The Manhattan Project

Warren Nyer's Interview

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Warren Nyer is one of very few physicists who worked at all four main sites – Chicago, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Hanford – of the Manhattan Project. He began working on the classified project at the young age of nineteen. He discusses his interactions with Oppenheimer and Fermi, along with the excitement of viewing the world’s first nuclear test at Trinity. Nyer also describes his living situation at Hanford, from the dormitories to the houses. Finally, he offers his justification for the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
1986
Location of the Interview: 
Telephone
Collections: 
Transcript: 

[At top is the edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995.

For the full transcript that matches the audio of the interview, please scroll down.]

Book version:

I stayed at Hanford until February of 1945. After the reactor started up, I was still young enough that I didn't understand much about organizations. I wasn't too happy with the Du Pont organization, it wasn't as exciting as laboratory work, and I didn't foresee that it would be very exciting from then on, so I went to Arthur Compton who had made it possible for me to go the Univer­sity of Chicago originally and told him I wanted to go to Los Alamos. So he called Oppenheimer and arranged it. I met Oppenheimer several times but I didn't move in those circles at all. Except weekly, at our colloquium, he usually came and filled us in. He was the world's best, greatest, laboratory director.

As far as my feelings on the bombs were concerned, you have to remem­ber a couple of things. One is the feelings of people toward the Nazis and, later, the Japanese after the Bataan Death March, and people with longer memories remembered the Japanese and the rape of Nanking. That's one aspect. Another is that it was my age group that was out there dying. All of my friends were either in Germany or the Pacific. I would certainly have had no hesitation to sacrificing any number of the enemy to save even a small num­ber of my contemporaries.

 

Full Transcript:

S. L. Sanger: This is an interview by telephone with Warren Nyer at his home in Idaho Falls, Idaho on December 23, 1985.

This is not very complicated. I guess I told you what we were doing, which was an attempt at the history of the Hanford project, mostly asked on interviews with people who were out there. What we are doing is just doing that essentially, I guess, and then trying to do a little traveling around in the process. Also, lots of people still live over there who were out there during the war. When did you show up out there?

Warren Nyer: It was in July of 1944.

Sanger: Okay, and you were there for the startup of the first reactor?

Nyer: Yes, the DuPont people had recruited a number of people from the University of Chicago and from Clinton Labs who had participated in the startup of the previous reactors, who had some experience with the nuclear end of it.

Sanger: Are you a physicist?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Okay, why don’t you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the Manhattan Project, way back at the beginning or where you went to school and so on?

Nyer: Well I was a student at the University of Chicago in the physics department and I had a job as a laboratory assistant there. In mid-November of 1941 I was transferred from the physics department to some work under the-then OSRD, the Office of Scientific Research and Development which were to do with measuring the (n, 2n) effect in beryllium.

Shortly after that, some exponential pile work started at the University of Chicago. And in early 1942, Arthur Compton, who was the head of the plutonium project, centralized the work of the various laboratories over doing things on the plutonium project. He centralized it at that time at the University of Chicago. I was part of Fermi’s group at that time and worked on all of the exponential piles that were built during the summer of 1942, and also on the first full-scale chain-reacting unit.

Sanger: I have seen your name in the list of people who were there when the first one—

Nyer: Yeah, I have used the word “exponential pile.” Do you know what that is?

Sanger: That is the one beforehand, right?

Nyer: Yes, that is the ones that are known to be sub-critical, but they are used for measurement of physical constancy.

Sanger: The first one, what was the general term for the one that actually went critical?

Nyer: The Chicago Pile-1.

Sanger: That is number one, okay.

Where did you go, you went to school in Chicago then?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Where did you come from?

Nyer: I grew up in Chicago.

Sanger: Okay. How old were you then?

Nyer: I was just at the end of nineteen when I started there working on that OSRD project. At the time of the Chicago Pile, I was just twenty, twenty-one.

Sanger: Okay, so you are somewhat younger than most of these fellows.

Nyer: Oh yes, I was one of their most junior of the people who still were part of the classified part of the project who knew what was going on, and who attended the lectures by Fermi and other people.

Sanger: Did you know him?

Nyer: Oh, yes.

Sanger: How long did you work with him?

Nyer: Well, as I said we were part of his group all through 1942 and then I went to Oak Ridge in May of 1943 and he came down for the startup of the reactor that we were working on down there.

Sanger: Did you work on subsequent reactors at Chicago after the first one?

Nyer: Yes, a number of the people who were at the University of Chicago went down to Oak Ridge – it was not quite a pilot plant but it was a considerable scale-up of the Chicago reactor. The X-10 reactor.

Sanger: Yeah, that was air-cooled though.

Nyer: Yes, that was an air-cooled reactor. And then I went to Hanford and worked on the startup of the first reactors there.

Sanger: What were you doing when you were back in Chicago? What exactly what were you working on when you were with the first ones?

Nyer: You mean, what did we do?

Sanger: Yeah, what were you doing? What was your job?

Nyer: Well it varied almost from day to day and week to week. For a substantial part of the time, I had charge of a small crew preparing fuel for use in the reactor and in modern terms it would be called fuel element manufacture but there was not anything as elegant as that.

It was pressing the uranium oxide into the correct form and putting it in the graphite blocks. Then also those of us who were research assistants at the time, and even the more senior people, would all pitch in and we would build these graphite piles literally just by hand. Then we would make the physics measurements on them.

And so the sequence went, fabrication of materials, construction of these exponential piles, and then the measurements of the physical properties.

Sanger: Okay, that means the criticality or what, neutron counting and all that or what?

Nyer: Well, the measurement of neutron distributions.

Sanger: Okay, did you continue to do that after CP-1 went critical in Chicago, before you went to Oak Ridge?

Nyer: No, I did not. If you meant “you” personally, no, I started working with some people at what later because the Argonne Laboratory site. We were setting up, getting ready to build another pile there. This was the site that the Chicago Pile had originally been intended to be built.

Sanger: Okay.

Nyer: Then it was also going to be used as a training school for the DuPont people, and that all changed very abruptly. I no longer remember all the details of that.

By the way, there were the people who were at the first pile in Chicago and also at Oak Ridge and at Hanford and at Los Alamos were a very small number, the scientific people. There were myself and Marvin Wilkening.

Sanger: Yeah I have talked to him.

Nyer: You have.

Sanger: Incidentally in Socorro, New Mexico.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: That was earlier this year.

Nyer: And George Weil.

Sanger: Who do you still keep in touch with among those people?

Nyer: Well, very closely with the Wilkenings. We had a reunion at Los Alamos this past summer, the fortieth anniversary of setting off the first bomb, and we saw a number of people, men. We do keep in touch with a number of people from Los Alamos too.

Sanger: You were over there?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Tell me what you did. You went to Oak Ridge when, before I lose the thought?

Nyer: May of 1943.

Sanger: Okay, what did you do there?

Nyer: Well, I had a crew of people who were measuring the nuclear properties of the graphite that was being used to build in the X-10 reactor.

Sanger: You mean how clean it was, or what?

Nyer: Well it was essentially that, determining its relative quality as far as neutrons were concerned. We did that until the end of June. Then I returned to Chicago briefly and got married, and then we went back to Oak Ridge and got one of the first houses built in Oak Ridge. At the time at the site we were getting set and setting up laboratories for use after the pile went critical instead of producing some material.

Sanger: That one was usually referred to as what, the Clinton Pile?

Nyer: Yes, that is right.

Sanger: Okay, typically it was X-10 I guess.

Nyer: Yes, that was its designation at the time.

Sanger: By the end, were you still working for the University or were you with DuPont by then?

Nyer: Well the place was really run by the joint effort between DuPont and the University of Chicago. I did not work for DuPont there, I worked for Clinton Laboratories.

Sanger: Okay.

Nyer: Which was the joint effort, but we worked side by side with DuPont people, and my wife was—became a DuPont employee there.

Sanger: Did you get a doctorate then?

Nyer: No, I did not.

Sanger: Okay and so you stayed at Oak Ridge then how long?

Nyer: Fourteen months. It was in July of 1945 that I went to Hanford.

Sanger: 1944, you mean.

Nyer: Yes, 1944, excuse me.

Sanger: At Oak Ridge, were you working with the graphite most of the time, or did you do other things?

Nyer: No, we did other things. There were many things to do – checking on the radioactive gas released in the air cooling system and doing some cross-section measurements, I recall, and standardization. We had a graphite pile used for standardization. What this means is that you want to know in absolute terms how many neutrons there are somewhere so you need an absolute source. I do recall making some measurement on sulfur and phosphorous.

Sanger: Okay, who did you work with over there?

Nyer: Well, the man who headed our physics group was Henry Newson.

Sanger: He is dead.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Because I spoke with his wife a while back.

Nyer: Yes, we saw her at Los Alamos.

Sanger: He was a physicist, right? And he was at Hanford, too?

Nyer: I think he actually started out as a chemist but I am not sure of that.

Sanger: Anyway, who else do you remember at Oak Ridge that you might have kept in touch with? I guess Wilkening was there.

Nyer: Oh yes, the Wilkenings were there and people who I have kept in touch with over the years from Chicago and from Hanford and from Los Alamos, including the Hinches.

Sanger: Who were they?

Nyer: Josephine and William Hinch from Denver, and they were part of the Denver contingent that moved to Chicago when the project went on.

Sanger: What was he, a physicist?

Nyer: They were both physicists.

Sanger: Then you went on to Hanford?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: And were you working for DuPont by then or not?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Okay.

Nyer: I was told by my boss in Oak Ridge that I had been one of the people requested by the DuPont people to go to Hanford. And he said, “Of course I cannot force you to take the job but if you stay here, we probably will not be able to continue your deferment.”

Sanger: That was an inducement.

Nyer: That was an inducement.

Sanger: When you were at Oak Ridge, what did you hear about Hanford at that stage?

Nyer: Well the people who had started out in the metallurgical project, who were part of the scientific staff, knew what Oak Ridge and Hanford were about quite early in the game. In fact, the senior people in the lab were completely cognizant of it. In fact, they were doing some of the design work. Part of the design for the X-10 reactor was certainly done at Oak Ridge. I think I heard [Eugene] Wigner say recently that Al Weinberg was really the one who designed that. By the way, Weinberg is still—

Sanger: Yeah, where is he?

Nyer: Oak Ridge. He has some institute for energy research down there that he now heads, but he is still in Oak Ridge.

Sanger: I have spoken with Wigner. He had mentioned him. His name pops up, I did not know he was still alive or not. He was an older guy, probably.

Nyer: Yes, I would guess that he is about ten years older than I am.

Sanger: How old are you?

Nyer: Sixty-four.

Sanger: You are younger because I think Wilkening was about the youngest I have ever talked with, and he is sixty-seven or sixty-six something like that. Okay, so then you went on—how did you get to Hanford?

Nyer: By train, if that is what you mean.

Sanger: Yeah, you went with your wife?

Nyer: We both left Oak Ridge and went to Chicago, and I went on ahead of her to Hanford and lived in the dormitories there for six weeks or so before she showed up.

Sanger: So then you lived in Richland, I suppose?

Nyer: Yes, we lived in Richland.

Sanger: What was it like? Do you remember now? What were some vivid details of memories of your first sight of the place?

Nyer: Well, there were several. The house that we finally got was built on land that had just been scraped free of all the vegetation before putting the foundations down, so it was terribly dusty. It is an extremely fine dust. My wife would go around the house regularly with a tablespoon, scraping the dust out of the corner of the windows so they were shut all the time.

Sanger: Really, even though they were shut?

Nyer: Yes, even though they were shut. I am sure it is not like that now. I have been there several times. We have some other friends in the Richland area, and it is quite changed from what it was.

Sanger: Another town, pretty much. Did your wife work out at the project too?

Nyer: No, not at Hanford.

Sanger: What was it like in the dorm, do you remember?

Nyer: Yes, it was really kind of hard to sleep because the sun came up so early at that latitude.

Sanger: Yeah.

Nyer: In the summer. And of course there are a lot of people who like to use the day room for playing cards and so that was not too pleasant, although as dorms go, it was not particularly bad.

Sanger: Who was n there, people like yourself?

Nyer: Yes, people waiting for their houses, or some of the bachelors stayed there. Several of us had a little breakfast pool, so that we shared some cornflakes and things like that for breakfast.

Sanger: Was the dorm out at the site, or was it in town?

Nyer: It was in Richland.

Sanger: Okay, is that the transient quarters they called it, or not?

Nyer: No, I do not think it was. The place that we stayed when we first got there was called “the guesthouse” then, and it is now the main hotel complex there right in the center of town.

Sanger: Yeah, then you had to drive out three miles or so out to the reactor?

Nyer: Uh-huh.

Sanger: What state was it in when you first arrived?

Nyer: Well they were pouring lots of concrete, and there were workers swarming over the place because there was something like fifty thousand workers on the site. It was really a fantastic experience seeing so many people organized. Although it looked like chaos, they actually seemed to know what they were doing.

Sanger: What did you do in the reactor as your first duties?

Nyer: Well we had to prepare instrumentation or set up our laboratory for making measurements there. We did a number of the things that we had done before, which was actually using indium foils for neutron density measurements. The indium foil technique was the one that was used in all the exponential piles that I talked about.

Sanger: Yeah, okay.

Nyer: There were various places where people had to make measurements of radioactivity levels and things of that sort to make sure that all the calculations had been correct.

Sanger: Were you involved in that?

Nyer: Yes. They were so numerous that I cannot recall what they were.

Sanger: Were you doing that actually at the reactor, or was that somewhere else?

Nyer: At the reactor.

Sanger: How far along was it by then?

Nyer: Well, excuse me, before the first reactor went critical, what we were doing was preparation work. The measurements that I mentioned to you were done after going critical.

Sanger: What were you doing before then, for instance?

Nyer: Just preparing our equipment, making sure that it was installed and in working order.

Sanger: To make these measurements you are talking about?

Nyer: Yes, and the people that I mentioned to you that we talked about who were there were also there when the famous xenon incident occurred. Have you heard about that?

Sanger: Yeah, what is your recollection of that? Were you there that night?

Nyer: No, I was on the people who were part of the nuclear support staff I guess is what you would call it now. I forget what we were called then on rotating shifts.

Sanger: Okay.

Nyer: We came in in the morning and found out that the pile had died, then went through the drama of having Fermi and [John] Wheeler independently figure out what had been the problem when the pile came back to life. It was a very exciting time.

Sanger: Now that was what a period of a day or so.

Nyer: Yes, no more than two days. I have forgotten the exact time, but it was no more than two days.

Sanger: Now how much did you know about what was going on when that was being figured out?

Nyer: Everything.

Sanger: Was there quite a bit of consternation, or did they pretty well known by then what had gone wrong?

Nyer: I would say right at the start there was quite a bit of consternation. How long that period lasted I do not know. Norman Hilberry would probably be the best resource for recollecting that.

Sanger: Yeah I have spoken with him, too. He is in Tucson. I suppose you have seen him lately?

Nyer: I have not seen him lately. He would be the best source because he was Compton’s right hand man.

Sanger: Yeah.

Nyer: He was his – I do not know what you would call it nowadays.

Sanger: He was the associate director or assistant of the plutonium projects.

Nyer: Well I do not think he had a minor responsibility. I think he was really a staff man. Although he did have one thing in Chicago. I think it was the procurement of the graphite.

Sanger: Yeah, I think apparently that title they gave him, he said, was partly to impress DuPont when he went out to Hanford.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Because the better your title, the more they listen to you, he said, or the more seriously they took you. So they just made him the assistant director – apparently kind of a misnomer.

Nyer: He is sort of freelance operator, Arthur Compton’s “Harry Hopkins,” if you will.

Sanger: He said he was actually kind of an aide-de-camp to Compton. Anyway, that was the biggest thrill – when the thing died?

Nyer: Yes, to someone of my age and experience, being around that huge project was very enlightening. Although, I had the same experience at Oak Ridge with the thousands of construction workers down there, too. But it was a little bit different at Hanford.

Sanger: Well was Hanford, do you remember was it considered kind of the least known of these big projects or not?

Nyer: No, no. The one about which there was the most secrecy was Los Alamos.

Sanger: Okay, at the time?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Then after the reactor got back online and it was reacting normally, what did you do then? Were you mostly making measurements or what?

Nyer: Yes, well even during the startup while fuel was being loaded, periodically the loading process would be interrupted. We would make some measurement using the indium foils, using the control channels as a place to make the measurements. During the actual period of time after the batch of fuel would be loaded we would be in the control room with our boron counters indicating the neutron level while the control rods were being withdrawn. It was the same process that had been used at the X-10 and Chicago reactors. 

Sanger: How many hours a day did you put in?

Nyer: I think we worked regularly six days a week, and we had a normal working day in Oak Ridge and Hanford. But that is normal at the site – of course, there is a lot of travel time involved in both of these. But in Chicago, Darol Froman had said at the beginning of the project that he expected everyone to work ten hours a day, at least.

Sanger: How did you get back and forth from your house to the reactor?

Nyer: Well two ways, once things had settled down we had bus service, but during the startup times we always had a car that rotated among all these people who were on rotating duty.

Sanger: Oh, okay.

Nyer: My group had a car when we were in Oak Ridge doing the same thing.

Sanger: Okay, so then you stayed at Hanford then until when?

Nyer: February of 1945.

Sanger: By then, the reactor was running and they had what made their first shipment of plutonium, right?

Nyer: Oh yes, that had been made.

Sanger: You were with DuPont by then?

Nyer: Yes, but after the reactor started up, I was still young enough that I did not understand much about organizations – but I was not too happy with the DuPont organization, and I did not foresee that it would be very exciting from then on. I went to Arthur Compton, who had made it possible for me to go to the University of Chicago originally, and told him I wanted to go to Los Alamos. He called Oppenheimer and arranged it.

Sanger: What didn’t you like about DuPont?

Nyer: Well, it was just not as exciting as laboratory work.

Sanger: Yeah, but actually could you have stayed at Hanford if you wanted to?

Nyer: Oh yes, some of the people did. Although, somewhat later in the year there was a major drive on Los Alamos to get a lot of additional people down there for the Alamogordo test.

Sanger: Oh yeah?

Nyer: They began sucking out a lot of research people from Hanford at that time too. But there were people who were there who just stayed almost until present time.

Sanger: Yeah.

Nyer: I did not mention one thing – when I was in Oak Ridge from May until June, we lived in Knoxville at that time.

Sanger: You did?

Nyer: That was because there were not any houses yet in Oak Ridge.

Sanger: So you, actually like Wilkening, made pretty much the whole circuit, right?

Nyer: Yeah.

Sanger: Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford, Los Alamos.

Nyer: Well as I said, I think there are only six or seven people who did that, who were at all the sites.

Sanger: Who were the other ones, do you remember?

Nyer: The Wilkenings, the Newsons, the Nyers, and George Weil.

Sanger: Where is he?

Nyer: He has been a consultant for some time in Washington, D.C.

Sanger: Is he a physicist?

Nyer: Yes. He was one of Fermi’s group in Chicago.

Sanger: Okay, well then you went to Los Alamos in February of 1945.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: What were you doing there?

Nyer: Getting ready for the bomb test. There were two things that I was engaged in. One was the multiplication experiments that were performed each time some additional either U-235 or plutonium came into the laboratory. It made the world supply, if you will, that much greater whenever it arrived. When that event occurred, the material would circulate around the laboratory for physics measurement. Our group did physics measurements then.

Sanger: What were they?

Nyer: Well they were the multiplication measurements. Where you find out, in layman’s terms, how much the neutron population is improved by stacking a fair amount of U-235 or plutonium together.

Sanger: I see, okay.

Nyer: The other measurements were nuclear cross-section measurements in preparation for the measurements at Alamogordo, which were to include not only nuclear measurements, but our group had the responsibility for blast measurements.

Sanger: Okay, were you working with Wilkening then?

Nyer: No, he was in a different group entirely.

Sanger: Did you go to the test?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Where were you?

Nyer: At the north shelter, which was six miles north, ten thousand yards I think. It was the three shelters that were six miles from the site were the closest ones. The base camp was ten miles, and the location that they called Council Hill where all the visiting members from Los Alamos who did not actually have a responsibility at the test were stationed.

Sanger: What were you doing at the actual test?

Nyer: Well for six weeks in the desert we had been putting out our instruments, which were piezo gauges.

Sanger: Was that to measure the blast or what?

Nyer: Yes, it was to measure the air blast. Then at the actual time of the test, we had to make sure that all the instruments were running properly and prepared to be turned on automatically by their signals.

Sanger: Okay. I think Wilkening said he was measuring the yield when they were helping doing that.

Nyer: Yes, he was at the South station.

Sanger: I went out there after I had talked to him. It is pretty close, I think that is what he said, he was at the South. Who was in charge of the North shelter?

Nyer: There were a bunch of groups, and my recollection is that Bob Wilson, Robert R. Wilson actually – well nobody was really in charge, but he was sort of in charge. The senior man from our group was Heinz Barschall, I believe. But the man that I was working with was Robert Walker.

Sanger: What is your recollection of the actual blast?

Nyer: Well, I had to run outside in time to see it, and had a piece of welder’s glass taped to a hole I had cut in a cardboard box that I had over my head. I saw the most brilliant flash and knew instantly, of course, that the whole thing was a success. Then I saw the mushroom cloud and just going on forever in the sky and how enormous the whole thing was, of brilliant colors. I think the most impressive thing though was the ionization effects. It looked like a living thing with a blue glow.

Sanger: That is what Wilkening had mentioned, too.

Nyer: The mountains stood out like paintings of someone on the moon. Just the contrast between the mountains and the black of the sky was just something I had never seen before.

Sanger: You probably can still see it.

Nyer: Yeah. We had a little adventure afterwards. We had cut short our stay at the North shelter because the cloud appeared to be heading in our direction.

Sanger: Really?

Nyer: It cut us off from the direct road back to the base camp. We took a back road, and every time we took a turn on the back road it seemed like the cloud was turning to follow us. So we had our respirators on while we were in the car.

Sanger: But it disappeared, I take it.

Nyer: Yes, it turned out we did not have any problem, but it was uncertain at the time. Of course after the awesome thing we had just seen, everybody was pretty well shaken.

Sanger: I imagine. You had seen it from about six miles?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: That is as close as anybody was, isn’t it?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Well then how long did you stay on at Los Alamos?

Nyer: For another year or so.

Sanger: Did you then get out of government service?

Nyer: No, no, well yes I did.

Sanger: Who were you working for then? The University of California?

Nyer: It was the University of California.

Sanger: Did you ever see much of Oppenheimer?

Nyer: I met him several times, but I did not move in those circles at all.

Sanger: Yeah. He probably—

Nyer: Except weekly when we had the weekly colloquium. He usually spoke beforehand and brought everybody and all the staff members up to date on what had happened in the laboratory. I saw a lot of him at a distance and heard him speak many times.

Sanger: Was he as intense and fascinating as people say?

Nyer: World’s best and greatest laboratory director.

Sanger: Yeah, that is what people seem to say, all right. Then you stayed there and then what happened?

Nyer: Then I went back to the University of Chicago for a year. Then I went back to Los Alamos for four years, and then came out to the Idaho site.

Sanger: That would have been what?

Nyer: That was in 1951, when I came out to head a small and experimental physics group at the materials testing reactor.

Sanger: Is that still down there?

Nyer: Oh yeah, site employment is about ten thousand.

Sanger: Is it? That is almost as big as Hanford then.

Nyer: Oh yes.

Sanger: Present day.

Nyer: Well they build more reactors here than at any other single installation in the world.

Sanger: They are testers? I mean, they do not make anything there, do they?

Nyer: No, it is not fabricating.

Sanger: I mean, they do not make plutonium, do they?

Nyer: No.

Sanger: Hanford, of course. It is back in business now.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Fairly lately, I guess. What are you doing now?

Nyer: Well for the past thirteen years I have been consulting with nuclear utilities.

Sanger: Okay. But you continue to live in Idaho Falls, I guess.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Okay, and it means you do a lot of travelling.

Nyer: Oh yes, but that would be true no matter where you live.

Sanger: Yeah. When you consult, what do you mostly talk about?

Nyer: Well, it is the management of nuclear operations, it is not technical. You cannot escape technical involvement, but it is not nuclear design of reactors, for instance, at all.

Sanger: Which is management, more.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Did you get an M.A. in physics?

Nyer: No, a B.S.

Sanger: That is kind of interesting. You spent all that time in that historic work, but I suppose you did not have time to keep studying, did you?

Nyer: Well, no, it was very difficult, and the other part of the problem is just where I was when the war began. Having just barely embarked on a—

Sanger: That is right, you were only nineteen.

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Most of these guys had their M.A.s, didn’t they?

Nyer: Yes, well, it varied. I think I was probably the only research assistant at Chicago who did not have a Bachelor’s degree. And most of them had either Bachelor’s or Master’s.

Sanger: What was Fermi like to work with?

Nyer: Perfectly marvelous.

Sanger: Oh.

Nyer: Well, after the war when I went back to the University of Chicago, I also worked for him three days a week at Argonne Labs.

Sanger: Oh, you did?

Nyer: As one of his assistants there. I rode out in the car with him and back three days a week and saw him three days a week. He was just a very fine person.

Sanger: That is what everybody seems to say – that he was fairly easy to get along with as well as being brilliant.

One thing I ask people that worked on this is, did you have any feelings on the bomb at the time that may have changed over the years? Or your opinions more or less remain the same about it?

Nyer: No, several things have to be remembered, though, about that period. One was the feeling that people had towards the Nazis and towards the Japanese after the Bataan Death March. Also, people with longer memories remember the Rape of Nanking.

Sanger: Yeah.

Nyer: Well, that is one thing to remember about the enemy. The other is that it was my age group that was out there dying.

Sanger: Yeah.

Nyer: All of my friends were over there either in Germany or in the Pacific, and I would certainly have no hesitation in sacrificing any number of the enemy to save even a small number of my contemporaries. But the final thing is that I believed at the time – and still believe more and more – that the bomb saved a lot of American lives and Japanese lives.

Sanger: Yeah, because it ended the war, you mean?

Nyer: Yes, because it ended the war so abruptly, and it was the only way in which that quick an end could have been brought to the war.

Sanger: That seems to be the general consensus of the people I talk with.

Well, let me see, that might be enough. I probably forgot to ask you something but I can call you back if I did. Let me look over these notes here. Did you have any children out there at Hanford?

Nyer: No. We had a child back at the University of Chicago after the war, and we had one at Los Alamos when we returned there.

Sanger: Okay, so you might suggest that the Hinches might be good to call?

Nyer: Yes, they might remember. They might be willing to tell you about the parties we had every Friday or Saturday night when we were in Hanford.

Sanger: Oh yeah, okay I will ask them about that. I have talked to a lot of people, but some people, of course, remember more than others. You seem to remember everything. Some people do not seem to, for some reason. Of course, maybe they were not there as long either. You were here for how long?

Nyer: At Hanford eight months.

Sanger: Okay. Have you been back?

Nyer: Yes, I went back for the first time seventeen years later as a consultant for the Division of Inspection of the Atomic Energy Commission. Then later, some of our friends from Idaho Falls moved back to Richland so we have to stop there occasionally – but I have only made one visit to the reactors since that time.

Sanger: Did you only work on the B reactor?

Nyer: B, D, and F.

Sanger: Okay, because they followed the quick succession, didn’t they?

Nyer: Yes.

Sanger: Doing the same things pretty much at all of them?

Nyer: Yes, I think I left before F went critical, but we were in preparation on F to do the same thing that had been done on B and D.