Stephane Groueff: Now you said that you had some opening remarks?
Interviewer: December 2, 1962 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first nuclear chain reaction achieved at the University of Chicago. That day a group of scientists, led by the late Dr. Enrico Fermi, operated man’s first atomic reactor. The occasion ushered in the atomic age. Present at that historic moment was Dr. Norman Hilberry former director of Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. This is how he explains his part in that day.
Stephane Groueff: Dr. Anderson?
Herbert Anderson: Yes.
Groueff: Now we can talk?
Anderson: I guess so.
Cindy Kelly: I am Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation. I am here today with a special Manhattan Project veteran. My first question is for you to say your name and spell it.
Fred Vaslow: Fred, F – R – E – D, Vaslow, V – A – S – L – O – W.
Kelly: The next question is, when is your birthday?
Vaslow: November 17, 1919.
Kelly: Where were you born?
[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.]
[Interviewed by S. L. Sanger, from Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995]
I shouldn't boast but it is generally said, you see, I was in charge of the group which designed the reactors built at Hanford, and these reactors really worked. Fermi constructed the first nuclear reactor that really was reacting, but it had virtually no energy. And Alvin Weinberg, he designed almost alone the Oak Ridge pilot reactor. But the bigger reactors, we all designed together.
The X-10 Graphite Reactor was the first reactor built after the successful experimental “Chicago Pile I” at the University of Chicago. On December 2, 1942, using a lattice of graphite blocks and uranium rods, Enrico Fermi proved that a nuclear chain reaction could be controlled. Scientists knew that it would only be a matter of time before the energy of the atom could be harnessed for a bomb.
One of the most important branches of the Manhattan Project was the Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab) in Chicago. Using the name "Metallurgical Laboratory" as cover at the University of Chicago, scientists from the east and west coasts were brought together to this central location to develop chain-reacting "piles" for plutonium production, to devise methods for extracting plutonium from the irradiated uranium, and to design a weapon. In all, four methods of plutonium separation were considered, with the bismuth phosphate process displaying the most promise.