“DUPONT AND HANFORD
(Hanford Engineer Works, 1942)
Events > The Plutonium Path to the Bomb, 1942-1944
The scientists of the Met Lab had the technical expertise to design a production pile, but construction and management on an industrial scale required an outside contractor. The DuPont Corporation was an ideal candidate, but the giant chemical firm was hesitant to join the project due to concern over accusations that it had profiteered during World War I. On October 3, 1942, DuPont agreed to design and build the chemical separation plant for the production pile facility then planned for Oak Ridge. Leslie Groves tried to entice further DuPont participation by having the firm prepare an appraisal of the pile (reactor) project and by placing three DuPont staff members on the Lewis Committee. DuPont ultimately agreed to become the primary contractor for plutonium-related work, but because of continuing sensitivity about its public image its contract called for a total payment of only dollar over actual costs. In addition, DuPont vowed to stay out of the bomb business after the war and offered all patents to the United States government.
Groves had done well in convincing DuPont to join the Manhattan Project. DuPont’s proven administrative structure assured excellent coordination (Crawford Greenewalt was given the responsibility of coordinating DuPont and Met Lab planning), and Groves and Arthur Compton welcomed the company’s demand that it be put in full charge of the Oak Ridge plutonium project. DuPont had a strong organization and had studied every aspect of the Met Lab’s program thoroughly before accepting the assignment. While deeply involved in the overall war effort, DuPont expected to be able to divert personnel and other resources from explosives work in time to throw its full weight into the Oak Ridge plutonium project.
Locating the full-scale production plant at Oak Ridge soon came into question. Du Pont expressed great concern about the hazards of producing plutonium on a large scale, and Groves had misgivings about placing the facility adjacent to electromagnetic and gaseous diffusion plants. Furthermore, the site was uncomfortably close to Knoxville should a catastrophe occur, and, aside from potential hazards, sufficient generating power was not available at the site for yet another major facility. Thus the search for an alternate location for the full-scale plutonium facility began soon after DuPont joined the production team. A site with at least 225 square miles was required, according to Met Lab scientists and DuPont engineers. The planned three or four plutonium production reactors and one or two chemical separation complexes would need to be at least a mile apart for security purposes (ultimately three of each would be built during the war), and nothing could be allowed within four miles of the separation complexes for fear of radioactive accidents. Towns, highways, rail lines, and laboratories would have to be even further away.
On December 16, 1942, Colonel Franklin T. Matthias of Groves’s staff and two DuPont engineers headed for the Pacific Northwest and southern California to investigate possible production sites. Of the possible sites available, none had a better combination of isolation, long construction season, and abundant water for hydroelectric power than those found along the Columbia and Colorado Rivers. After viewing six locations in Washington, Oregon, and California, the group agreed that the area around Hanford, Washington, best met the criteria established by the Met Lab scientists and DuPont engineers. The Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams offered substantial hydroelectric power, while the flat but rocky terrain would provide excellent support for the huge plutonium production buildings. The ample siteof nearly one-half million acres was far enough inland to meet security requirements, while existing transportation facilities could quickly be improved and labor was readily available. Pleased with the committee’s unanimous report, Groves accepted its recommendation and authorized the establishment of the Hanford Engineer Works, codenamed Site W.
Sources and notes for this page.
The text for this page was adapted from, and portions were taken directly from the Office of History and Heritage Resources publications: F. G. Gosling, The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb (DOE/MA-0001; Washington: History Division, Department of Energy, January 1999), 28-29, and Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939-1946: Volume I, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), 188-90. Also used was Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb, United States Army in World War II (Washington: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1988), 108-9. Also used was Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb, United States Army in World War II (Washington: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1988), 108-9. The aerial photograph of the X-10 complex is courtesy the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.” From: https://www.osti.gov/manhattan-project-history/Events/1942-1944_pu/dupont_hanford.htm