The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2018)

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2018)

Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and is the author of the definitive biography of General Leslie Groves. In this interview, Norris provides an overview of the French atomic program, describing the influence of Marie Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie. He goes on to explain how nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France, became nuclear powers in the context of the Cold War. He also discusses current debates over nuclear weapons. Norris provides insight into the creation of the 509th Composite Group, and the U.S. decision to use the atomic bombs in Japan.

Trisha Pritikin's Interview

Trisha Pritikin's Interview

Trisha Pritikin was born and lived ten years in Richland, Washington, just a few miles away from the Hanford Site. Her father worked in the 100 Area at Hanford, overseeing some of the reactors, while her mom worked as a secretary at Hanford. In her interview, Pritikin recalls her love of Richland at a young age and describes the happiness of many of the people there. At age 18, she began to develop health complications which she believes to be caused by childhood exposure to radioactive iodine and other radionuclides released from chemical separations at Hanford. Pritikin discusses how drastically her health situation deteriorated because of an undiagnosed autoimmune thyroid disorder (Hashimoto’s disease), and related health issues, and how she became a lawyer in spite of the disabling health issues she faced. She provides an overview of the decades-long Hanford Downwinder litigation efforts and her advocacy for justice for Hanford's Downwinders, the children of Hanford workers, and others exposed to Hanford’s airborne and Columbia River radiation releases.

Tony Essaye's Interview

Tony Essaye's Interview

Tony Essaye discusses his life and fascinating career in this interview. He was born in London, England but grew up in the U.S. after being evacuated during World War II. He joined ROTC during his college years at Georgetown and was stationed in Japan during the 1950s. Essaye went on to become a lawyer and served as a counsel for the Peace Corps under Sargent Shriver. He was one of the lawyers who represented the Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers cases; actor Zach Woods portrays Essaye in the 2017 film “The Post.” He went on to work in a legal capacity for various political campaigns and politicians, including for Walter Mondale and Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also co-founded the International Senior Lawyers Project. In this interview, he offers his reflections on his career as well as major political events.

Avner Cohen's Interview

Avner Cohen's Interview

Avner Cohen is an Israeli-American historian and a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. His 1998 book, Israel and the Bomb, is the definitive historical work to date on the Israeli nuclear program. In this interview, Cohen discusses his professional background and the difficult process of writing about the development of nuclear weapons in Israel. He explains the policy of opacity or amimut regarding the nuclear program, as well as the role of the United States and France in supporting the program. Cohen describes the origin of Israel’s nuclear weapons development, including the influence of the Manhattan Project; how Israel’s nascent nuclear program may have played a role in the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; and the 1979 Vela Incident. Cohen also discusses Franco-Israeli nuclear cooperation and the development of the French nuclear program.

Ruth Huddleston's Interview

Ruth Huddleston's Interview

Ruth Huddleston was born in Windrock, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, she got a job at Oak Ridge as a cubicle operator or “Calutron girl” at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, she recounts her experiences at Y-12. She describes the bus ride to Oak Ridge, operating the calutrons, and the emphasis on secrecy. She recalls how she had mixed feelings after learning about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and talks about her career as a teacher and guidance counselor.

Garret Martin's Interview

Garret Martin's Interview

Garret Martin is a professor at American University’s School of International Service and is the author of "General de Gaulle's Cold War: Challenging American Hegemony, 1963-68." In this interview, Martin discusses the rise of French President Charles de Gaulle and France’s decision to build an atomic bomb. He also elaborates on the Franco-American relationship, the changing role of France in NATO, and the impact of the Algerian War and the French nuclear tests in Algeria. Martin concludes with an evaluation of nuclear weapons and energy in France today.

Thomas Mason's Interview

Thomas Mason's Interview

Thomas (Thom) Mason is the President and CEO of Triad National Security, LLC and the director designate of Los Alamos National Laboratory. A condensed matter physicist, he previously served as the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 2007-2017, and as Senior Vice President for Global Laboratory Operations at Battelle. In this interview, Mason describes some of the major scientific projects at Oak Ridge from the Manhattan Project to today, including the Spallation Neutron Source, nuclear reactor development, scientific computing, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He also explains why he believes that the science done at universities and national laboratories creates “a fertile ground” for innovation.

Virginia Coleman's Interview

Virginia Coleman's Interview

Virginia S. Coleman grew up in Louisburg, North Carolina. She was a chemist at the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, and was one of the women featured in Denise Kiernan’s book “The Girls of Atomic City.” In this interview, she remembers arriving at Oak Ridge and her wait in the “bullpen” until she could be cleared to work there. Coleman describes the projects she was involved with and remembers some of her colleagues. She also describes riding the bus at Oak Ridge and her experiences as a social worker after the war.

Spencer Weart's Interview

Spencer Weart's Interview

Spencer Weart is a historian of science. Originally trained as a physicist, Weart served for many years as director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland. In this interview, Weart discusses the French nuclear program, starting with its origins with Marie and Pierre Curie. He examines the prominent role of their daughter, Irene, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot, who together won a Nobel Prize in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. Irene and Frédéric’s work made enormous contributions to the development of nuclear physics during the late 1930s. Weart goes on to explain how, during World War II, key members of the French program became part of the Manhattan Project, as well as Joliot’s role in the French Resistance. He concludes with a discussion of the postwar nuclear program in France.

John Adams's Lecture

John Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music. Known for his operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as for multiple orchestral works, Adams speaks here about Doctor Atomic, his 2005 opera set at Los Alamos in the weeks leading up to the Trinity Test. He describes the creation of the work and why he was initially hesitant to develop an opera around J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. He discusses its unusual libretto, which uses only words actually spoken or written by the people depicted in the opera, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Leo Szilard, and Edward Teller.

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