URANIUM HEXAFLUORIDE:

DEVELOPMENT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB AT LINDE/HOOKER

 

UF6-development of THE ATOMIC bomb (ww ii) in Niagara falls

 

Ref: The Electrochemical Society Oct. 1944 “the war brought no radical changes to the electrochemical industry of the Niagara frontier” ref.  This will exemplify how well the secret work was kept. In my estimation the driving forces were; 1) The advanced development of Fluorine chemistry, 2) the established inorganic manufacturing technology infrastructure 3) and the trained labor force.

 

During World War II a strange metamorphosis took place in Niagara Falls, on the surface there was no visible activity, but this was hardly the case. Through various sources a scenario has been pieced together of those who worked on the Manhattan Project (as the code for development of the atomic bomb was known) who were sworn to such code of silence that the slightest infraction of this code of silence can best be expressed with one story on breaking the security of this code. (ref.  Chemical Heritage 20:4)

 

See ref) Linde Div.UCC (Union Carbide Corp.) central research and manufacturing was located in Tonawanda New York about half way between Buffalo on the road to Niagara Falls.


 

This sprawling facility was given, between the years -1943 to mid 1946 the responsibility of extracting uranium salts from,”Pitchblende”, the ore of uranium, containing up to 65% crude uranium oxide.  The mine, located in the heart of Africa’s Belgium Congo, owned by the Grande Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, this mine was known as “ Shinkolobwe”  become the source of radium, the miracle cancer cure, at that time, and the piece of this earth most wanted by both Allied powers, and military powers in the United States, as their top secret source for this fantastic bomb which only the privileged few even knew about, which in one single blow could end World War II in the Pacific.

 

The ore was funneled from the Belgium Congo through New York Harbor, no small feat considering the hornets’ nest of Nazi U boats in the Atlantic Ocean, and then on to Niagara Falls on its way to a pure existence known as “The Atomic Bomb”.

 

Reference: (Manhattan uranium connection)

 

Pitchblende with alteration products from

Shinkolobwe Mine, Belgian Congo.

 

The plant was shrouded in deeper secrecy and called the “ceramics plant” and was given the code Mx  used for uranium. The employees were briefed that the plant was top secret and any infractions were punishable by a large fine or imprisonment.  As the story is told, one of the chemists who was particularly enthralled by the intensely colored uranium oxides and salts of various valances.

 The mixed oxide is black, the dioxide is intense brown, the trioxide is brilliant yellow, and the tetrafluoride a rich green.

This chemist decided to make a souvenir package for his college, a chemistry professor in Chicago.  The authorities learned about this gift and gave him 48 hours to go to Chicago and retrieve the gift. Upon returning the samples, he was summarily discharged and drafted into the army, a month later he was sent to the Aleutian Islands where he spent the rest of the war in near isolation.

One of the first atomic bombs detonated, the “Fat Man” was based on fission of plutonium.  Sixty inches wide and 128 inches long, it struck Nagasaki, Japan with a force of 20,000 tons of TNT and destroyed seven square miles.  This photograph is one of the only two pictures of the actual A-bomb ever released.

It is believed (in theory) that the Hiroshima bomb   



The Linde Plant also produced finely divided nickel powder from pure electrolytic nickel. Later on it was found out this was used for the

Reference: Ralph gall chemical heritage 20:4) gaseous diffusion of

U-235 from U-238 as the hexafluoride of uranium.

 

The project at Linde involved processing this ore, (picture and ref,) which contained up to 65% uranium oxide. The process involved digestion (nitric acid), solvent extraction (tri-n-butyl phosphate), thermal decomposition of uranyl nitrate to uranium dioxide (UO2) and, hydrofluorination with HF, to uranium tetrafluoride, so called TET.

(Ref conversion of uranium ore to HEX file)

My impression was that TET was shipped from UCC (Linde) to Hooker for conversion to hexafluoride. (HEX)

Hooker was involved in extensive work on fluorine and organofluorine compounds (work published after WW II in 1947-see ref.  Model City was the site

 

1.       The Linde liquors, from the extraction, were high in radium content and required special handling and storage. (Radium was of no interest to the Manhattan Project)

2.       The containers for storage were old whiskey barrels made of charred oak. The 30 chemists, working on the Mx project, figured out the small amount of liquid and some charcoal in the bottom of the whiskey barrels, when the heads were cut off, was whiskey and had a delightful time sipping this filtered residue before the filled barrels were stored at Lake Ontario Ordinance Works. Terrain.org - Pathways in Shadow, by Jeffrey Hastings Open this result in new window

...testing and production of the atomic bombs that ended World War II ... the Scioto Ordnance plant, a bomb and ammunition production operation, where the ... Lake Ontario Ordinance Works...

www.terrain.org/articles/13/hastings.htm - 98k - Cached - More from this site

During the war years Hooker had developed the electrochemical cell to generate fluorine also Harshaw chemical in Cleveland Ohio and Dupont was an additional supplier of HEX to Manhattan Project see Industrial and Engineering Chemistry #2 pp 249-254 March (1947)

There is a full report on the work with the Manhattan Project on “Fluorine and Fluorinated Compounds” Volume 1 of Division VII of the Manhattan Project Technical Series.  (See references and Chemical Engineering files.)

Reference: Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Page 249-254, 1947 (Even though this article was published in 1947, it was developed in 1942 but withheld from publication because of Security Restrictions during World War II.  Even before the Manhattan Project was formed and was called Office of Scientific Research & Development.)

 

We have linked, because of the volume of information on the Manhattan Project and its relationship to Niagara Frontier area.

The mention and existence of a company called “African Metals Company” is enough to give away the involvement of selected companies in Niagara Falls on “Project Mx”.

Story of African Metals: pictures

 

The Office of Scientific Research and Development  (ORSD) is the precursor to the Manhattan District and that change took place in 1942

The overall project was known coded the “Manhattan Project”.

For exact structural organization see Atomic Energy by H. Smyth (pg. 45).

 

Uranium Oxide and Uranium Metal*

 

          At the end of 1941 the only uranium metal in existence was a few grams of good material made on an experimental basis by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and others and a few grams of good material made on an experimental basis by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and others and a few pounds of highly impure pyrophoric powder made by Metal Hydrides Company.  The only considerable amount of raw material then available in this country was in the form of a commercial grade of black uranium oxide, which could be obtained in limited quantities from the Canadian Radium and Uranium Co.  It contained 2 to 5 per cent of impurities and was the material which gave a neutron multiplication factor of only about 0.87 when used in an exponential pile.

          By May 1942, deliveries averaging 15 tons a month of black oxide of higher purity and more uniform grade started coming in.  Total impurities were less than 1 per cent, boron comprised a few parts per million, and the neutron multiplication factor (k) was about 0.98.  (It is to be remembered that the multiplication factor depends also on the purity of the graphite.)  Deliveries of this material reached a ton a day in September 1942.

          Experiments at the National Bureau of Standards by J.I. Hoffman demonstrated that, by the use of tri-n-butyl phosphate/ether extraction method, all the impurities are removed by a single extraction of uranyl nitrate.  The use of this method removed the great bulk of the difficulties in securing pure oxide for the production of metal. 

Early in May 1942, arrangements were completed with the Mallinckrodt Chemical works in St. Louis utilizing new grade oxide in an ether extraction process on a production basis for a further reduction in impurity content and to deliver the final product as brown dioxide.  Deliveries started in July 1942 at a rate of 30 tons a month.  This oxide is now used as a starting point for all metal production, and no higher degree of purity can be expected on a commercial scale.  In fact, it was a remarkable achievement to have developed and put into production on a scale of the order of one ton per day a process for transforming grossly impure commercial oxide to oxide of a degree of purity seldom achieved even on a laboratory scale.

          The process which Westinghouse had been using to produce the metal was the electrolysis of KUF5 at a cost of about $1,000 a pound.  Since the KUF5 was produced photochemically under the action of sunlight this method constituted a potential bottleneck in production.  It was found that uranium tetrafluoride could be used instead of KUF5, and steps were taken to have this halide produced at the Harshaw Chemical Company in Cleveland and at the

du Pont plant in Penns Grove, New Jersey.  Production started in August 1942 and by October 1942 was up to 700 pounds per day at Harshaw and 300 pounds per day at du Pont, the method of manufacture in both cases being the hydrofluorination of Mallinckrodt-purified dioxide in a hot tube reactor.

          As the result of this supply of raw materials to Westinghouse, and as a result of plant expansion, deliveries from Westinghouse had accumulated to a total of more than 6,000 pounds by November 1942 and were expected to be at the rate of 500 pounds per day by January 1943.  The purity of the metal was good, and the cost had dropped to $22 per pound.

*Reference: Atomic Energy for Military Purposes by Henry DeWolf Smyth, Princeton University Press, 1945

 

COMMENTS:

It is curious, in this report, that no mention is ever made of the work at Linde Division of UCC at Tonawanda, New York who pioneered the development and production of UF4 from Pitchblend.  One of the major criticisms of this book, written by a physicist, is it makes no mention of any chemical research or development by chemists.

 

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS*:

In most historical accounts, the contributions of chemistry to the development of the atomic bomb are eclipsed by those of physics.  The first official version of the US atomic bomb program, the Smyth Report, stressed physics almost to the exclusion of chemistry.  Shortly after the Smyth Report was published in 1945, Glenn Seaborg, the chemist who discovered plutonium, who was heavily involved in the project, wrote to Smyth, a physicist:

 

A large number of chemists, both on and off the Manhattan District program, have pointed out to me the extraordinary brief and undetailed treatment, compared to the treatment of physics problems, given to chemical problems and accomplishments in the Smyth Report.  It is only recently, within the last week or so, that I have had a chance to read and study this Report and I must say, as one who has been in a position to watch a good deal of the chemical development take place, that I also am struck by the imbalance between your treatment of the physical and chemical aspects of this great accomplishment.’

 

Seaborg suggested that the report be revised to correct the inbalance.  This revision never happened, and the emphasis on physics has continued in subsequent histories.

          Although physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer, Arthur Compton, and Enrico Fermi solved the glamourous “sweet” problems required to achieve fission bombs, chemists and chemical engineers such as Glenn Seaborg, Clarence Larson, and Raymond Grills solved many interesting, practical, and sometimes “sour” problems essential to the production of fissionable materials.  This article highlights the contributions of chemistry to nuclear physics and the development of the atomic bomb.

*Reference: Today’s Chemist at Work, December 1994, Pages 56, 59-61

 

The National Nuclear Energy Series

 

The National Nuclear Energy Series (NNES) was originally planned in 1945 as a record of the research work done under the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission.  When completed, the series was expected to consist of one hundred volumes, grouped into ten divisions.

See Reference: The National Nuclear Energy Series

The Eight Major Processes of the Nuclear Weapons Complex

Nuclear weapons production in the United States was a complex series of integrated manufacturing activities executed at multiple sites across the country. These activities have been grouped into eight major processes:

See Reference: The Eight Major Processes of the Nuclear Weapons Complex

The Manhattan Uranium Collection, Scene 2