I was in Knoxville, Tennessee at the beginning of October picking up my BFF Bob for our road trip to Orlando. We were going for coffee when I saw the National Park Service sign for the Manhattan Project. Bob was not aware of the park, so I decided to look into it and there is a National Park for the K25 site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In 2015, The Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Oak Ridge was authorized as part of the Levin and McKeon National Defense Authorization Act. The Department of Energy owns, preserves, and maintains the park facilities and the National Park Services administers the park, interprets the story of the Manhattan Project, and provides technical assistance to the DOE on historic preservation.
K25 was the codename given to the site in Oak Ridge for the part of the Manhattan Project program that produced enriched uranium for atomic bombs using the gaseous diffusion method. After the war, sites K-27, K-29, K-31, and K-33 were to continue this program. In 1955, the site was renamed the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant. To this day, the area operates as a national security complex for a manufacturing facility for nuclear weapons components and related defense purposes by supporting “defense needs through stockpile stewardship, assistance on issues of nuclear non-proliferation, support for the Naval Reactors program, and to provide expertise to other federal agencies. Y-12 is also responsible for the maintenance and production of all uranium parts and “secondary” mechanisms for every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal.”(Wiki Y-12).
K25 stand for Kellex 235. Kellex is a subsidiary of the Kellogg Corporation, who specialized in chemical engineering. Kell stood for Kellogg and the X was for secret. the 25 is part of the indicator for uranium. The subsidiary was to be kept secret because of the sensitivity of the Manhattan Project. Kellex was in charge of designing a facility, processes and equipment to enable to produce enriched uranium from the gaseous diffusion method. The headquarters in Oak Ridge was just one site used by the Kellex Corporation.
That is an extremely brief history of what has become the major turning point of World War II. The Manhattan Project produced two different types of combs “Fat Man”, a plutonium implosion-type nuclear weapon and “Little Boy”, an enriched uranium gun-type fission weapon. After the development of the bombs, they were tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on to Hiroshima killing up to 166,000 people. On August 9, 1945, the Bockscar dropped “Fat Man” on to Nagasaki killing up to 120,000 people. This provided the Allies with a victory. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945.
We started at the NPS Manhattan Visitor Center which is housed inside the Children’s Museum. The ranger gave us a wonderful overview with pictures from that time period. It was a wonderful introduction to the sites and gave us an overview of the project sites. There is a map available, and he outlined which sites were closed to Covid.
Bob is familiar with the area, and we began our journey by stopping at the guard stations. These buildings are not open. There is a small parking area behind the larger station and there is a informational placard there.
We then moved on to the K25 site. It is a little difficult to find. It is in the back of the complex next to the fire station.
The inside was a gem of a museum. We were greeted by an employee who was so sweet and smiled the whole time. There was a volunteer that actually worked at the site in 1974! He had met some of the engineers who worked on the project and marveled at the stories that had to tell. A “security card” is offered and it allows the bearer further information through interactive displays. I learned a lot about the workers, pay, and life at the Secret City by choosing what I was interested in.
We were offered the intro movie. We watched it and I’m glad we did since it was an excellent introduction to the site. It starts out with an army officer coming out to “talk to the new employees”. He was projected on a side screen and would watch the film and look out over the crowd. Bob swears he was staring at him. After the short film, we wandered through the displays in the museum.
The volunteer joined us after a time asking if we had any questions. He told two very interesting stories. The first was of a teenager who could not find work in the secret city and went into Oak Ridge to work for a fast food chain that was having financial problems. This was not just any chicken fast food restaurant, but one made famous by a southern colonel. The teenager became highly involved in the business and helped the Colonel make the restaurant a success. That teenager went on to form his own fast food Empire. That young man was Dave Thomas of Wendy’s fame. The other story was about a uranium courier. These couriers would have some product in a locked briefcase that was handcuffed to them. The courier would take the briefcase to another courier. Those couriers did not know where the other came from or where the other was going. One particular courier began a breakfast empire through the Waffle House. It seems that the Manhattan project was the mother of invention.
The last part of the museum was a timeline of the Cold War and a photo gallery. It is not a huge museum and the telling of the K25 story is concise, informative, and well done. I appreciate the passion that the staff brought to the site. Well done! If you have an opportunity to visit this site, do. It is a dark point in our history and the K25 museum does a wonderful job of telling the story.