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Behind the fence: Manhattan Project sites

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By The Staff

Many of the sites associated with the Manhattan Project from World War II are centered on Ashley Pond, but dozens more are scattered around the laboratory’s grounds, hidden from the public view. In observance of New Mexico Heritage Month, Ellen McGehee of the Ecology and Air Quality group at Los Alamos National Laboratory gave a presentation Wednesday at the Bradbury Science Museum on the hidden historical sites behind the fence.

McGehee and her group are investigating these sites under the National Historic Preservation Act and the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office. There are about 1,800 sites, including Native American and homestead sites, scattered throughout the laboratory.

Among the sites in the presentation was the “Little Boy” Gun Site at the Anchor West Site, Pond Cabin at the Pajarito Site, the “Firing Pit” at L Site (former TA-12, now part of TA-67), and the V-site at TA-16 (S Site) among others.

At the Gun Site, research was done on the Gun Assembly method for the “Little Boy” bomb. Restoration involves structural repairs, cleaning of the structure and rebuilding the periscope, where measurements and observations were made during testing.

When the research on plutonium began, the laboratory “went a little crazy to build all these facilities” to answer the questions of plutonium use in a bomb, McGehee said.

The “Firing Pit,” a large metal box covering a concrete pit in the ground at L Site, was used in 1945 for terminal observation when scientists began to explore the implosion method for nuclear bomb explosion.

At the “Firing Pit” the way the implosion method worked was examined through the fragments left behind after the explosion.

The V-site is the location where the first atomic bomb, known as “the Gadget,” was assembled before heading to White Sands for the “Trinity” test. Restoration on the site began in January 2000, but four of the buildings burned in the Cerro Grande Fire.

The Assembly building did survive and was restored and a section of no-peak fence was added. The V site restoration project received the National Trust/ACHP Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation in October of 2008 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

During the question and answer portion at the end of the presentation, one audience member asked why these buildings that the general public would never see were being preserved.

McGehee responded the “lab’s mission is always changing” and these buildings are an important part of the laboratory’s and town’s history.

Someone else asked who built all of the buildings. Many of the buildings, McGehee said, were built by outside contractors who then had to turn all the plans over to the Army.

More photographs and information on the sites can be found at www.lanl.gov/environment/cultural/index.shtml