The creation of Los Alamos
The U.S. began by setting out a nuclear programme aiming to coordinate research. First of all, ensuring the possibility of chain reaction, in July 1942. Then, creating the first chain reaction in January 1943. Finally, culminating in the creation of a real atomic bomb in January 1945.
The « Los Alamos » centre
In September 1942, the dispersion of research locations and preliminary studies on nuclear weapons began to pose serious problems with regard to communication and coordination. This advocated the establishment of a large laboratory which would consolidate all the activities related to nuclear research. In the summer of 1942, Colonel Leslie Groves, who had previously overseen the construction of the Pentagon, was appointed head of the atomic weapons project. His first decision was to rename the project "The Manhattan District".
A scientist, Robert Oppenheimer, was responsible for coordinating, organising and overseeing all the research. On 2 December, 1942, below the Stagg Field bleachers at the University of Chicago, a team led by Fermi initiated the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The world's first atomic battery produced half a watt of power. A coded telephone call from Compton saying: "The Italian navigator (Fermi) has landed on the New World, the natives are friendly" to Conant, in Washington DC, announced the success of the experiment.
Henceforth, the Manhattan Project was launched and thousands of engineers and technicians were recruited and worked in secret to build nuclear weapons.
For the production of fissile material, two centres, Oak Ridge (Tennessee) and Hanford (Washington State) were selected. The Oak Ridge site was dedicated to the separation of uranium 235 using giant filters. The Hanford site produced plutonium, since the bomb could be built from uranium 235 or by using plutonium, created artificially from uranium.
A site for testing and developing the bomb, called "Los Alamos", New Mexico, was created. It was isolated and access could be controlled easily. The canyons in the surrounding area could be used for tests, including dangerous explosives. An ideal site for top-secret research.