Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Short films about the Manhattan Project and secret research at Oak Ridge during WWII

The American Museum of Science and Energy (link) in Oak Ridge, TN shows several films in its theater. 
The most important short is probably “The Day Tomorrow Began” (1967), a history of how the Fermi reactor was built in Chicago  (at Argonne National Laboratories, as the “Chicago Pile”) in 1942, and the replicated at Oak Ridge.  A number of scientists, many Jewish, were alarmed at how Hitler seemed to be moving toward acquisition of nuclear technology before WWII began officially in 1939.  This led to the first sustainable chain reaction leading to enriched uranium.  Scientists and workers had to build a huge honeycombed structure housed by lead and graphite, with individual pellets of uranium to be inserted, the purest in the middle, and controlled by cadmium rods.

“The Oak Ridge Story” (10 minutes) tells the history of the lab in the 1940s, after federal agents came to east Tennessee and told poor farmers to get out (they were compensated under eminent domain eventually).  About 20000 workers had to be housed in the new “secret city” in pre-manufactured housing.

I have seen “The Enola Gay Story”, about the bombing of Hiroshima, in the past.  It’s a good predecessor to the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor”. 
"Ten Seconds that Shook the World” was shown during my visit (because of the tour), but is available on Amazon video.  But it can be rented from Amazon for $3.99 (50 minutes, about 1950).  Directed by Alan Landsburg and narrated by Richard Basehart, it takes the history of Fermi all the way to Hiroshima.  Civilian scientists were "drafted" to Oak Ridge, Hanford or Los Alamos and not allowed to leave until after the War  There was a fear that Fermi's experiment could destroy Chicago, or that the New Mexico test in 1945 could ignite the world. The "ten seconds" refer to the countdown in the Trinity New Mexico test. 

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