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Richard Money’s Interview

Richard “Dick” Money was a chemist. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, where he was introduced to the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory. He was hired by the Met Lab and sent to work for Clinton Laboratories in Oak Ridge, TN during the Manhattan Project. He went on to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory for many years and then became a science and math teacher. In his interview, Money discusses how he became involved in the Manhattan Project and his jobs and responsibilities while working in these secret labs. He describes his post-war involvement with the Bikini Atoll tests and the Rover program at Los Alamos. Money also explains various scientific and chemical innovations made during the Manhattan Project and Cold War, as well as radiation accidents and safety procedures developed in response to the lab accidents. Finally, Money shares about his personal life and his transition from the laboratory to the classroom.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 2022
Location of the Interview:


Willie Atencio: The first thing we need to know is, where were you born?

Dick Money: In Chicago.

Atencio: Okay, you were born in Chicago. What part of Chicago?

Money: South Side.

Atencio: South Side. Tell us a little bit about your parents.

Money: My father was a civil engineer. He had a company that built grain elevators. He was educated at Armour Institute, which later became Illinois Tech in Chicago. A wonderful man, of course.

Atencio: What were your interests when you were growing up? Were you interested in chemistry?

Money: Well, no. When I first entered high school in 1935 at fourteen years of age, I went to Lindblom High School on the South Side, and I joined the band. They had a wonderful band and they had a wonderful orchestra. I was a percussionist, a drummer.

Prohibition had just gone out. [President Franklin] Roosevelt had gotten the 18th Amendment rescinded, and so little taverns had sprung up all around the neighborhoods. Jukeboxes hadn’t come in yet. Even though we were in the middle of the Depression, people still went out and enjoyed a Saturday evening at these taverns. They wanted to provide some music entertainment, and so many of them hired little bands.

I started playing drums in one of these little taverns. My father didn’t particularly appreciate this, but he never told me that I couldn’t. This was my big interest in high school, was music.

Atencio: Tell me a little bit about your education after high school.

Money: What happened, when I was graduating from high school, I had a chance to join one of the ballroom bands in Chicago, and that was my big ambition. But my dad said, “No, you have to go to college.”

I said, “Well, Dad, I really don’t care to go to college.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but that’s what you have to do. You have to go to college.” Of course, in those days, what your father said is what you did.

I said, “Well, what college do you want me to go to?”

He said, “How about an engineering school?” Because he was an engineer himself.

“Okay, Dad.”

“How about Purdue?”

I ended up going to Purdue at Lafayette, Indiana, and just, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” Okay, well, engineer, I enjoyed chemistry when I was in high school, so okay, I’ll take chemical engineering.

But unfortunately, you had to take physical examinations when we entered the school, and it took about, let’s see, about six weeks to two months for the information to come back that during the physical examination, one of the tests that they took showed that I had tuberculosis. I had to drop out of school, and I had to go into a sanatorium at Naperville, Illinois. Fortunately, bed rest—I had to lay on my back for six months in bed—and my immune system was able to cure the disease.

Here I come out of this sanatorium back to Chicago. This was, oh, about in August or so. School’s getting ready to start. My dad said, “Well, you want to go back to Purdue?”

It was such a traumatic experience that I said, “No, no, no.”

“What college do you want to do to?”

I said, “Heck, why go out of Chicago? Let’s see if I can get into the University of Chicago.” Sure enough, I was accepted, and so I entered the University of Chicago in 1940.

What to study? I was studying chemical engineering at Purdue, so I figured, “Well, okay, University of Chicago is not an engineering school, but they had straight chemistry.” I said, “Okay, I’ll go into chemistry.” Boy, I really enjoyed the courses that I had to take. It was a very good experience.

The war, of course, started in 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I knew that there were projects going on at the university, secret projects, but of course, I didn’t know what they were. I finally got my degree from the University of Chicago in 1944.

Just about the time the war started, or maybe shortly before, they decided to investigate the possibility of achieving a critical assembly, something that had not been done before.

It just so happened that Robert Hutchins recently became the president of the university, and he would not go along with this business of recruiting football players. Prior to that, the University of Chicago was the original member of the Big Ten football conference, okay. Hutchins said, “No, we’re not going to give out football scholarships, athletic scholarships. This is an academic institution. If they want to come here and play football, fine, that’s great. But no athletic scholarships.”

We had this great big football field, Stagg Field. Stagg had won more Big Ten championships up to that time than any other school in the Big Ten. But here we are, no football scholarships, and so the University of Chicago started losing games, eighty to nothing or whatever, I’m just guessing. They decide, “Well, we have to drop football.” So they dropped football.

Here we had this great big empty stadium, Stagg Field. Guess where Fermi decided to carry on his experiment? Under the west stands of this empty stadium, under the west stands of Stagg Field. I guess it was a volleyball [squash] court or something, under the west stands, where he decided to see if he could get an assembly together to start a critical reaction. Sure enough, he was successful. 

Well, we have to keep a laboratory here, because there was people that were interested in keeping their work here, guys like Nathan Sugarman and other people. They established a small laboratory on the campus, which they called the Met Lab, the Metallurgical Laboratory, just to do research.

So, they did that. There were guys like, oh, Charles Coryell and Nathan Sugarman and Fermi, of course, I guess, and other people that located there. “This thing is going to be big, and we can’t do it here in Chicago, middle of the City of Chicago, so we have to find a place—two places. Number one, a location to do the research and do the manufacturing of the material, the fissionable material.”

Well, uranium-235 is only about 7/10 of a percent of naturally occurring uranium. When you dig the uranium out of the ground, in Canada at that time, Canada was one place where they got the uranium. Now, in Russia or any place around the world, when you dig the uranium, 99.3 percent of the uranium is 238, and only 7/10 of a percent is U-235.

Well, with U-235, which they were interested in using to make an atomic bomb to begin with. But guess what? [Joseph W.] Kennedy and [Glenn] Seaborg discovered that U-238 won’t fission, but if U-238 in the presence of neutrons that are slowed down by a moderator, the neutrons won’t split the 238. But guess what? The U-238 will grab a neutron and become U-239.

This U-239 is very unstable. It decays by a beta emission, and goes to a brand new, unnatural element, which they named neptunium, after the Greek god Neptune. That’s unstable. That decays by another beta emission, to guess what? See you go from U-238 to U-239, and U-239 decays to neptunium. 

But now neptunium decays by another beta emission to a brand new element, element 94-239, which they named plutonium. And hey, 238 is 99.3% of the uranium, and you can get the same thing from a fissionable element, from 238, namely plutonium.

There were two now projects, which were going to be investigated. One was to isolate and produce quantities of U-235, and the other was to isolate and produce quantities of plutonium. Where are we going to do this? As far as the 235 is concerned, you cannot chemically take 235 away from 238, because they have the same chemical process. You can’t go through an analytic process to extract 235. You have to do it by so-called physical means.

It just so happened at that time—it’s amazing, these coincidences that were occurring—just about that time, a guy by the name of [Ernest] Lawrence in California developed just prior to this the cyclotron, where you could separate stuff by spinning it around in a magnetic field.

Once of these intellectuals said, “Hey, guess what? We could build a massive cyclotron and collect the 235 this way.”

Another guy said, “Yeah. But another thing we could do? Gases.” If you open a bottle of ether at one end of the room, in a very short period of time, you’re smelling ether at the other end of the room, because of diffusion. Lighter elements diffuse faster than heavy elements.

So we could try two different ways to concentrate 235, one by this massive thing, and the other is by gaseous diffusion.

The massive cyclotron is going to have to have—hey, there’s electromagnets, we have got to have a lot of electricity for these electromagnets. Just so happened, coincidentally again, Roosevelt—like right now [President Barack] Obama is trying to get money for infrastructure and so forth and so on—Roosevelt had public programs going on to put people to work, to get out of the Depression.

One of the programs was in the southeast. They used to have a lot of flooding in the springtime, these rivers, the Tennessee and so forth, in the springtime would flood. These poor people, their fields would get flooded and, oh, God. “Hey, guess what? We could build some dams on those little rivers, down on those rivers down in the southeastern part of the country.” They started a project, which became the Tennessee Valley Association, another coincidence, TVA.

As long as we have a dam, you could put hole in the darn thing and put in a generator to generate electricity. For the first time, many people in the southeast, for the first time had electric lights where they used to have oil lamps before.

Atencio: Kerosene.

Money: Kerosene, yeah. Now, they have electric lights, and they had mucho, mucho, mucho cheap electricity. “Guess what? Hey, I know a place. We could go to eastern Tennessee for the electricity, eastern part of the country.” They chose the eastern part of Tennessee, close to Knoxville. They called it Oak Ridge. To build the massive thing, Tennessee Eastman was put in charge.

You had Oak Ridge to produce the uranium-235. As long as we’re going to produce the U-235, or try to produce the U-235 in Tennessee, why not set up a laboratory to develop the process for plutonium in the same area? It was an extension of the work that was done at the University of Chicago, so guess who the contractor was for this particular program? The University of Chicago.

They named the laboratory—it was an extension of Met Lab, the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago, and they called it Clinton Laboratories, because the little community right next to Oak Ridge was Clinton, Tennessee. This is where I went to work, in Clinton Laboratories.

Atencio: You were interviewed in Chicago, and sent down to Tennessee?

Money: Yeah, right, to work. I was working for the University of Chicago at Clinton Laboratories in Oak Ridge. Now we had the two laboratories to produce the material, or produce the U-235 and to do the research for the plutonium.

Now, we have to worry about, “Where are we going to do the assembly?” Let’s see, it just so happened, coincidentally again, [J. Robert] Oppenheimer as a young man, like myself, developed TB. In those days, it was thought that a high, dry climate was conducive to a cure. As a matter of fact, Bruns Hospital in Santa Fe was a military hospital for TB patients. So his family shipped Oppenheimer, guess where? Out here to New Mexico.

Atencio: The Oppenheimer cabin in Pecos.

Money: Pecos.

Atencio: Yeah.

Money: In the Pecos, just outside of Santa Fe. In fact, the house is still there. Oppenheimer knew about the boy’s school at Los Alamos, and so when he was in on the decision-making process, he said, “Hey, I know just the spot.” The Los Alamos school, the Los Alamos academy, whatever they called it up in New Mexico. So, they came up here and they took it over lock, stock and barrel, and established the Los Alamos laboratory.

Of course, everything at Oak Ridge and at Los Alamos, the money was coming from the military, because of Roosevelt’s decision to keep it away from Congress. So it got started.

Atencio: What were your experiences at Oak Ridge?

Money: First, I got my degree in 1944. Of course, I knew the Manhattan, not the Manhattan Project, but I knew Met Labs was going on the campus. I was asked by one of my professors to go over and talk to the people at personnel for this project. I thought, “Hey, guess what? I’ll be able to work and stay right here on the campus, the university.” I had other offers, I had an offer to go work for the FBI in the analytical laboratory in Washington. But, I thought, “Hey, that, that sounds, boy, I wonder.”

I went over and talked to the people, and I said, “What am I going to be doing?”

They said, “Well, we can’t, we can’t tell you that. It’s a secret project, but we can’t tell you that. But we can assure you that it’s something that you would find exciting, and something that you would appreciate an opportunity to participate in.”

I said, “Well, that’s great, and I’ll be able to stay here in Chicago.”

“Oh, no, no, no. We want you to go to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

I said, “Where the heck is that?”

“Well, it’s about twenty-five miles from Knoxville.” Anyway, it sounded interesting. As I say, I did have other opportunities, but this sounded interesting.

They gave me a one-way railroad ticket to Knoxville, Tennessee. My father and mother were quite concerned, because they didn’t know what the heck I was getting into. But I got on the train and I had an upper berth, as I recall. I laid in my upper berth and “Chu-ca-ca, chu-ca-ca, chu,” and I’m thinking, “What in the heck am I getting into?”

Finally, we get to Knoxville, and then also, to make it more interesting, the train didn’t pull into the station. The train somehow pulled off this way. In those days, the train would back into the station. I thought, “Boy, what a backward place this is.” 

I got off the train in Knoxville, and all I had was a telephone number to call. I go to a public phone booth and dial the number. In fact, I don’t think I even dialed the number. In those days, I still picked up the receiver and asked for an operator. Anyway, I got the number, and a young lady answered.

She said, “Oh, yes, Mr. Money, we are expecting you. Yes, yes, yes. We have a room booked for you at the Andrew Johnson Hotel on Gay Street. You get a cab and you go over to the Andrew Johnson Hotel. Then tomorrow morning, you be in the lobby and somebody will contact you.”

“Oh, God, okay.”

I go the hotel and I lay in bed that night wondering, again, what the heck’s going on. But the next morning, I go to breakfast and after breakfast, I dutifully take my bags and go out into the lobby and sit in the seat. A short time later, here comes a soldier in full uniform.

I should tell you that in those days, we had a draft. We had draft assignment numbers. If you had a 1-A, you were hot to go. They had deferments for different things. If you were working in a war industry, you got maybe a 2-B or something, and so forth.

I had a 2-A all the time I was going to school, because I was studying chemistry and my draft board—individual draft boards made these decisions. They were made up of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, you know. They made the decision what number you’re going to get. In my neighborhood, they gave me, I believe it was a 2-A, and I had that all through school.

Here I’m sitting in the lobby and this soldier comes up. He must have been given my description, because he walked right up to me and introduced himself. He said, “Sir, will you follow me?”

I said, “Yes, I will.” He helped me with my bag, and off we go through the lobby and down the stairs, out onto Gay Street. Here’s a military car parked right on the curb, olive drab with a great big white star on it on the door. I thought, “Wow, I guess I’ve finally gotten drafted.” 

I dutifully got in the car and we drove, I guess it was about twenty-five miles from Knoxville to Oak Ridge. Then we go through the—here’s MPs, a guard gate and MPs, and they check us through. Oak Ridge is far larger than Los Alamos. It’s big. Covers two, parts of two counties, Roane County and Knox County.

We drove, it seemed like, about ten miles from the—maybe it was shorter, but it seemed like about ten miles from the gate to the Clinton Lab. Here was another guard gate, another MP, and we go through that, and we come to a barracks type building. The laboratory buildings were all barracks type buildings in those days. We come to a barracks type building, and stop and get out.

I’m wondering, “When the heck am I going to see white coats? I’m supposed to be a chemist.” I’m looking, “When am I going to see people with white coats and test tubes and Erlenmeyer flasks and this and this.” And, nada. I get ushered into a little room, no windows. There’s a little table and two chairs across from each other. I sat in one of the chairs and I wait there, it seemed like an interminable period of time, probably about ten minutes.

The guy who later I learned was the security officer, a guy by the name of Paul Reardon, comes in, and he sits in the chair across from me and just looks at me. Finally, he says, “Mr. Money, do you know what we’re doing here?”

I was so frustrated by that time, I was almost going to say—well, no, I didn’t say it. I said, “No, sir, I don’t.”

He said, “I’m going to mention this word once, and you are never to mention it to your mother or father. I understand you’re not married, and if you get any girlfriend, don’t mention this word.” I’m waiting with bated breath on hear the word. He said, “We are developing a process to produce plutonium.” I’m exaggerating a little bit, of course. “Produce plutonium to use in an atomic bomb.”

I guess I was supposed to say, “Wow,” you know. “What are you talking about? Uranium is the last element on the periodic table. There’s no such thing as plutonium. Where do you get this from?”

I accepted what he said, and after a few more introductory remarks, he called for somebody to escort me to who I was going to be working with, working for, and a soldier. I figured, now I’m finally going to see some white coats. He ushered me over to another building, another barracks type building, and into an office. This was going to be my group leader. You would expect the group leader be wearing a suit and a tie, everything proper.

Here’s this guy sitting there with casual clothes, khaki pants and an old khaki shirt open up the collar and sitting there across the desk from me. He introduced himself. Again, he calls me by my nickname, he says, “Dick,” he says, “Good to see you.” He said, “My name is Charles.”

This is the first time I became aware of the fact that on the project for many years, nobody—we talked about nicknames before—nobody went by Mr. This or Mrs. That, Mr. This, Mr. That, Dr. This. Everybody, most everybody had a PhD, or many had PhDs.

I found out later, Charles was Dr. C. D. Coryell from Caltech, a full professor from Caltech, who was going to be my group leader. He says, “Dick,” he said, “Good to meet you. Incidentally, what do you know about glass-blowing?”

Glass-blowing? At the university, we had a glass-blower. If on our laboratory experiments we needed glass-blowing, he would make the glass that we needed for us. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s okay.” He said, “How about nuclear physics?”

“Nuclear physics, oh, let’s see. There’s alpha particles, there’s beta and gamma rays.”

He said, “Is that all?”


“Well, okay.” I found out later that I should, which I later acquired some glass-blowing experience and some knowledge about radiation and so forth. But he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. You’re going to be working with a guy by the name of Ed Brady” He points out the window, and he says, “Right across the street there.”

I don’t know if you realize, in Tennessee it rains every. At least in those days, it rained every day for some period of time. The streets, in Tennessee, the clay is nothing like the clay here, and so what happened is, I was walking across the street to the laboratory, I almost lost my shoes in the clay.

I get over to the other building and I figured, now I’m going to see some white coats. Opened up the door, and what do I see? A bunch of guys running around, moving fast around this and this and this. I see stainless steel tanks, I see they had coveralls on, they had booties covering the shoes, surgeon caps on their head. What the heck is this?

I said to somebody, “I’m looking for Ed Brady.”

“Okay. Hey, Ed.” Here comes Ed over to meet me. He’s got the coveralls, he’s got the booties, he’s got the cap, he’s carrying a pipe wrench.

I got introduced to the program. They had a glass-blower, a professional glass-blower there also. I am wandering around, and Ed said, “Well, Dick, I’ll tell you what. I’m not going bother you with particulars at the moment. You just spend the next couple of days wandering around, get familiar with the place.”

“Okay.” One of the things I got familiar with was this glass-blower. I spent a little time sitting on a stool next to him, watching him blow glass, because I’d never seen anybody blow glass before.

One of the guys took me aside and said, “Hey, Dick, that guy, that glass-blower. He doesn’t like anybody watching him.”

“Are you sure?” I asked him, I said, “Hey, does it bother you, me watching you blow glass?”

“Who said that?” 

After a couple of weeks, I’m getting frustrated. I’m not earning my money. My money, I was only making $200 a month, but that was all right. The GIs were making fifty. About half of the people working in the laboratory in those days were GIs and half were civilians, maybe not even half were civilians.

Because what it amounted to is—I told you about the draft—what it amounted to was the fact prior to this project getting started, many of the people with degrees and scientists and so forth were drafted into the service. Not only that, but machinists and so forth and so on that we needed on the project were drafted.

The project was strong enough, they could look through the records and find, “I want this guy, I want this guy, I want this guy, I want this guy.” They could just go there and they had enough power, they could just say, “You’re transferred. You’re transferred to Oak Ridge or Los Alamos.”

One of my good buddies, a guy by the name of Dick Burson, he graduated from MIT with a degree in chemistry at the age of eighteen, from MIT. He was in uniform, all ready to be shipped overseas when they grabbed him and shipped him to Oak Ridge.

After a couple of weeks, somebody rushes up to me and says, “Hey, Dick, get me the pH of this solution will you, please?” For the first time now, I see a beaker with some solution in it. Ah, heck, he’s talking my language now, pH, heck. I go into the little room they used as a little laboratory and I’m looking for the burettes. In high school and in college, we used burettes to titrate, so-called titrate, to get pH. I’m not seeing the burettes.

Now I’m too frustrated and too ashamed, too embarrassed to say, “Hey, guy, where are the burettes?” So I said, “Hey, guy, where do I get the pH here?”

“Oh, the pH meter is right over there on the corner.” I’d never seen the gadget. This was a brand new gadget that had just come out, and it’s an electronic gadget to determine pH.

I go over to the meter and I’m too ashamed to ask him, “How the heck do you use this damn thing?” But fortunately, I raised the cover, Beckman pH meter, I raised the cover and there was directions inside the cover. Here I am trying to pretend I know what I’m doing, and all the time reading. I figured it out, and I got the pH. That was my first contribution to the atomic bomb, getting the pH of that solution. I’m kidding, of course.

But we had good experiences at Oak Ridge.

Atencio: Did you know you what you were working on would be sent to Los Alamos?

Money: Yes, we did, yes. I would say, now, for instance, at the [Y-12] plant where they had this big cyclotron type of thing, oh, they had thousands of people, I’m sure, working there. I would say probably only maybe one, only two percent of the people knew what they were working on. In my laboratory, the Clinton Laboratory, most of the people knew that we were working on an atomic bomb.

As a matter of fact, before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was a petition—well, let me say this. After the [Trinity] test at Alamogordo, White Sands, we knew the next day that the test was successful at Oak Ridge. A petition circulated through the laboratory, and I think also at Los Alamos, petitioning—now, Roosevelt had died and [President Harry] Truman had taken over.

To show you the secrecy, believe this or not, even Truman, who was vice president under Roosevelt, had no idea that this project was going on until he became President of the United States. Then he was informed that there was a program.

The irony is that all this time, Klaus Fuchs was sitting in an office right next to or close to Oppenheimer, and he knew all of the—see, in those days, it was a need to know. The only thing that you were exposed to as far as the work is concerned, in other words, I knew nothing about how the bomb was going to put together. I just had to know things that would pertain to help me do my work, a need to know.

Fuchs was right up there with the biggies and need to know, he knew everything. He had access to all the secret documents and so forth. He used to go down to Santa Fe. You know where the stone bridge is, across that so-called Santa Fe River? He used to meet his emissary there on that stone bridge and pass them on.

Atencio: The Castillo Bridge.

Money: Yeah. What’s that?

Atencio: Castillo Bridge.

Money: Is that it?

Atencio: Yeah.

Money: That’s what I gathered. But it ended up going overseas to Stalin, and Stalin was fully aware of everything that was going on, I guess.

When the weapon was proven successful, a petition circulated at the laboratory in Oak Ridge, and I gather in Los Alamos also, petitioning Truman not to use the weapon on a populated area. To show the Japanese that we’ve got this ability to really do very serious, serious, serious, serious damage, but maybe blow up an isolated island someplace to impress the Japanese. But they decided to go ahead and so consequently, it was done.

Schiferl: What were your living arrangements?

Money: Yeah, in Oak Ridge, I lived in a dormitory. I think it was $10 a month for the dormitory room, and that was all.

When I moved to Los Alamos, I was only—well, in passing, there again. What happened was when the war ended, the secret’s out. Oh, golly, everybody is interested, including the Navy.

The biggies in the Navy decided, “I wonder what an atomic bomb will do to naval ships?” Believe it or not, they talked somebody into carrying out a project to drop an atomic bomb in a formation of naval ships in the South Pacific, Bikini Atoll.

Back up just a little bit. At Los Alamos, before I got there, it was mainly—biggies were physicists, and particular nuclear physicists. They didn’t push their weight around, but they were the, considered to be the ultimate scientists at Los Alamos. As far as chemists were concerned, the only chemists they had at Los Alamos to speak of were metallurgists to handle the formation of the parts. A guy by the name of [Eric] Jette was head of so-called CMR Division, chemistry, metallurgy division.

When they were planning this test, the physicists had various experiments they were going to set up. I wasn’t here, believe me, but these are the stories that I got. That the physicists had various physical measurements they were going to take to determine the efficiency if it went off, the efficiency of the weapon, light measurements and whatever, whatever.

There was a guy that I think I mentioned his name earlier, Nathan Sugarman, who was about the same level as Charles Coryell, my boss at Oak Ridge. Nathan Sugarman stayed at Chicago at Met Lab. We were called radio chemists, because we were working with radioactive isotopes.

A brand new field opens up, because, my goodness, in fission, when uranium or plutonium fissions, you get a whole slew of all the elements that you have, but now these are radioactive isotopes of these elements that develop.

Coincidentally again, shortly before the test was going to come off, Sugarman was on an official visit from Met Labs to Los Alamos. In a conversation with Oppenheimer, he convinced Oppenheimer—at least he told Oppenheimer that if he could get, if it happened, if the thing goes off, that by taking samples of the debris and doing radiochemical analyses and getting the radio isotope distribution, that he could ascertain the efficiency of what happened. How much of the uranium actually fissioned. The bomb, the one they tested was plutonium, and how much actually happened, 20% efficiency, 30%, 40%.

Oppenheimer was a physicist himself, and he listened, I guess, to Sugarman. One of the nicest things, one thing that I admire thinking about Oppenheimer was back before this project started, we had scientists, we had biologists, we had physicists, we had chemists. All these people were jealous of their own little fields of study, and they kept to themselves. You know what I’m talking about? See?

The thing about the project was that, as it started out, it was the physicists that started it out, but I got news: in order to make the thing happen, you had to have all these different, even biologists, you had to have all these different things involved. Oppenheimer, I think, unlike so many other professional scientists in those days, his great contribution was the fact that he was able to get all these guys to work together, and to share information. You see what I’m saying?

Anyway, here is Sugarman talking to Oppenheimer about the fact that he, as a chemist, he could help determine the efficiency of the bomb. Oppenheimer, I guess, told him, he said, “Well, okay, you go ahead and do it, but don’t get—” in so many words, “—don’t get in the way of the physicists in their work.” Sure enough, Oppenheimer did take his measurements, I mean, Sugarman did take his measurements. As it turned out, Sugarman’s measurements turned out to be the only meaningful measurements that were made at that time.

Atencio: At Trinity site? 

Money: What?

Atencio: The Trinity site.

Money: At Trinity site. Sure enough, Sugarman determined the efficiency of the bomb, so-called bomb, by radiochemical measurements.

Now comes Trinity site—I mean, not Trinity site, now comes the Bikini test. Here’s Los Alamos, guess what? The only chemists they have there at Los Alamos, are metallurgists. Oppenheimer’s no longer director. He left shortly after the war.

Let me digress just a bit. The University of California was in at the beginning at Los Alamos. The University of Chicago was in at the beginning over here at Chicago, and at Clinton Laboratories with plutonium at Oak Ridge. When the war ended, Robert Hutchins, who was still President of the University of Chicago, just like he said, “We don’t need athletic scholarships,” he was willing to give the Chicago sponsorship to the program, as long as it was to win the war.

But once the war ended, Hutchins says—well, I hate to be so confusing. But during the war, the thing was, “Win the war, beat the Jap, beat Hitler.” The whole thing was just a program supposedly to win the war.

But guess what? Oppenheimer showed his concern as soon as the thing was successful, “God, we’ve opened Pandora’s box. It can’t be just for the war, we’re going to have to continue with this stuff.” Well, Hutchins, just like he said we have no business giving athletic scholarships, we have no business in peacetime working on weapons. He gave up his contract at the University of Chicago at Met Labs and the Clinton Laboratory in Oak Ridge. Monsanto Chemical came in and took over our contract.

These naval people decided, “I don’t think an atomic bomb would hurt the ships, all steel,” you know, all this stuff. They were able to convince—I don’t know how the heck anybody would ever think of this—but they were able to convince the powers that be to set up a program to see what an atomic bomb would do to naval ships.

Well, guess what? Los Alamos, here now we have a new director, his name is Norris Bradbury. Who’s going to determine the efficiency of the bomb? Sugarman’s no longer here. We’re going to have to have some radiochemists. Where do we find radiochemists? Well, still at Met Labs and Oak Ridge.

In those days, Los Alamos had three people, three men involved in personnel. Armand Kelly and there were two others, I can’t remember their names, unfortunately. But one of them, Armand Kelly, came to my laboratory, the laboratory where I was working in Oak Ridge, and was trying to recruit people that had experience in radiochemistry to come to Los Alamos on a temporary basis, for the Bikini shots in the summer of ’46.

I wasn’t married. I was single, and I was one of the people that he talked to, to try to talk me into coming to Los Alamos. I agreed. A couple or three of the guys came from Met Labs, and there were about three of us that came from Oak Ridge.

They had a brand new division set up at Los Alamos, so-called B Division. This was the Bikini Division, B for Bikini. Our group was B-1. When I knew I was going to have to take the train to Los Alamos, to New Mexico, I asked Armand Kelly, I said, “I haven’t seen my folks for a period of time. Would you mind, instead of coming directly from Oak Ridge to Los Alamos, if I pass through Chicago?”

“Sure, that would be okay.” I went up to Chicago to spend a couple of days before coming out here to Los Alamos.

Coincidentally again, I had a girlfriend when I was going to the college, the University of Chicago. I liked her grandmother very much. We shared a lot of good interesting conversations together. I thought while I was there in Chicago I’d call her grandma. The girlfriend had moved away from Chicago while I was still going to the university. Her father was a flour miller and he took a job in Minnesota. She moved out, and I lost contact with her.

I called her grandmother and she said, “Hey, guess what? Margie’s back in town.”

I said, “You’re kidding.”

“Yeah. Would you like her telephone number?”

“Yeah.” She gives me her telephone number. I called Margie and, well, you know, conversation, I said, “Would you like to go out and see me? I got a couple of days here in town. Would you like to go out?” Her home and her grandmother’s home was on the far north side of Chicago. I lived on the far south side.

I took a streetcar from my mother’s house. She was living now in Beverly Hills, 9500 South to 200 North, I think, something like that. We went to the Aragon Ballroom, and during the course of the evening, I don’t know what happened, but I proposed. Can you imagine? She accepted.

I said, “I’m on my way to Los Alamos.”

“Well, okay, I’ll go with you.”

I said, “No, no, you talked about housing.” See, that’s what brought the thought up. “No, no, the housing at Oak Ridge was very, very tight. I don’t know what it’s going to be at Los Alamos. Wait until I get to Los Alamos and get a house, and I’ll send for you and we’ll get married in New Mexico.”

Sure enough, I get to New Mexico and apply for a house. This is, as I say, a temporary job, Los Alamos, the Bikini. They said, “Oh, no, no, you don’t get a house. I’m sorry. The housing is too tight.” My boss, Bill Robinson, he had the audacity to go to the powers that be and said, “You either give Money a house or I’m going to pull the whole group out of here.” I’m serious.

They gave me a little McKee house. I don’t know if you ever heard of these terms or not, but McKee house. As I mentioned to this lady [Elberta Lowdermilk Honstein], Lowdermilk’s daughter, McKee was the housing contractor. They had plywood houses, little plywood houses, small bedroom, small living room and a combination living room and kitchen and a bathroom. I got one of these McKee houses, and sure enough, I sent for her and we did get married.

The project was very successful. There were two drops in the Bikini shot. One was up from the air and one was underwater.  

I just can’t believe it, that they did the same thing, that hey did something similar in Nevada when they had the test sites at Nevada. Would you believe, on the ships, they actually had live animals on the ships to see what would happen to the live—then, fortunately, they didn’t have human beings, but they had live animals. They didn’t have sailors.

I used to have a picture. I can’t find it anymore, unfortunately, a photograph of the shot above the ships. It devastated the ships, of course. The project was successful.

It just so happened that instead of going back to Oak Ridge, they decided, “Los Alamos now, hey, guess what? Our work was successful, the radiochemical work that we determined the efficiency of the shots. And so, guess what?” Mr. Bradbury, Norris Bradbury said, “We’re going to have to have a radiochemical group at Los Alamos.” They established a radiochemical group.

Atencio: What was the name of the division?

Money: I can’t recall. I was offered a position with them, but at the same time, one of the people that I knew, that I worked with on the Bikini shots, a fellow by the name of Mel Boorman, who was at Chicago, came from Chicago to this thing, he was offered DP East, CMB-3.

The group, when the war ended, many of the bigger power, bigger guys were former professors at universities and so forth. This was their thought, and many of them were [not] interested in continuing working on a war project during the peacetime. There was an exodus of many of the top personnel. There were group leader openings, and so forth.

The job at DP East was offered to a man by the name of Dwayne Vier, and he accepted it. But then he said, “No, no, I think I’m going to get a college professorship,” and so he turned it down. Now they’re looking around for a group leader, and it just so happened this man that came with me was given the job, was offered the job to be the group leader of this group at DP East.

This was an initiator group, and he took it. He said, “Hey, why don’t you come and work with us?” Of course, I knew him personally, and so instead of accepting the job with the radiochemical group, I accepted the job with him to go to work at DP East. That’s where I started after.

You talked about housing. The housing at Los Alamos was very, very, very limited. As I say, many of the biggies were leaving, because of the lack of facilities of Los Alamos. 

When the Bikini tests were over and successful, my original intent was to go back to the laboratory in Oak Ridge that I had left. But I was offered a couple of positions at Los Alamos, one to work with the newly oriented radiochemical group, and the other was to work with my buddy, Mel Boorman, who came also for the Bikini tests, but now was offered a group leader job at DP East. I decided to join him.

Now what happened was, we were expecting a child. The one-bedroom McKee house was no longer going to be large enough to take care of our needs. We’re going to have to have a house. I’ll digress just a little bit. When the Bikini tests ended, there was thought in the laboratory that no longer the isolation was necessary. The secret was out, and here at Los Alamos, my goodness, there’s no airports, no trains and so forth and so on. Maybe we should move the laboratory to another location. No need to keep it here anymore.

This and this and committees and so forth, and they finally decided, “No, we’ll keep the laboratory at Los Alamos.” Yeah, but guess what? All we have here is a commissary and a PX [Postal Exchange]. My wife and other women would have to go to Santa Fe to do their shopping, very inconvenient. If we’re going to keep the laboratory here at Los Alamos, we’re going to have some regular suburban conveniences.

So, hell, okay, let’s have a committee. I’m just assuming this is what happened. Let’s have a committee. They decided, “Let’s see now, what are we going to need? Well, how about a supermarket? Yeah, a supermarket, okay, a supermarket.”

The way they’re going to arrange this is, the Army now was out, and Washington had brought in a whole new governing body called the Atomic Energy Commission, the so-called AEC. The AEC now is going to be the overseer, and they are going to now oversee the community.

We’re going to have to have a supermarket, barber shop, maybe, yeah, and all these different conveniences, among others, a cleaning shop. The AEC was going to own all of these facilities, the supermarket, the theater, the bowling alley and so forth, and lease these facilities to various operators. The operators would bid on getting the contract. The bid was going to be based on how much return off of their profits do they give back to the AEC.

It just so happened, a cleaning shop, these people that were bidding had access to all kinds of information about what is the average salary, what is the average education, what is this and this and that. And comparing it with the country as a whole, about how much cleaning would they need and so forth and so on. Now on that basis, they bid.

The poor guy that got the cleaning shop lost his shirt, because everybody at Los Alamos was wearing casual clothes. There was no dry cleaning. You could always recognize people from Los Alamos when you traveled, by either air or by train, in that if you saw a man with an outdated suit, you knew, “Oh, yeah, he must work at Los Alamos, because the only time he wore a suit was when he traveled.”

So yes, indeed, that’s how the town got started. The so-called Zia Company were the people that handled the maintenance and everything other than laboratory operation. Another company called the Zia Company, and Robert McKee’s son was the first head of the Zia Company. His name was David McKee.

The housing, the rent that we paid was based on two things. We got points, the employee got points. You got so many points for the number of dollars that you earned. You got so many points for the number of months that you worked for the laboratory. Depending upon the points that you have, you were eligible for a certain quality house at Los Alamos.

As I say, many of the people were leaving, because of the lack of facilities, and so frantically, the Zia Company built two sample houses on Canyon Road, just off of Central, as Central joins Canyon Road, on the other side of Canyon Road, they built two houses to show what was coming.

They were going to start a new area called Western Area, and they were going to have these beautiful homes in Western Area. “If you just stay around, you just stay a little bit longer and you, these houses will be available for you, because you’ll have enough points to get these houses.”

This area, it used to be just a great big field out there across from what is now the high school, became Western Area. The houses were given out, as I say, on the basis of points. You qualified on that basis, and the rent was very, very reasonable. The rent was based on, again, on what your salary was.

They had the so-called Hanford houses, were also pre-fab buildings that were brought from Hanford, Washington.

I didn’t mention to you as we were talking before, that the Clinton Laboratories where I worked at Oak Ridge, we had the first working atomic reactor, where we could actually produce plutonium. But it was a small reactor. It was air-cooled, if you could imagine, air-cooled. There was a stack, oh, God, three or four stories high, and a tremendous blast of air.

We used to get a kick out of the birds would fly across that stack and bounce up in the air because of the tremendous blast of air. It was adequate to do the research that we needed, to produce enough plutonium to do our research.

When everything was working fine and, “Yeah, it’s going to work,” they needed larger reactors. They build three reactors in Hanford, Washington, which were cooled by the Columbia River. A good portion of the Columbia River runs through that reactor.

You talk about security. Some of the security people were concerned, because if you took the temperature upstream from the reactors, it was cooler, a couple of degrees cooler than downstream from the reactors because the water that was going through the reactors to cool the reactors. They were worried about. I wonder if anybody is figuring out what we’re doing here.

Anyway, the housing was quite adequate and it was quite reasonably priced. The nice thing about it is everybody, as I mentioned before, there was such a delightful, casual atmosphere at Los Alamos. In some ways, it was a little Peyton Place, maybe. Everybody knew everybody, casually. “Hey, Joe, how you doing? How’s the wife?” and so forth and so on. I was fortunate in having that opportunity to have that experience in life.

I continued to work for the laboratory until, well, what happened was the physicists finally figured out a weapons design that no longer needed initiators. Initiator was something that provided neutrons at the moment when the neutrons were needed. This is what we were doing, was producing the initiators for the weapons. But they decided initiators were no longer needed, and so our group was no longer needed.

Coincidentally again, it just so happened that high temperature chemistry was just coming into its own. They decided, “Well, we don’t have a high temperature chemistry group here.” We were still part of the CMR division. About that time, the CMR division was being broken up. I think, yeah, it was already broken up into CMB and CMF, B under Baker and F under Fowler.

We became a CMB group, CMB-3. They decided, “Maybe we ought to have a group that does study in high temperature chemistry.” They decided on us. Some of us were loaned out to other areas, like I was loaned to Sigma Building to learn how to use an optical pyrometer and various things.

Just at that time, coincidentally again, we were in the Cold War with Russia. Besides weapons and so forth, guess what? The Russians put up Sputnik I orbiting the earth, and wow, we found ourselves behind the thing. We got to catch up. All of a sudden, we get into the rocket business. Everybody’s worrying about so-called specific impulse. That’s the kick in the pants that the rocket gets to carry bigger and bigger loads. And all kinds of chemical reactions and this and this.

Some physicists got a hot idea. Hey, guess what? We were always worrying about reactors overheating. They run to produce electricity and to boil water to produce steam, reactors around 105 degrees Celsius or so, just a little bit above the boiling point of water. They’re held there by the control rods. Boy, don’t let them—oh, man, like happened in Russia—don’t let them overheat.

This guy’s supposing, just supposing we produce a reactor that runs, say 1800 degrees Celsius. 1800 degrees Celsius? White hot. Graphite reactor with holes through the fuel rods, and when we’re up to temperature, we pump liquid hydrogen through those holes. What a specific impulse we get out of the bottom – kaplowie. So the so-called Rover program started at Los Alamos.

Well, guess what? We were a high temperature group now, so we got involved in the Rover program. The job that was given our group was: here we have a graphite reactor with the fuel an integral part of the graphite and holes through the graphite, and liquid hydrogen. Hydrogen and graphite? Graphite’s carbon. If that hydrogen sees that hot graphite, guess what? You’re going to have methane, propane, ethane, all the hydrocarbons coming out the rear end. That thing won’t last no time.

What do we have to do? Somehow, we’re going to have to keep the graphite from seeing the hydrogen. We’re going to have to coat the holes with something that has a melting point higher than the temperature we’re going to run the reactor, and that won’t poison the reactor. Because you put things into reactors, they collect neutrons, and so take the neutrons out of the reactor. The reactor won’t run.


There were three things considered. First, we’re going to have to have a carbide. There were three carbides that were considered, niobium carbide—these are all above the melting point that they’re going to run the reactor—niobium carbide, tantalum carbide, and zirconium carbide. Zirconium carbide has the lowest melting point, but also the lowest poisoning. Tantalum carbide has the highest melting point, but the highest poisoning, and niobium is right in between, niobium carbide.

Now, how are we going to put a thin coating of niobium carbide on these tubes? I hate to brag, but the process that I developed, a gaseous diffusion deposition process proved to be successful, depositing a uniform 2-mil coating of niobium carbide down the length of these tubes, these holes. Boy, it took a while. I mean, different things would conflict. Oh, seventeen years we worked on this program. They would test the reactors in Nevada and so forth.

I finally got a process that was successful in that they could fire the reactor up. This was going to be a second stage. In other words, they weren’t going to fire in on the ground. They were going to have a first stage chemical propulsion, and then a second stage to give the extra kick later.

Finally, got a process, gaseous diffusion process that worked, and they could run the reactor for some period of time, shut it down and start it up again, actually. Actually, they were only going to run it for just a couple of minutes, maybe, for the kick. But this way, they could run, shut it down.

Guess what? Just at that time, [President Richard] Nixon cut off the program, cut off the funding. The Rover program was done. Well, coincidence again, 1970, this is while the program was still going. I got a hot flash. I worked for the laboratory now two years at Oak Ridge, twenty-five years at Los Alamos. I thought, “Maybe I might have some productive years left. Maybe I’d like to do something different.”

I talked to my wife, and she said, “Well, what would you like to do?”

I said, “I think I’d like to teach kids. I’d like to teach school.”

She said, “Why don’t you do it?” Well, there’s two problems. Number one, I don’t have the Mickey Mouse courses that I need to get certified, psychology of education, teaching methods and a bunch of nonsense. Further, teachers don’t get paid very much. “Well, heck, we’d get by.”

Schiferl: Could you just give us an idea as to how the radio nucleide chemistry gives you the yield of a bomb? What do they measure?

Money: Well, apparently—I was not in on this myself. I just did the analyses. I was not in on the calculations, and that sort of thing. But apparently, it’s the distribution of the radionuclide that determines.

Schiferl: You’re making more of lanthanum or some things for a bigger yield or a smaller yield?

Money: Well, apparently, how much say lanthanum is produced, lanthanum-140. Well, actually, it would be barium-140 decaying into lanthanum-140, and how much of this fissionable material. But apparently, it has something to do with that. I was never in on those calculations.

Schiferl: Were you ever involved in any of the analysis, or the air sampling?

Money: No. Let’s put it this way. The air sampling was done, they used to fly drone planes through the cloud, and the drone planes had boxes under the wings with filters in the box. The air traveling through onto the filters, apparently. I stayed in the laboratory, but we did have some technicians, some people that did go to do the sampling.

As a matter of fact, we had a serious accident that happened. What happened on the Bikini shots is apparently, they had—now, I was not directly involved with this, I stayed at Los Alamos—but we had people that went to Bikini to take the samples. Apparently, they had long rods to get the filter paper and so forth. Unfortunately, what happened on one of the shots—see, there were two shots, one underwater and one air drop. What happened was the drones were, somehow, they came back late.

The decision was made that the short-lived isotopes were already gone, so probably the filters would not be that hot. The two or three guys that were involved in taking the filters out and putting them where they were supposed to put them did it by hand. They got serious, serious burns, mostly beta burns, which are skin burns. That was a serious accident. But I was never involved in the sampling.

Schiferl: Did you know anything about the Christmas Eve accident?

Money: At the what?

Schiferl: The Christmas Eve accident?

Money: Yes, that was Cecil Kelley. Wonderful guy, wonderful guy. Oh, I just felt so bad. He never went by the name of Cecil, he went by the name of Kelley. Even his wife called him Kelley. Everybody knew him by Kelley, “Hey, Kelley.” This is something I was going to tell you in a moment. Let me just carry on just a little bit.

In order for me to go and teach school, I had to get certified, 1970. I don’t have the Mickey Mouse courses that I need. Just at that time, coincidentally, Cecil Kelley, who was involved in recovery at DP West, just west of us, west of our laboratory, here it was coming to the end of the year, and he as always, worked by himself in this little laboratory. 

By that time, apparently, the laboratory—now, I’m just talking, not by personal experience, but from what I heard and understood. The laboratory had already determined safe geometry tanks for solutions. You could have a tank of a certain diameter. You could go up to heaven with it and fill it up with plutonium or U-235, and because of the geometry, it would not be dangerous. 

Unfortunately, here’s Cecil Kelley involved in recovery, and he has stainless steel tanks. He has the primary tank with an electric stirrer. Coming toward the end of the year, and unfortunately, coincidentally again, all the groups are trying to get rid of their waste to get them off the books. He’s getting a little bit overloaded with material to process.

Unbeknownst to him, a sludge—we talk about the sludge now coming out of the rivers and so forth—a sludge was building up in the bottom of his first tank of fissionable material. The analytical group was not getting back the information quickly enough to him to realize that all of the stuff is not coming out all the time. You follow me? So a residue was building up from each batch.

Finally, on this particular day, he put in probably his acid solution of nitric acid or whatever, and put the last batch in and went to the wall to flip the switch to start the stir. The stir brought up the sludge from the bottom and mixed with the new stuff. It went critical. The big flash.

I heard that what he thought, “Of course, it overloaded the circuit breaker and it knocked off the stir, so the stir stopped.” He thought that a circuit breaker, the circuit breaker had gone off, so he goes over to the wall and he flips the switch again. I heard that he flipped the switch two times, and it started again. So he actually got two flashes. It was far more radiation than anybody else has ever received in peacetime.

As I say, I thought I might have, in 1970 or so, I thought I might have a couple of productive years left in my life. I had worked now for Los Alamos twenty-five years and two years at Oak Ridge. I thought maybe I’d like to do something different. My wife asked me what I would like to do and I said, “I think I’d like to teach kids.”

She says, “Go ahead and do it.”

I said, “There’s a big problem. I don’t have the necessary courses to get certified. Even though I’m working as a chemist, I can’t teach chemistry, because I don’t have the Mickey Mouse education courses to teach, teaching, education, teaching methods, psychology of education and so forth.”

But, as I say, what happened, unfortunately, my very, very good friend, Cecil Kelley got killed in a nuclear explosion, so-called, at DP West [in 1958]. He was a chemical technician working by himself. He always did good work, and the accident was not his fault. It was a combination of things that caused this accident.

However [later in 1970], the group, the laboratory director, who was Harold Agnew at the time, made a mandate that chemical technicians could no longer work unsupervised by staff members. There had to be at least one staff member in attendance when technicians are doing their work.

We were involved in a program that required about six technicians to come in at 4:00 in the afternoon to continue the work that we had started during the day. These were chemical technicians that fully knew what they were doing, and they continued the work until midnight or so.

They could no longer work by themselves. So group leaders had, to the three of us—there were only three of us staff members involved in this particular program—that, “You guys are going to have to split the year and come in at 4:00 instead of 8:00, so you can be here at night. You take your choice, get together and decide who wants to go first and whatever.”

I said, “Hey, guess what? I’ll the whole year.”

“You will?”

“Yeah, I’ll take the whole year.”

“Well, okay.”

Guess what? I had the daytime to go back to school, and so I went to the College of Santa Fe and picked up the education courses that I needed. It took a year. I continued working for the laboratory, 4:00 to 12:00. Along about in August, when I had finished getting certified—and I expected to be certified to teach chemistry, that’s what I am. But I had enough courses to qualify to teach all of the science courses, other than biology, and all of the math courses.

I got a call from a Mr. Benito Duran, Mesa Vista High School. He said, “How about coming up here and teaching our math and science courses?”

I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Duran, but I’m still working for the lab.”

“Yeah, but I understand you’ve been working, going to school in the daytime and working for the lab at night.” He said, “What would the difference be?”

I said, “Heck, I don’t know. Let me ask my boss.”

I talked to my group leader, and he as much as told me, “If you’re crazy enough to do it, go ahead.” That first year, I didn’t have to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. I had a chance to find out if I really wanted to do this. The first year I spent working at the laboratory at nights and teaching at Mesa Vista during the day.

When Nixon cut off our funding—just think how things fit together—when Nixon cut off our funding for the program, all of us had an opportunity to go to other groups to work, but it meant that I’d have to go back to working days. Now, I could make my decision as to whether I wanted to stay at the laboratory or not.

I had this opportunity to get the experience, and so I decided to retire from the lab. They gave me an early retirement, so I didn’t have to put up with the poor teacher pay. That’s how I made the switch. Instead of the two or three years that I thought I might work, I continued teaching for another thirty-five. Just retired from teaching just a couple of years ago.

Atencio: You taught school thirty-five years?

Money: Yeah.

Atencio: After working for lab for twenty-five?

Money: Twenty-seven.

Atencio: Twenty-seven.

Money: Yeah.

Schiferl: That’s two full careers.

Money: Yeah.

Atencio: One time before, when I talked to you previously, you said that when you left Oak Ridge, the doctor said there you gotten too much radiation to ever have children.

Money: Oh, yeah. I can tell you about that. What happened was that at Oak Ridge—I don’t think I’m violating security when I talk about certain elements.

Schiferl: Not anymore.

Money: Okay. The Fat Man explosives, plastic lenses, to direct the thing. In order to test the uniformity of this device, someone got the hot idea that, “Hey, guess what? Supposing, instead of having the plutonium in the middle, supposing we have something that gives off high radiation in the middle that we could have detectors in different places around it, and see if this one detects the same amount of radiation as this and this and this and this.”

Well, X-ray, no. How about gamma rays? Okay. It just so happens lanthanum-140 gives off a two MeV gamma, two MeV gamma. One MeV is the equivalent to the radiation from one gram of radium. You can imagine the intensity of this radiation, two MeV gamma. It’s the daughter of barium. Barium has a 12.5-day half-life. Lanthanum-140 has a forty-hour half-life.

Someone got the hot idea: supposing, just supposing we get a bunch of barium-140 and quickly reaches equilibrium with the gamma. With the lanthanum, the barium gets in equilibrium with the lanthanum. Now you have this hot two MeV gamma.

Los Alamos came to our group, the group that I joined in Oak Ridge before I got there, and said, “Hey, could you develop a process?” We had the only reactor in the whole world. “Could you develop a process to isolate, separate and ship a large quantity of lanthanum-140 to Los Alamos?”

What this means is bombarding uranium in the reactor, then taking the uranium and dissolving it in nitric acid and separating through chemical process, separating barium from all the other elements that are produced, and it’s a whole mass.

Separate the barium and then isolate the barium and ship the barium. Before the barium gets to Los Alamos by truck, it’s already in equilibrium with the gamma, with the lanthanum, and they’ve got the high energy source.

We were given the job of producing a batch of 500 curies, 500 curies of barium or lanthanum-140. That’s 500 grams of radium, that’s a half a kilogram. That was the reason for the coveralls that I saw when I walked in the door, and the booties and the hats and all this kind of thing. Stainless steel tanks.

Originally, they had set up going through a standard analytical process like you have in your college analytical chemistry, separating barium from all the other elements when I got there. Things were working pretty well until they finally decided to test a little larger amount, and they found that the radiation was causing a colloid to form when they were separating the barium from the lead. It was stymied.

I suggested going through a little change in the process of changing to a solid metathesis type of operation using fifty percent potassium carbonate, which is a heavy potassium carbonate, and going through—well, anyway, it worked.

So yes indeed, we were able to ship that first batch of 500 curies of a combination of barium and lanthanum out to Los Alamos. It was successful. Oh, they were happy at Los Alamos, and so they say, “Hey, wow.” We thought that was done, that was all it was going to be, just like when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, that’s it. 

Apparently, they organized a whole group here at Los Alamos, and I think it later became Ten Site or something, to do this work. I’m not sure about that, but I think that was where they were doing it. They said, “How about shipping us 1,000 curies?”

Can you imagine? Now, they worry about trucks carrying waste material from this place across the country to that place. We were shipping 500 curies from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Knoxville, out to Los Alamos.

Anyway, the way the last batch was done, ends up in a little tantalum cone. We had to do it all by remote control. We had lead cells, thick lead concrete, I mean, we had concrete cells with lead doors on them and so forth.

Schiferl: How thick would the lead have to be to stop those two MeV gamma?

Money: The lead door was about like that.

Schiferl: About a foot thick.

Money: Yeah.

Schiferl: Wow.

Money: Yeah. Anyway, the last business was dripped into a tantalum cone and evaporated, so the barium was down at the cone, at the bottom of the cone. Of course, already the lanthanum was being produced. Remotely we took the tantalum cone and put it into a lead tank, lead lined container, and pulled it out of the cell.

The truck backed up to the door and we took—by crane, of course—took the lead container and dropped it into—this is a flatbed truck—and dropped that thing into another lead container on the truck. That’s what was shipped.

The next thing they said was, “Hey, how about 1,000 curies?” Well, guess what? This was the reason for the glass I was telling you about, the glass-blowing the guy was worrying about. Because the last part of the process was done in glass, the final steps were done in glass. We had, oh, real nice glass configurations.

The radiation was so high that it turned the glass black. The pivot glass was no longer see-through, it was black. This was inside the cell. Of course, no longer could we use that equipment. The stainless tanks were okay for the original, for the start of the operation just dissolving the uranium slugs and so forth.

But we could no longer use the glass. If we’re going to ship another batch, we’re going to have to get in there and get rid of that hot glass and replace it with new glass.

That stuff was burning hot, and our group leader, Charles, said, “Well, okay.” Probably about, oh, ten of us, “Give you two minutes.” Okay. I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t even two minutes, maybe it was a minute or something. But in those days, we didn’t have, we didn’t have film batches yet. We had so-called electroscopes, little like little–

Atencio: Dosimeters?

Money: Huh?

Atencio: Dosimeters.

Money: Yeah, dosimeter, a little pen type of operation, you know. They never could read ours, because they were just done. When we finally got film badges, they couldn’t read the film badges.    

We had to get in there and break up the glass and replace it with new glass and so forth. Finally, it got to the point where they built a whole new building, because this is going to be a continuous process and we were no longer involved. There was another group that came in and took over the process and ran it.

We had to go in for periodic physical examinations, just like Los Alamos people do. I’ll never forget this one, one visit I took, went into the doctor and he looked up my record of radiation and so forth.

He said, “Well, Mr. Money, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I understand you’re not married yet.”

I said, “No, sir, I’m not.”

“Well, if I’m looking at your radiation here, I hate to tell you this, but if you ever marry, I doubt very seriously if you’ll ever be able to father children.” Since then, I fathered twelve that I know.

Schiferl: All healthy, I take it.

Money: He was worried about the radiation on the testicles is supposed to make you sterile. But, no, my group leader, as I say, his comment was when we had to go in and clean the stuff up, “Whatever my boys are taking, I’m going to take twice as much.” He died of skin cancer shortly after the war ended. Charles Coryell, wonderful guy.

You probably have heard of promethium. Have you heard of promethium? That element, when I was going to high school and going to college, was called illinium, IL, because a team of scientists at the University of Illinois fudged the data and proved to the people that count that they had discovered element 61. So they got the privilege of naming it illinium.

We were lucky. We had the first atomic reactor. Beautiful. Because when the war ended, now we no longer had to concentrate our efforts on an atomic bomb. Now, we could do other research. Charles Coryell not only was a fantastic scientist, but he had a fantastic intuition, I think.

He went to a couple of my buddies, Jack Marinsky and Larry Glendenin, and he said, “Boys,” he said, “I’d like you to work something. Dow Chemical had just brought in exchange resins.” You know what exchange resins are? They use them now to purify water and all this kind of thing. Exchange resins had just come into being, and Coryell knew about them.

He said, “Hey, guess what, guys? I’ve got some of this new stuff here, this resin.” They called it IR-1 at the time. I don’t know why, what the IR-1 stood for. He said, “I want you to run a sample of the solution from the pile.” They didn’t call it a reactor, they called it a pile, because if you remember at Chicago, when they first set up the reactor it was a pile of graphite blocks.

This thing in Oak Ridge was a bunch of graphite blocks impregnated with uranium. “I want you to go to the pile and bombard some of this stuff, and then I want you to put the solution through this thing,” and so forth, gave them some instructions.

Guess what? He said, “I don’t believe that element 61 exists in nature.” He said, “I think those guys at Illinois fudged their data, and I don’t think 61 appears in nature. I want you to test this.” Sure enough, by doing the experimentation that he asked them to proceed with, they isolated element 61.

Coryell got the privilege of naming it. Since it was made in the first atomic reactor, he named it after the Greek, the mythological Greek Prometheus, who brought the fire down from the mountaintop, and called promethium. That’s what it’s called today. Now the people that go to high school and college, they just take for granted, “Yeah, that’s promethium, yeah, we know about that stuff. “ 


Copyright 2017 Willie Atencio and David Schiferl. Rights granted to Atomic Heritage Foundation.