Why Oak Ridge Was Chosen for the Manhattan Project
In contrast to the other possible locations, Groves found that the site scouted in East Tennessee had virtually ideal conditions for the military’s plans. Here are some of the major reasons why Oak Ridge was chosen for the Manhattan Project:
Groves wanted to ensure that the Manhattan Project kept a low profile, and Oak Ridge’s rural location definitely fit the bill. The fact that Tennessee is a landlocked state located away from the coast reduced the chance that the Germans or Japanese would be able to bomb the nuclear site.
Perfect Population Size
East Tennessee had just the right amount of people for the Manhattan Project’s purposes. On one hand, the military was looking for an area that was not too densely populated because it was concerned about the potential dangers of building its industrial plants. The proposed nuclear site in East Tennessee would only displace about 1,000 families. On the other hand, the Manhattan Project needed enough people to work at the new plants. Fortunately, the nearby city of Knoxville, which boasted a population of 111,000 residents, was ripe for labor recruitment. The South, as a whole, was filled with people looking for non-agrarian employment.
Land, Water, and Electricity
In September of 1942, the Manhattan Project planned on building four different types of production plants (pile, electromagnetic, gaseous diffusion, and centrifuge) at one site. Ultimately, the centrifuge process was abandoned and the large atomic pile needed to produce plutonium was located elsewhere. However, the original plan to construct all four plants in the same vicinity contributed to East Tennessee’s appeal.
The electromagnetic, gaseous diffusion, and centrifuge plants all required significant amounts of electricity, which could be found at the Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric plants at Norris Dam. East Tennessee also offered good quality water and ample land for the project. As an added bonus, the land was cheap: only $50 – 60 per acre, on average.