History of the Atom Bomb Goes Online

Internal documents are full of fascinating tidbits.

The Department of Energy has started to post online the internal history of the first atomic bombs.

It was commissioned by Lt. Gen Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, which managed the nationwide complex of labs and factories that developed and produced the raw material for the first atom bombs in a crash three-year project that eventually employed 130,000 people and cost $26 billion in current dollars.

The Manhattan District History consists of 36 volumes grouped in eight books, with a third of the volumes, or parts of volumes, still classified. DoE said the rest of the volumes have been declassified, with some made available to the public on microfilm.

One of the online documents offers fascinating insights into Operation Peppermint, which aimed to determine whether the Germans had developed a radiological weapon, using among other things film distributed to troops to detect radiation fogging.

The bulk of the online collections detail development of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., gaseous diffusion plant to produce Uranium-235 and the Hanford, Wash., plutonium plant.  Hanford was so large – 586 square miles – that it gobbled up towns, farms and orchards, with federal prisoners tasked to operate the farms and orchards, an interesting fact gleaned from the online histories.

DoE said its Office of Classification and the Office of History and Heritage Resources, in collaboration with the department's Office of Science and Technical Information, have committed to making the full text of the entire thirty-six volume Manhattan District History available online.  Unclassified and declassified volumes will be scanned and posted as available, DoE said.

Classified volumes will be declassified with redactions, and the remaining unclassified parts made available to the public, posted incrementally as review and processing is completed.

Kudos to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy for unearthing these historical nuggets.