R Reactor Process Room – Savannah River Site, South Carolina
SC Newsletter SCIWAY News: May 2009 Savannah River Site SRS R Reactor Process Room
Between 1953-1988, Savannah River Site produced 36 metric tons of plutonium in this facility and four others like it. This is the process room. The reactor tank sits underground, beneath the metal assembly pictured here. These tubes housed other tubes which raised and lowered materials into the reactor tank. SRS produced about one-third of the nation's plutonium and virtually all of its tritium for nuclear weapons.
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The Manhattan Project prompted the United States to begin building weapons facilities during the 1940s. America's fear that Nazi Germany would acquire a nuclear device was compounded by the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. The Manhattan Project went full steam with the 1943 creation of B Reactor at Hanford Site in Washington State – the first full-sized reactor in the world. (Read more and see a virtual tour of the reactors at Hanford. Hanford was the birthplace of Fat Man, one of the two nuclear bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II, preceding that country's surrender by two days.
The nuclear threat subsided for a few years but in 1949, when Russia tested its first atomic weapon, the Atomic Energy Commission asked DuPont to propose a contract to build SRS. DuPont had been the primary construction company in Hanford Site as well.
When DuPont completed SRS, it collected just $1 from the federal government. According to Hanford's website, DuPont "had been accused of profiteering during World War I and did not want its image tainted by [further] accusations." (Interestingly, DuPont finished Hanford ahead of schedule and in the end collected only 56 cents!)
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