Secrecy of the Manhattan Project essay

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It started in 1934, when government of the United States created an atomic bomb manufacturing company, Manhattan Engineer District. The main objective was to create an atomic bomb which could have helped the country to win the ongoing global war and it came to be known as the Manhattan Project. At outset, the project was to be kept as secret as it would have been possible from the Soviet Union. It was challenging for government of the United States to keep the project undercover in order to avoid cold war between America and states of the Soviet Union. However, the nuclear process was not welcomed by the citizens upon their realization but it was too late for the things to change.


The project was supervised by Brigadier General Leslie Groves who belonged to the Army Corps Engineers. He had recently supervised the construction of secret atomic communities which were created nearly overnight at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge in Tennessee. However, it is his previous experience of the construction of the atomic bombs that rendered him being employed by the government in the mission.  The weapon was to be built in Los Alamos laboratory under the supervision of physicist Robert Oppenheimer.

The Manhattan Project was faced by the first challenge when medical practitioners, researchers and members of the public demonstrated their opposition to the project. Their opposition was facilitated by fear of the effects of radioactive elements to the lives of humans targeted and also to the lives of Americans. Radioactive elements have unimaginable quantity which when mishandled negatively affect the lives of humans and animals. The effects are heritable implying that they cannot easily be controlled by artificial methods. In support of my position, public awareness of the project demonstrates that it was inevitable for American secret to leak to the Soviet Union.

The History of Atomic Bombs

Historically, the atomic bombs are believed to have been invented by Germans. This was in 1934, when they discovered nuclear fission which refers to the splitting uranium atom into two elements. They also discovered that chain splitting of the atoms produced energy of the nucleus. This discovery further led to the knowledge that massive splitting of nucleus would produce a massive explosion. German scientists also researched on the importance of the atomic fission in the manufacturing of weapons which could have used in the global war (Hilgartner 1982, 67).

In the year 1939, a renowned German scientist Albert Einstein is said to have written a letter to the president Roosevelt. The letter described the potential power that a nuclear bomb has but he opposed the use of the weapons because of the effects of the radioactive elements to the lives of the human. He also feared the discovery of the technology by Germans before their enemies the Americans. Surprisingly, Americans are believed to have discovered the weapons with out the conscious of the Soviet Union. To support my position, the project may not have remained a secret as earlier anticipated because it remains unknown how the secrets of the German discoverers leaked to the Americans.

The scientists who worked in the Manhattan project were kept in complete secrecy together with their families by the American government. Their drivers too were kept in secrecy whereby their driving licenses contained only the number in exclusion of the personal name. The relatives were also kept at a distant from somebody whereby they were not told where someone was working. This may have contributed to the failing of the   government's mission of keeping the project a secret because there might have some workers who revealed their work to the outsiders. In real sense, it is not possible for somebody fail to reveal a secret to a relative or some one who is close to the person (Rhodes 1986, 87).

More also, the hired scientists at Los Alamos were Jewish refugees whop had earlier come from Germany.  For instance, Edward Teller is believed to have left Germany in 1933 and settled in America in the same year. Others like Felix Bloch and Otto Frisch were also Jews who had fled Germany during the ruling of Adolf Hitler and they become instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb. This was an advantage tote America because if they had earlier stayed in Germany, it is believed that Hitler could have gotten the atomic bomb before the United States (Schwartz 1988, 145)

The Secrecy of the Project

The supervisors tried their best to keep the secret and moved to the extent of screening personal mails which were sent by the workers in order to ensure that no secret is sent out. Moreover, the geographical photographs also did not identify landscape of New Mexico where the project was underway. The government also made sure that axis powers did not have the knowledge on what that was going on at the isolated site. In supporting my argument, the isolation of the laboratory location from the axis power was a dangerous move. This is because it could have created a suspicion to the enemies who in turn could have demanded to know what was happening from the American government. The government response could have been vigorous leading to the cold war thus the cold war was inevitable provide the project was underway (Harrison 2000, 87)

In November 1942, through intermediation of an official of Eastman Kodak, general groves paid a call on a radiologist, Stafford Warren Rochester, of the University of Rochester as a move to bring together physicists and physicians in the project. They were in a mission to investigate what was going on in the project.  Dr. Warren told them that the project was meant to work on the cancer and some other works which they believed and left. This indicates that the project was no more a secret to the academicians who were carrying out investigations in order to get the evidence to their suspicions. This also implies that cold war between the government of the United States and soviet unions was inevitable since the traitors could have leaked the secret to them.

Thereafter, Dr. Warren was promoted to a colonel in the army of the United States and also medical director to the Manhattan project. In the army, he served as a deputy to the Dr. Hymer Friedell who was a radiologist and earlier worked with Dr. Stone in the University of California. Dr Stone also played a key role in the Manhattan project in the department of the medical research.  But medical researchers are believed to have had little knowledge on the health effects of radioactive elements such as uranium, polonium and plutonium. This indicates the faults of the project (Baker 1968, 67)

Later Stafford warren recalled the need for secrecy which compounded urgency of understanding and controlling the risks. The projects workers were afraid of the words of death or toxic hazards which are associated with the project to the surrounding communities because it could have led to the blowing up of the covered project. In case the surrounding communities became aware of the project mission, the secrets could have been revealed to the Soviet Union and government was working hard in order to make sure that it does not happen.  

The need to then secrecy of the project is believed to have given rise to the new discipline which was called health physics. The discipline was sought to understand the effects of radiation, monitor, and protect heath and safety of nuclear workers. Soon after, the project was inundated with data which was obtained from instruments which detected radiation from blood and urine samples. The first experiment was called "the clinical study of the personnel" according to what was written by Robert stone in 1943. The findings showed that many workers had been exposed to the radiation.

The Health Effects on the Nuclear Workers

In 1945, the Manhattan project memo discussed on whether it was necessary to inform the nuclear workers that the kidney diseases they suffered was facilitated by project work. To the supervisors, the disclosure could have attracted public attention and demoralize the workers leading to the failure of realizing the objective of the project. Therefore supervisors did not support the move to disclose the real cause of harmful health effects to most project workers. However, the memo was of great importance because it acted as a precursor of more harmful health effects (Fandel 2007, 65).

According to the memo, there was a necessity to taking urgent measures on how to protect project workers.  This could also have helped to safeguard the security of the Manhattan project. The memo recommended that the workers be rotated out and be prohibited to continue with the work incase further exposure resumes. The challenge which faced the implementation of the project findings was unavailability of other employees who could have steered on the project because the project had employed the brightest minds available at the time. The memo concluded by recommending the need for ethical considerations by the government and project supervisors.

It is still not clear on what decision that was made after the medical findings. But, the conflict between doctors, who were employed by the government and those who worked for the project and their common obligation to the government, did not disappear rather it increased its intensity. This is because each section of doctors had a common interest which was to make a god record to the government for further recommendations. 

However, another question which bothers many individuals is the extent to which workers were to be studied in order to obtain the needed information to protect their heath. Data from radium dial painter served as the baseline in determining how effects of exposures to the radiations could be measured. But the knowledge on whether plutonium, polonium and uranium behaved more or less the same as radium remained a mystery. Researchers also needed to know whether these elements acted the same way in the body in order to establish the required safety levels for protection.

Numerous animal researchers were conducted in the laboratories in Berkeley, Rochester, and Chicago among other places in the United States. This was done as a trial to establish the effects of radiations to the body but their relationship with human exposure to the radiations remain unknown. This illustrates that the Manhattan project had become a thing of national concern to the public heath but the unethical way bin which it was conducted made it to take place in undercover (Welsome 1999, 128).

Health Researches

The Manhattan project also contracted the University of Rochester in order to be provided with the data on physical examinations and other heath tests from the project and prepare the statistical anises of the collected data. The project is said to have received numerous data on the same findings but their use has remained unknown to us. However, accidents though they occurred rarely become the key source of data which was used in constructing the understanding of the risks of radiations. But they were unpredictable thus their occurrence enhanced the need to get better data.

In 1944, the medical team of the Manhattan project, under the supervision of Stafford Warren and also with Robert Oppenheimer's evident concurrence, made a plan to inject radioactive elements, such as uranium, polonium and plutonium, into human beings.  They turned to the patients as the tools of their experiments rather not to the workers. This was unethical and the move was unwelcomed by government officials leading to its abandonment.  But its abandonment arrived too late when patients in the university of Chicago, California, and Rochester and also at the army hospital which was in oak ridge had already been injected.

The existing documents which contain the information about this move show little indication that doctors and researchers had put ethical considerations in place before implementing the plan. In addition to the internal administration of radioisotopes to the patients, external radiation was also administered to human experiments. This was a direction from Dr. Stone at San Francisco and Chicago and also by other medical researchers at memorial hospital of New York. Also, the primary experimental instruments were patients although some healthy individuals were also used.

In those cases, researchers felt that treatment to be diagnosed t o the patients had to be of therapeutic value. The question that is normally raised is whether the required treatment was accordance to the interests of the government because patients are believed to have not been informed on the government's interest to their treatment. This unethical practice of government putting the interests of the project before the interests of the citizens is hurting and shows how careless government had become to its citizens during the war period.

In order to ensure the safety of the workers, the study on radioactive elements and how they move thorough and affect human body was required. Also, the study had to involve the findings on how the elements move about in the environment. Though the radioactive radiations cannot be detected by human beings there are instruments which are used to detect them as well as measuring their intensity. When groves chose Hanford, in Washington State, as a site for plutonium production, a secret research was mounted in order to get the understanding of the fate of water, air and wildlife pollutions by radioactive elements.

Outdoor research at times was also improvised. Some years after the fact, Stafford warren recalled how researchers of the Manhattan project deliberately contaminated the alfalfa field by radioactive elements. More also, he also recalled a shipment of radioactive sodium which was received by a plane from Robley Evans who worked at MIT. The radioactive e sodium was mixed with water and poured into the garden sprinklers.

Considering the above unethical conducts by those who were mandated with the responsibilities of handling the radio active elements, it is evident that it was inevitable for the project to remain a secret. The disposal of radioactive elements to the environment was unethical and there was a likelihood of the outbreak of heath defects resulting for radiations in the country and this could have attracted the attention of the soviet unions who could have learnt the processes of atomic manufacturing that were underway in the country. 

The Manhattan project marked the beginning of the nuclear age in the world tough with a shroud of secrecy. It has three laboratory facilities which were located in three states of the United States.  Los Alamos, in New Mexico was the primary site and was established in 1942 with no documentation of date set up since it was done in a secret. The team of scientists and army generals worked here for the creation of the nuclear bomb which was used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan (Welsome 1999,76).

Besides the primary source here at Los Alamos, which has remained as the primary laboratory for research and development of the nuclear weapons, the project needed two other sites. These other two cities were built in 1943. One was built in Oak Ridge in Tennessee for uranium isolation and the other one was set up in Hanford in Washington for plutonium production as well.  Their construction effort is believed to have been the largest in the history of the United States which was influenced by the pressure for war in the world.

There are also numerous conditions of secrecy which characterized the project but the biggest of them all was the bureaucratic culture which was part of the instituted culture by Groves. Interestingly, this bureaucratic culture is still in practice today in the department of energy and other international nuclear agencies in the country.  The Groves' bureaucratic style was militarized and required restricted access to censorship, information, and development of ambiguous language known only to those involved in the inside job. Secret and security were of great importance to the project at this period which was the onset of the World War II. 

He also instituted practice of compartmentalization where the knowledge on different fields of the production of the nuclear weapons was divided and completely separated. This was considered to be the heart of security and center for secrecy since only a few workers who had the knowledge on full process of an atomic bomb production. His rule was simple and said that every man should know only what he was required to know by the employers.

The Modern Culture of Nuclear Production

The defining cultures of the production of the nuclear weapons have been the secrecy and compartmentalization. This indicates that compartmentalization and secrecy of the Manhattan project is the mother of nuclear production and has spread across the globe but in a more subtle way compared to what was earlier happening. But, access to information has recently increased though still there are mountainous classified documents in the vaults of the government of the United States. The government of United Kingdom under the official secrets act is able to keep information about nuclear weapons into secret.

However, restricted access to information is believed to have powerful ecological impacts which as well affect the public. This is because of the government and corporate secrecy, management culture which prohibits proper documentation, information about effects of nuclear weapons on health and environment is not easily accessible. For instance, in china there are no documents which have information about the effects of heath and environment and Russia also has incomplete data and questionable information. In supporting my position, cold war was inevitable because the production of nuclear weapons is carried out secretly and uniquely by different countries who view each other as enemies thus living in a cold war (Johnsen 1946, 98)

In current research and development of the nuclear arsenal by the United States, compartmentalization is also an indicative of the culture of secrecy. It is described by the nuclear workers as a method of maintaining safety band reliability of the nuclear bombs of the United States. However, independent research which was recently carried out showed that that program is a mean of further developing and modernizing the production of the nuclear weapons. This indicates why the government of the United States incurs high costs in the armory production and maintenance.  

Effects of the Nuclear Secrecy

Also, secrecy and compartmentalization are implicated in a lack of knowledge on the hazardous effects of nuclear processes. It would be right to say that the knowledge of the whole production system is lacking to both the workers at the labor force and the scientists who are at the highest level of supervision thus they must work together as a team in order for the completion of a mission. This is done in order to ensure the security of a country from threats of other foreign countries that may be against the production process.   

In recent years the issue of compartmentalization has been under the critics in the nuclear debates. This is because it had been the cause of secret behind the knowledge which is further cemented by lack of attention from media and press that nuclear debate is given when it is underway but raised when tings runs a stray. Yet this age defines so much of the culture of the world as it swallows the resources of a nation and at the same time degrading the health of all people and wildlife as well.

However, in the United States and United Kingdom, high school and grade school students are offered the chance to visit nuclear power plants and also nuclear weapon factory which is near to their institutions. But this is done only for leisure since no curriculum either in the high school or higher education levels that teaches the student on the production of the nuclear power and weapons. This high secrecy also fails to offer a student with the knowledge on the risks and methods of reducing risks which are associated with nuclear processes. This shows the degree of secrecy that has been put in place in the nuclear sector which can easily lead to the cold war between different countries of the world.

The secrets, half truths and lies about the nuclear processes in the world today have contributed to keeping the citizens ill informed therefore they are also ill equipped to challenge hazards associated with the production processes.  However, there have been some disclosures although government bodies move quickly towards challenging their truth long before they are known by the public. The move by the government to challenge the truth is dangerous because it creates the reputation of a government as a killer to the citizens (Fandel 2007, 98)

For instance in 1996, the energy secretary in the United States department of energy Hazel O'Leary instituted a whistle blowing mechanism on the nuclear processes. He released some classified documents which detailed some medical experiments with radioactive elements such and plutonium on innocent people and the sufferings of the in effected persons but his documents were strongly challenged by the government and proposers of the nuclear weapons. Also, in January 2000, Bill Richardson who was also serving as the secretary in the department of energy also admitted that nuclear workers were unwell because of overexposure to the radiations.


The cold war was inevitable provided that nuclear production was underway in the United States. the fact that the production processes were covered and kept  as high secrets that created a room for the cold war which was likely to have come from the united states rather not the soviet union. This is because of the confusion and the suspense that the information may have leaked to the enemies and incase a question was raised by an enemy the government may have vigorously reacted to the question thinking that the information has leaked to them.

Also, the government had tried to keep the project undercover by using unruly methods. The act of prohibiting the power axis from showing the location of the nuclear plant could have triggered suspense to the enemies who could have felt that the government was hiding something dangerous from them thus resulting to a cold war. It could have been wiser for the power axis to record different activity rather than not showing anything that went on in the location.

The other thing that posed high risk to the secrecy of the process is lack of ethics by the government, researchers and medical practitioners. The government had put much attention to the production process of the weapons leaving behind the interests of the citizens. This is evident by the fact that government prohibited environmental pollution by radioactive elements which was done by the researchers.

Also the injection of radioactive elements to innocent people by the same medical researchers also posed high a risk if public realized the proceeds of the harmful process facilitated by their government. This could have triggered complains from the public domain which could have marked the end to the secrets of the nuclear processes causing the cold war between the united states and other countries which were members of the Soviet Union.

The production of nuclear weapons in the world today will continue to the main cause of the cold war. This is because of the application of Grove's management formula of compartmentalization which prohibits the individual whole knowledge of the production process and promotion of high secrecy. This has made countries which produce nuclear weapons to have uniquely identified weapons which are distinct from each other. This creates suspicion about the superiority of the weapons produced by a certain country hence creating a cold war.

However, for the countries to end the cold war amongst them, they need to put public interests before the interests of nuclear weapon production. This will call for the abolishment of Grove's formula of compartmentalization. Eventually this will result to putting the nuclear processes open to the public domain and mind about the safety of both the workers and the public and with those measures in place cold war will have ended in the world.

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