Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Secret City. (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) History, Facts and Pictures, Including First Nuclear Reactor Ever.

What I learned and saw during my Secret City tours.

Oak Ridge Tennessee has the 'Secret City' Festival every year that is a Friday and Saturday.

On the Friday is the one day a year that the public can view and tour the Y12 Facilities, X10  now called ORNL - Oak Ridge National Laboratories  and the K25 areas.

You have to be a U.S. citizen and it is only a one day event of tours.  My sister and I got to Oak Ridge at 9 am (6/13/14) to get signed up for the DOE tour which only takes 35 people and is at noon.  Once we signed up at 9:05 am and there were only 4 seats left for the tour, we made our way over to the Y12 area to get into a tour there.

We lucked out as we had not reserved any spots but they had 2 available for the 9:50 am Y12 tour.

During the Y12 tour, no cameras were allowed.  We were searched before getting on the bus making sure we did not have cameras or cell phones.  The military scanned us with hand held metal detectors.

Y12 complex is very large, it is in a valley between mountains which divide it and the original X10 (now ORNL) complex.  They did this in case there as an explosion at one area it would not affect the other (yeah, right).

A military police person got on the bus with us and our tour guide was a current scientist with Y12.

I asked the tour guide "Why was Oak Ridge chosen for the location?"  He said that Congress nor the Vice President (Truman at the time) knew about Oak Ridge.  Roosevelt, went to the Congressman of the Ways and Means committee and said he needed a lot of money for something that he couldn't say what but it was big.  He needed 2 billion dollars to build big buildings.  They would need an unlimited supply of electricity for it also.  Oak Ridge was chosen for 2 reasons, TVA was located here and had just finished the Norris Dam, which provided a large amount of energy and the Congressman in charge of the money was from Tennessee.  Thus Oak Ridge was decided upon as being the location and center of the Manhattan Project.  ***Oak Ridge used 20% more electricity than New York City in 1945***

We were told that government officials were seen doing surveying around the whole area and farms.  Then people received  notices from the government they needed to be out in 60 to 90 days at the most and in many cases less time.  They were paid $25 per acre with 1000 homesteads being taken over by the government for Oak Ridge. I saw letters from those who had farms at a church we visited that is still standing in the ORNL area saying they only had 15 days to leave.  They also had to stake claims with the government for their contents in their houses and personal items.  After the people were kicked out they tried to buy other farms, so the price of land went sky high around the area for farms since there were so many buyers.  The farmers were then unable to buy land due to what they were paid and what the price was when they wanted to start another.

We were taken to the first building built for the Manhattan Project.  The 9731 building.  Inside an older man ( approximately in his late 80s to early 90s) was there.  He began speaking to us about the project and said he was there from the very beginning when Oak Ridge Y12 was being built.  He was a scientist there.  He told us that no one knew what they were working on and no one knew what another was doing that was sitting next to them.  They were all sworn to secrecy about their jobs.  What I found bizarre and it seemed no one else caught was he said "If anyone did talk about what they were doing, they disappeared."  I thought that was strange, instead of saying they were 'fired', he said "they disappeared."  That made me assume that the government then silenced them (which is hinted at in the article linked towards the bottom of someone who was there during that time) because what they were doing was top secret.

Signs in Oak Ridge at the time.

After we were in the 9731 building and the older man finished his speaking, which he said "Once the bombs were dropped on Japan, we figured out that is what we had been doing here in Oak Ridge."  He continued saying "We were all so proud of what we accomplished and did for the war effort and ending the war."  Needless to say, I bit my tongue.  I thought, I would not be proud of having my government murder hundreds of thousands of innocent people in cities by dropping a toxic bomb on them that will affect them for generations to come.  I also thought I would not be proud of creating the most toxic and Earth killing substances known to mankind.   There were many who walked up to him and shook his hand, thanking him for what he did for the country and for what they created there.  I was surprised at people saying that.  I did shake his hand because he was there at the beginning, even though I believe his ideas are misguided on what Oak Ridge accomplished for mankind.

We observed Uranium Beta processors that would separate Uranium 235 from 238.  Uranium 235 is what can be enriched for weapons, where as 238 ended up being used to create plutonium , the only man made element - PU (which we will get to that at the X10, ORNL tour).  Uranium 235 went through these huge processors that had magnets which was able to separate the 235 and 238.  The units were very large, about 20 feet tall and the sides of them had huge steel plates that were approximately 4 feet in width and 1 inch that were plated together.  We were told Uranium went through the Beta process first and then when the 235 was separated from the 238, the 235 then went through Alpha processors to enrich it.  There were approximately 1100 Beta processors  built at Oak Ridge.  K25 had the majority of them at that complex (which was miles from the Y12 complex).  They had on display the Big Boy and Little Boy bombs style that were dropped on Japan next to the Beta processor, besides other style of nuclear bombs.

Since pictures are not allowed and never have been in the Y12 complex, I can only describe and tell you about it.  When we were driving inside the complex (we had gone through one security stop) I observed other areas that had major security check points.  The extra check points had razor wire around them and metal barriers that were up.  We passed by a building that was approximately 3 stories high with look out towers on every corner.  The building was huge and all white without any windows except for the look out towers.  I saw that there were 3 rows of fencing that were complete razor wire.  It was not just single razor wire for each one, but there was not even an open air spot as the razor wire were touching each other.  Those 3 fence lines were about 20 feet from each other.  I guessed that, it is where they store the uranium and it is obviously well protected.  Our guide did not mention the building, but my sister who had done the tour 2 years ago, said that guide at that time said it was where it was all stored.  So my guess was correct about it.  We passed by another area that was another security check point, with heavily armed personnel including razor wire, steel barriers.  I have no idea what was behind that check point.

Here is a picture the government released a couple of years ago showing the current Y12 complex

Edit to add:  I just found a picture of the building itself on the internet  Interesting that the government released this

Our Y12 tour ended after an hour and we made our way back to the Oak Ridge Science and Energy museum to get on our DOE noon tour.

The DOE tour was 3 hours long.  We found out that all the people who work at Oak Ridge in Y12, ORNL, K25 areas are not federal employees.  The U.S. contracts out the employment to other corporations.  The first corporation to have the contract in the 1940s was Eastman Kodak and Dupont had it at Hanford.  Since then a host of very large corporations have had the employee contract, including Union Carbide, Lockheed Martin, Monsanto, Martin Marietta.  Right now UT Battelle LLC manages the ORNL section.  We were told they were now in a transition phase of management once more.  I just researched who was taking over, since our guide did not mention who it was.  I have found that Bechtel and Babcock and Wilcox (hhmmm... interesting name) are going to be the new management company in Oak Ridge.
X10 Complex

We were taken to the very first nuclear reactor (graphite reactor) at X10, now ORNL.  I had no idea the very first nuclear reactor was there in Oak Ridge.  It was built to create plutonium for the Manhattan Project.  General Groves, who had just finished being in charge of the building of the Pentagon was the one in charge of all the facilities getting built in Oak Ridge.  He wanted a back up for the uranium bomb, so they used the Uranium 238 to absorb atoms to create PU - Plutonium.  The idea was to have a bomb with both plutonium and uranium together.  We were allowed to take pictures inside the building but not outside.  The reason was there was reactor that was new right behind the original one.  I can tell you, from what I saw that new reactor was none like I have ever seen before.  It was very strange in the design, there was a missile like thing protruding out of it.  Needless to say there was fencing and razor wire surrounding the area also.  It was just feet from the original one.

Here are the pictures of inside the building of the very first nuclear reactor ever built.  They have mannequins in front of it showing how they worked it.  Those are individual holes that rods went into ... throughout the side.

**Note, you can click on the pictures and they will become very large for you to see more detail. **

Here are pictures of the Control Room panel.  It looks a lot different from today's nuclear control rooms from pictures I have seen.

Here is a picture of a side room, right off the control room that the fuel rods came out of.  From my understanding the box you see is the actual one that held the fuel for the first nuclear bombs that were set off in Japan

1952 Workers at Graphite Reactor

It was decided that Oak Ridge had too many people for plutonium to be made there, so the government decided to build Hanford in Washington State due to the low population of that area.   Years ago I researched Hanford.  It is a toxic soup bowl there that has been leaking nuclear waste for years.  People in near by areas (Yakima) now are having babies with birth defects, major cancer rates and miscarriages.   Of course doctors and the government say they don't know why all this is happening to the people around there.


I just found that the BBC did an article about Hanford last week.  
Hanford, Washington, has long been the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US. But critics say poor management has put the site in further danger.

There are some MSM news articles just a couple of months ago in March about the nuclear waste leaks at Hanford:

Massive Leak Hanford - getting worse (March 2014)
Possible New Leak at Hanford from NBC (March 2014)

Those are just two recent articles about leaks, there are many more.

Outside around the corner from the graphite reactor our guide pointed out how radioactive buildings are being torn down and the remediation of the radioactivity of the area.  He pointed out one building he said they were working on as it was very radioactive still.  Here is the picture of that structure.  Of course this is in a secured area of ORNL through a check point.  I guess that is why they only have a fence around it.  From what he said the white crosses are radioactive cells.

At ORNL, the tour guide handed us a flyer about the next place we were going to.  We could not get off the bus at it but it was explained to us.  ORNL had just finished building an underground collider, it is similar to the Hadron Collider in Switzerland but it uses nuclear atoms instead.  It is called the spallation collider using mercury.  It is underground and is being used to study the structure of organic and in organic materials.  Scientist from all over the world are going there to use the collider.  Here are pictures of the flyer that was handed out to us about it.

After leaving ORNL we went to the K25 complex.  There was two large buildings near the public road that was pointed out as being New Uranium enrichment buildings.  Otherwise the whole K25 complex and what was the largest building anywhere before it was torn down (44 acre building) starting 2004 and continuing to this day,  is a toxic radioactive area.  K25 enriched uranium, it was where the majority of the 1100 beta processors were for Uranium.  The government wants individual businesses to build in the area now.... to make it a business complex.  Funny no private business has taken them up on that offer in the last 10 years.

Picture of K25 building in tact:

Here are pictures of the area now and a building that is being taken apart.
K25 Entrance 1945

What I found interesting about the K25 complex that was very different from the Y12 and ORNL areas, there were no security guards or check point.  There were simply signs saying it was government property and you could not come on it.  But there was nothing to really stop people from going into the area.  I guess the government doesn't mind if people go there and get radiated, at their own risk.  Yet, it was the most important area for the government in the 1940s as it is where all the fuel came from for the nuclear bombs.

You can see the large buildings in the background those are existing and in use Uranium enrichment buildings.   You can see a finger of the Clinch river in the forefront of the pictures.  Of course this feeds into other rivers.  Oak Ridge is known to have toxic water that nothing is done about.

By the way, all of these pictures were allowed in this article.  We did not take pictures in areas not allowed.

Was I impressed by my tours?

I don't believe impressed is actually a word I would use.  I was saddened that this was the place that caused hundreds of thousands to die and was the place where the most toxic and Earth destroying chemicals and bombs were started.  Yet I was fascinated by the history of it.

Various interesting notes......

the tour guide at the graphite reactor mentioned how nuclear reactors could have a chain reaction and there can be problems as shown from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear accidents.

I waited for him to mention Fukushima, but funny he did not.  I guess they don't want to talk about an on going nuclear disaster.   Fukushima Reactor 3 which exploded is a Mox Fuel (plutonium) reactor.
Needless to say, I have had a lot about Fukushima on the blog over the past few years.

Another bit.... who ever thought slavery was dead in the 1940s is wrong.  The U.S. government basically had slavery to build the Oak Ridge facilities.  It seems they shipped in African Americans and housed 6 of them in a 16X8 building without electricity or water.  They had different housing for different workers with blacks being at the bottom tier.  They were not treated well.  Below in the article I have included some of what a writer (who lived inside as a boy in the 40s) said about how the Blacks were treated.

Oh, the tour guide added a point I wanted to relay.  The military generals in 1945, asked Truman (Roosevelt died, Truman took office and was then told about Oak Ridge) NOT to use the bombs on Japan.  They said "Just show Japan the power of the bombs and threaten them, that will end the war."  But Truman decided not to take their advice as he wanted to drop the bombs and show the power of the U.S.  and because they had spent billions on the project so they wanted to use the bombs on the cities to see the full affect from them.  So Truman murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people against the advice of the top military brass.  Here is a link that goes to Truman's announcement on T.V. of the bomb being dropped and how the U.S. showed power as never seen before on the Earth with the bomb.

Oh... one other thing, that got me thinking about mysterious explosions as the one that occurred 2012 in Louisiana.    Our guide told us the test bomb (Trinity) was set off in New Mexico, with the government already having a cover story for the media and people.  They said the mysterious explosion was only a demolition site explosion, even though people saw and felt the vibration and light of it from 200 miles away.   That proves not everything we hear as an excuse for mysterious booms and explosions really is the truth.

Here is a picture of the first nuclear bomb (named Trinity) 16 minutes after it was tested:

Here is a great article from someone who grew up in Oak Ridge inside when his parents worked at the facilities.  It is an fascinating and interesting read that I highly recommend.

excerpts from above article/story:


At one time there were more than 75,000 of us living there, and an additional work force of 40,000 was commuting from surrounding communities - soldiers and civilians, men and women - all under military rule, all protected by barbed wire and roadblocks and armed guards and patrol boats and mounted sentries. And everybody lived under the watchful eye of the FBI and military intelligence. Nobody, nobody, was allowed to talk about what he was doing. There was a war on. The enemy was listening.
Even we children were taught not to talk about things we saw, no matter how strange. And so, when I almost stepped on my elementary school teacher and a soldier making love in the picnic grounds behind a little white chapel, I never uttered a word. The Germans never found out.
One in four adults was a government informant, many of them enlisted from the workplace with orders to file weekly reports of any loose talk or security breaks. Even our future mayor was a spy. We didn't know it then, but intelligence agents hung around cafeterias and restrooms and dormitories watching and listening. They posed as bus drivers and waiters, scientists and librarians. A loose tongue could get you a trip out of town. No one ever seemed to know where.

Cameras, telescopes, binoculars and firearms had to be registered with the military. No liquor was allowed, although some got through security checkpoints hidden inside dirty diapers or between a mother's legs. Phones were tapped. Mail was inspected. Some top scientists used aliases, and names of other key project personnel weren't allowed to appear in newspapers (only first names were used in reporting the high school's first football games). Death certificates of employees accidentally killed on the
project were classified and weren't delivered to next of kin until after the war. Some plant workers, including my parents, were called in for periodic lie-detector tests.

Every worker's background was checked by the FBI before he was hired. Then he was told only what he needed to know to do his job. In a building where operators worked with secret "stuff" 24 hours a day, secret men would come and collect the secret material and cover it with black hoods so that workers couldn't see what they were making.

NO ONE HAS EVER told the whole story of this town, and perhaps no one ever will. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction about a magic kingdom. Many of its secrets are in graves now with the men and women who helped create it, and other mysteries lie still buried in concrete vaults beneath the rolling landscape - here and there and God knows where. Those burial grounds, alas, are among the most controversial in the world, an issue that has cast a shadowy blight on the city's once heroic wartime legend.

In keeping with practices in the South at the time, blacks were segregated, rode in backs of buses and got the worst jobs. And in the earliest days, they weren't allowed to live with their spouses or have their children with them or leave their compounds after 10 p.m. Five-foot fences topped with barbed wire separated the men's hutments from the women's. At night, patrolling MPs sometimes pulled down bleeding men from the fences.

Most white townspeople were never aware of the blacks' living conditions. We saw them mostly in their workplace. Later, when the war was over and the Army was gone, Oak Ridge would become the first town in the South to integrate its school system. But during the '40s, the Army was not out to promote social change. Its mission was solely to complete a project as rapidly and with as little resistance as possible. The town was always of secondary interest.

Only a handful knew it, but on Nov. 4, 1943, just 14 months after the first parcel of land had been purchased in Tennessee, the world's first full-scale graphite nuclear reactor went critical at X-10. Criticality, a controlled nuclear chain reaction, was achieved on a grand scale. Nine miles to the east, the electromagnetic separation plant (code name Y-12) and later the gaseous diffusion separation plant (K-25) began turning out U-235, the weapons-grade uranium, the "stuff" for which our secret atomic city had been built.

ON AUG. 6, A MONDAY, WE WERE JUST SITTING down for lunch when my father heard President Truman come on the radio. We huddled around the set. A B-29, he announced, had dropped a new kind of bomb on Hiroshima, a bomb more powerful than 20,000 tons of conventional explosives - and the main component had come from Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"It's a bomb!" my father shouted. "We've been making an atom bomb!" My sister, Mary Glenn, began to cry, partly out of fear and partly because she had been told by my father that they were making paper dolls at the plants.
As quickly as you could say "atomic bomb," the secret of my home town was out - and no town was ever quite so proud. Oak Ridge, not even in existence when the war started in 1941 (and at war's end, still not shown on maps of Tennessee), suddenly was known all over the world. We who had uprooted ourselves from our homes all over America to live here in secrecy, we who were from virtually every walk of life, we who had joined hands for three years in the '40s and lived under military dictatorship to help win a war, we were suddenly reading about ourselves in the newspapers and hearing about our town in radio broadcasts.
As soon as Truman finished making his announcement, neighbors spilled into their yards and formed snake lines in the streets. Car horns and fire hall sirens sounded and firecrackers exploded (how did they ever get them through the security gates, I wondered). Wives telephoned their scientist husbands at the plants: "Hey, now I know what you've been working on!"
Waldo Cohn, then a young biochemist at X-10, and some of his colleagues knocked off work, drove to the center of town and became engulfed in a spontaneous parade. They stuck their heads out of car windows and waved and shouted words they had been forbidden to utter:
"Nuclear fission!"

The Brookings Institute found the U.S. spent $20 BILLION dollars on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.  

The Costs of the Manhattan Project

The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.

- All figures in constant 1996 dollars -

Expenditures through August 1945:*

*Includes costs from 1940-42 for the National Defense Research Council and the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Excludes $76 million spent by the Army Air Forces on Project SILVERPLATE from September 1943 through September 1945 (Project SILVERPLATE covered the modification of 46 B-29 bombers in support of the Manhattan Project, trained the personnel of the 509th composite bombing group, and provided logistical support for units based at Tinian Island, launching point for the attacks on Japan).

$20 billion

Comparison With Selected WWII Expenditures:

Statistical Review?World War II: A Summary of ASF Statistics
, Statistics Branch, Control Division, Headquarters, Army Service Forces, U.S. War Department, 1946, pp. 75-6. Cost data are for 1942-1945. The total cost to the United States for World War II was approximately $3.3 trillion.)
All bombs, mines and grenades — $31.5 billion
Small arms materiel (not incl. ammunition) — $24 billion
All tanks — $64 billion
Heavy field artillery — $4 billion
All other artillery — $33.6 billion

Atomic devices/bombs produced and date detonated:

GadgetJuly 16, 1945Alamogordo
Little BoyAugust 6, 1945Hiroshima
Fat ManAugust 9, 1945Nagasaki
Bomb No. 4unused

Average cost per atomic device/bomb:
$5 billion

Where Did The Money Go?

(estimated cumulative costs through December 31, 1945)


Then-year Dollars

Constant 1996 Dollars

OAK RIDGE (Total)$1,188,352,000$13,565,662,000
K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant$512,166,000$5,846,644,000
Y-12 Electromagnetic Plant$477,631,000$5,452,409,000
Clinton Engineer Works, HQ and central utilities$155,951,000$1,780,263,000
Clinton Laboratories$26,932,000$307,443,000
S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant$15,672,000$178,904,000
HANFORD ENGINEER WORKS$390,124,000$4,453,470,000
SPECIAL OPERATING MATERIALS$103,369,000$1,180,011,000
LOS ALAMOS PROJECT$74,055,000$845,377,000
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT$69,681,000$795,445,000
GOVERNMENT OVERHEAD$37,255,000$425,285,000
HEAVY WATER PLANTS1$26,768,000$305,571,000
Grand Total$1,889,604,000$21,570,821,000

My overall thoughts about The Secret City......

First it was a fascinating tour and I highly recommend it to everyone.  The next chance anyone will have of getting into Y12 will be next year on the Friday of the Secret City Festival.  It is always in June.  So mark your calendar. Here is the Secret City Festival website for you to watch for next years dates if you are interested. 

Overall, due to my feelings about nuclear bombs, reactors and nuclear fueled submarines/ships, I am not a nuclear supporter.  I believe it should never have been created in the first place.  I believe Fukushima has killed off most of the Pacific ocean and it is killing off the Earth.  Nuclear material is the one thing that can make the Earth dead besides killing people slowly and painfully.   I personally would never be proud to work at Oak Ridge or be a part of it from the beginning.    

 Truman did not have to drop the bombs on Japan but did so anyway.  

Here is the released unclassified Army footage of 'Little Boy' being loaded onto the Enola Gay, the plane taking off, arriving back and the and the bombing of Hiroshima

To me, it is very sad that Oak Ridge exist in the first place.  

I tried to put in as much informative information as possible for people to understand the founding of Oak Ridge and what it is like today. 

I do want to point out, both tour guides stressed due to Oak Ridge and the nuclear capabilities and their testing with IONS, the medical field has benefited and people have lived due to nuclear medicine.  They wanted to make sure we knew they were not just about bombs.

A special Thank you to my sister who took the pictures with her phone.  I did not bring a camera since the instructions said "No Cameras" but that ended up only being for the Y12 complex and areas outside the Graphite Reactor (so not to get a picture of the new one).  We had to sign papers stating we were U.S. citizens, we had to show IDs besides going through security for viewing the various Oak Ridge complexes.

I have to add this little tid bit.  It is typical government confusion (in my opinion).  Around the New Hope building, which is just outside the Y12 complex and is opened to the public, they had these signs.  What was confusing is the signs were located on these posts and the actual area where a person could go was about 50 yards down from the building, which you can not see in the picture.  I thought this was just too good not to take a picture of.  My thought was "I sure hope that who ever decided to put these type poles up with the signs, is not in charge of any nuclear facilities or materials."

Historic photos from Oak Ridge during the 1940s and 50s can be found at this site.  


  1. Sherrie , We are in the planning stages of moving from Connecticut to Monterey TN.
    I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this move to TN.
    Thanks, Reenie

    1. Hey,

      Never been there but I see it is in the country. I can't say much about it. But I have enjoyed being in Tn. over the last decade. It will definitely be warmer than Conn. and it is definitely more liberty minded in politics. You have your rights in the 2nd amendment compared to Conn.

      I hope it works out really well for you.

    2. Thanks Sherrie,your opinion means alot to me.

  2. That "Scientist" would be dead…fyi. They all died from cancer. And if you're really about the "truth" you would publish my comments.

  3. My grandfather said that when they were done buiding the bomb, that men came out in uniforms. So I really question how much the kid that lived in Oak Ridge really knew. His parents had to be beyond ignorant if they didn't have some kind of clue after the OSS officers came out in their uniforms. It wasn't after they dropped the bomb that they knew. The ones that shoot their mouths off, know the least. You also need to take the word Fact out of your title.