in terms of seven to ten days.

Sanger: You say that T was the one that really was used? The T Building, of the three?

Greager: The T Building is the one that was used. We had operations at B Plant later, but U was never used until after the war and was used for the uranium recovery. We used to like to say that we have the largest uranium mine in the world in those underground storage areas, 7,000 tons of uranium in there.

Sanger: Later some of that was reclaimed.

Greager: It was shipped off to Oak Ridge and put through the diffusion plant down there. We only skimmed the least bitter cream out of there. 

Sanger: When the waste was put in those tanks, how much plutonium was included, or was it just very negligible?

Greager: Well, you can never use the word “negligible” on plutonium because of its extreme toxicity and long half-life. It was a very minor amount of what we had. The fission products were the important thing that went into the waste tank along with the uranium; they were the heat-generating things. The contribution of plutonium to the heat generated in the waste tank will be less than a tenth of a percent. I cannot quote you now today what we got in the way of yield.

The one thing that sticks in my mind was that they were worried about if we would get as much as 50% plutonium recovered by the separation process. It looked a lot better than that at a time when we closed down the development work at Oak Ridge. I made a bet for a couple of bottles of Scotch that we would hit ninety percent yield on the first run we made. We did better than that. Later on, I do not know whether we got much above ninety-five or not. We really did not worry about it very much because we were getting such good yields, up in the middle nineties. It was not important from the standpoint of losing material.

Sanger: You never sent it through again, to get what you did not get the first time?

Greager: Yeah we did, on the first runs. 

Sanger: Did you?

Greager: You didn’t talk to Elton Cole, I imagine, who ran T-Plant in those days. We had to rework the waste from the original separations two or three times in order to get that ninety-percent plus. Elton called them “kitten runs.”

Sanger: Was it that you could slack off?

Greager: That only happened in the very first few weeks of operation. After that, things settled down and then we went straight through. If you had a bad one, I am sure you would go back and rework it. It wasn’t that hard to do.

Sanger: You could reroute the waste from the other way back to the beginning?

Greager: Yeah, it was a good job of designing it, so you had a lot of flexibility in moving stuff around. 

Sanger: What would you say briefly was your actual responsibility when you were out there representing the Army? You were called what? 

Greager: Well it is the same responsibility that DOE likes to claim in connection with the contractors here. It was not anywhere near as direct a responsibility as DOE actually had because of one thing, that is, that Groves’ word to all of his people was to “Stand back and let the contractor do the job and do not get in his way!”

Really, as far as I was concerned, I had a counterpart out in the 100 Area. But I did not really feel that he and I had anything we had to do. DuPont was running the show, and that is the way Groves wanted it.

Sanger: You had an office out there or what?

Greager: Yeah, I had an office. There’s a building out there that’s still in use, 2704 West Office Building. That is the one that started up, was the one in West Area.

Sanger: You sort of had kind of a general overseeing? You would be there if there was something came up or you read reports, I suppose?

Greager: I think the only real undivided responsibility that I had was that we used to get trainloads of coal from Utah for those power plants—you probably remember them.

Sanger: Yeah.

Greager: A decision was made early that we would use coal-fired boilers for the tower because that was the most reliable thing there was. The coal I guess was produced probably under a direct contract with the Army, because I got the reports of the analysis of each of the carloads of coal. I used to joke about how it was made up of equal parts of coal and ash and ore, thirty-three percent of each. Utah coal is not a very high-grade coal to start with, and what we got certainly was not very high-grade. 

The other responsibility was to receive from DuPont a final product that the contract called for them to produce, but it was not much that I could pass any judgment on how they were running the plant. Groves said, “Stand back, let them do the job.”

Sanger: You had a lot more direct responsibility at Oak Ridge, I suppose?

Greager: Oak Ridge, I was in uniform but I was actually on the organization chart of the Metallurgical Project. I had the division that had the responsibility for developing the process they were going to be using.

Sanger: How long were you there?

Greager: A year, October to October. I had about a hundred people, and they were equally divided between DuPont people and belonging to the project, people hired directly by the Metallurgical Project. And the soldiers were – I am sure you’ve run across the story that fairly early on, they decided to go through all of these Army classifications numbers, and anybody who had chemical or chemical engineering was shipped there.

Sanger: That was called Special Engineers?

Greager: Special Engineering Detachment.

Sanger: They were educated, they were draftees?

Greager: They were all college graduates. They had been drafted but then they had been picked. They had to have a specialty on their qualification card. The Manhattan District had people whose job was to scout around all over the country and pick out these people and get them assigned to the Manhattan District. Down at Y-12, which was the electromagnetic separation process, the one that came from California, they used Navy people.

Sanger: They did? 

Greager: Los Alamos had probably more Navy people than they had Army people. Most of the Navy people were officers for some reason. I am not sure why the Navy worked that way, but the Army did not assign technically trained people to these jobs working with contractors. I understood that there was one other person who had the same kind of educational background I had that was working with people down in Los Alamos. And I was in Oak Ridge, working with a contractor and out here with the military.

Sanger: Where did you grow up?

Greager: Maryland. I lived in New York for a while; my dad was a disbursement officer in the Port of Embarkation in World War I.

Sanger: You had a PhD in chemistry from Michigan?

Greager: Michigan, yes.

Sanger: You say you run a sheep ranch in Colorado after the war?

Greager: My dad had a sheep ranch. It started back in 1926, I guess. After the war was over, I thought I would join up with him in that business. I did not take very well, he was not prepared to relinquish any reigns at that time in his life.

Sanger: You stayed six months?

Greager: Just about. I got there in June, I left at the end of December. 

Sanger: Then you came to work with GE in ’47? 

Greager: Yeah, in ‘47.

Sanger: As what, a technical manager in the 200 Area? 

Greager: They were still using the DuPont nomenclature. They had a technical superintendent and they had an assistant superintendent for the 200 plant, and the 100 and 300 Area. 

Sanger: Then you stayed with GE until you retired?

Greager: Yes. 

Sanger: You stayed here?

Greager: I was one of the few people who stayed with GE through the transition when GE left. I had five years to go to retirement, so I decided I would stay with GE and I went down to Santa Fe. 

Sanger: You did?  

Greager: Because they had a commercial nuclear operation down there. There was an implicit or explicit, I do not know which, rule that all the people who worked for the contractor were supposed to stay and go to work for the new contractor. And GE had agreed that it would not attempt to transfer anybody away from here; in fact, it stripped the place down. That was not the case because DuPont took practically all their people. But GE was not supposed to take anybody except the head man, who was W. E. Johnson, and that was about it. 

When I said I wanted to transfer down to Santa Fe, this caused quite a ruckus. I had known Jim Travis, we had both been in the Manhattan District together back in 1943, ’44, ‘45. He was an AEC manager here at that time. I had to go in and convince him that this was a move that I wanted for myself and not something the GE Company was trying to manipulate somehow. He finally agreed that okay, I could do that. We were personal friends for quite some time and he would not stand in my way.

Sanger: What were you doing here when GE left?

Greager: Well GE had been through a reorganization, kind of a decentralization. Having just one structure for the whole plant, they had a department for the 100 Area and fuel and the core radiation processing department and the compartment chemical processing department. Later on, by the time I left, they had the N Reactor department and they also had the fuel department. I was a manager of research and engineering in the radiation processing department, ran the reactors. They decided to split the technical section, of which I had been a manager in 1954, between the reactor area and reactor fuel on one side and chemical on the other. I had grown up with the chemical separation side; the other side looked like the bigger and better jobs, so I was given a choice and I took it. One of the fellows who had been reporting to me was the head of the—I do not know what it was called. Anyway, they had two technical organizations, and I had one of them.

Sanger: Were you acquainted with Miles Leverett?

Greager: Oh yeah, way back.

Sanger: When I saw him, I talked to him and he was involved in the design of engineering of the reactor.

Greager: Well, they got one engineer in, I forget, his name was Thomas Moore or something. Miles was the second engineer they got in.

Sanger: Yeah he was, this fellow Moore, I think was the boss at one time somewhere. 

Greager: Yeah, he reported to Moore, he came from one of the oil companies.

Sanger: Yeah, it was in Texas. 

Greager: He must have been with Humble [Oil and Refining Co.], I guess.

Sanger: Humble, maybe, yeah. I talked to him at his office at Stanford or Palo Alto at the National Power Research—

Greager: Is that where he is?

Sanger: Electric Power Research Institute.

Greager: I did not know he had gone with them. He was out on his own consulting for quite a while after he retired, and he retired after I did. 

Sanger: He still does that. In fact, he comes here sometimes.

Greager: Yeah, I have seen him around.

Sanger: I think he said that they sort of gave him an office there, but basically, he is the consultant. 

Greager: Okay.

Sanger: With nuclear safety, I guess, and he is involved in the N Reactor. I guess he helped design it.

Greager: He was the manager. He stayed on at Oak Ridge after the war, and as I told you the separation development division was discontinued. What functions they thought they would like to keep they put into an engineering development organization, and Miles was the head of that. He was there when they first got into the idea of a nuclear-powered airplane.

Sanger: Right, right he told me about that. 

Greager: From there he went with GE back to Cincinnati, where their jet-engine department is. When that thing was finally dropped, they didn’t have a spot for him in the jet-engine business so he came here. And shortly after he arrived or he had been here a little while, he set up a new department called N Reactor Department. They split that out for radiation processing. He was made manager of research and engineering for that and stayed on here after the war until GE left, I guess, and then he went down to Santa Fe. 

Sanger: Well, that might be. I do not know if I asked you this before. I usually ask people if they ever had any misgivings about their work on the bomb? Most people do not.

Greager: I do not know whether you did, but the local people did. I never had any misgivings.

Sanger: Is that because it ended the war and that sort of thing?

Greager: Yeah. I had a brother who was going to be in the first wave going into Japan.

Sanger: Where was he stationed?

Greager: Well he was 33rd Division, an infantry officer.

Sanger: Where was he?

Greager: He was in the Philippines at that time.

Sanger: Yeah, that is a common theme. People say, “My brother, my whatever-it-is.”

Greager: Even without the brother thing, I know there are a great many people in the Metallurgical Laboratory that I worked with who expressed reservations afterwards. But I do not recall anybody, any of the people that I worked with at that time, that didn’t think this was just something we had to do, that is all there was to it.

I say there was a great question in the minds of all people in the metallurgical project as to just how far along the Germans were. Even after the Germans surrendered, there was some worry that they had transferred a lot of their know-how to the Japanese. I do not recall anybody expressing any reservations.

If you read the history that had been written and see that statement that was made, that some of the top scientists in the metallurgical project recommended that they be used only for demonstration. All the time I was down in Oak Ridge, I was on Arthur Compton’s so-called technical information council, which was about twenty-five or thirty people from different departments. I never heard any reservations expressed at that time. Everybody was caught up in getting on with the job. 

Sanger: I think that from my reading, most of the reservations occurred after the Trinity test, and that is when the suggestion was made that maybe they could demonstrate it someplace. That was, as you probably know, was considered feasible, and it probably would not have impressed anybody because, as somebody pointed out, the Trinity bomb was not really that impressive. It did not damage anything, there was nothing to damage. You had to drop it over a city or something to show that it was destructive, and they could not do that and demonstrate it.

Greager: In my mementos, I have some copies of those leaflets that were dropped on Japan two or three days ahead of time. I do not think anybody thought that would have any effect.

Sanger: No. Well, some of historians even argue that there were other factors that made Japan surrender when it did. Obviously, the atomic bomb had a big part of that, but they also mentioned the Russian invasion, which occurred the day of the Nagasaki bomb.

Greager: They did not lose any time.

Sanger: Yeah. And in fact there’s an historian at the University of Washington that practically made his career on the Japanese decision to surrender. 

Greager: Was that right?

Sanger: How it came about in great incredible details, the councils and meetings and the Emperor. And he kind of wound up thinking that “Well, the Hiroshima bomb really did not have time to register on the Japanese, what it was, and then they got hit by the Russians and the Nagasaki bomb and that just about finished it.” I mean, the Emperor is quoted as saying in his radio speech that “The Americans have used a new type of bomb and we feel we cannot continue.” That seems to be fairly good evidence that the bomb had a big part in their decision to quit.

Greager: Well, I suppose. In my own case, I was in the chemical warfare reserve. That is why I happened to be in uniform in 1942. I had been in the reserves for many years, and chemical warfare is not very pretty either. You sort of get conditioned to the idea that there’s going to be a war and the important thing is to win it, not to lose it anyway. I was still around for whatever it was, nine months, after the Germans surrendered. We had these people that were chasing all over Europe trying to find out what went on.

Sanger: Yeah, the intelligence information.

Greager: Where I was, located in New York, we were getting some of that feedback from what was going on there. Have you read Groves’ book [“Now It Can Be Told”]?

Sanger: Yeah. 

Greager: He goes into that. The impression I got way back was that they decided to concentrate on the rocket approach, and that was where they were putting their hopes at that time, the V-2 rockets.

Sanger: The German scientists, some of them have said that they did not work as hard as they might have because they did not want Hitler to have it. That’s a guy named [Werner] Heisenberg, big nuclear physicist in Germany, that’s his argument. But there is some spiel that maybe that was self-serving, but point is they did not build one, although they certainly were trying.

Greager: I think you got it pretty accurately when you said that they did not have a real commitment and they did not mobilize an effort along that line. They had well-trained people, and if they had really gone to work on it, or anything approaching the same focus of effort that we had, well, they might have gotten somewhere.

Sanger: But they never really put that much—

Greager: No, they did not. 

Sanger: It would have been a terrible thing if Germany had got one.

Greager: That was the motivation they had in those days, just because we did not seem to have any way of knowing how far along they were. 

Sanger: I remember I talked to Eugene Wigner too, he is at Princeton, and he is still spry and gets around.

Greager: Is that right?

Sanger: He told me this story, this has been repeated before, that by 1943 he had a letter or a word from scientists in Germany who had gotten out through Switzerland, telling the Americans to “hurry up because we are on the track,” and that spurred Wigner on because he had been a refugee. He had gone to school with the German physicists who were still there and he knew that they were capable people. Also of course, the Germans had discovered fission in the first place. 

Greager: I guess one of the things they must have lacked was some of the people like Vannevar Bush and others that were able to impress political people that this was worth the effort and should be followed.

Sanger: He also was talking about how they never could make up their mind whether to go for isotope separation or plutonium as a means of getting the fissionable material, and apparently lost a lot of time and effort trying to decide what to do, and of course the United States did both. That was an advantage.

Greager: Well those were decisions that were made at the S-1 Committee, at the very top.

Copyright 1989 S. L. Sanger. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of S. L. Sanger.