Chapter 18: Electric Power
Reasonable access to the essential process support elements of electric power, water, communications, and transportation was – as the safety and security of geographic isolation – a critical factor in Manhattan’s selection of suitable sites. Attainment of both of these desired features was a difficult challenge, for often they were not compatible with each other. Yet without compromising project requirements, the Army resolved the dilemma by choosing sites that were in comparatively isolated regions of Tennessee, Washington State, and New Mexico and by developing those process support resources available in neighboring and adjacent areas.
Overseeing process support development, particularly when the nation was experiencing a chronic shortage of electric generators, boilers, copper wire, water pipes, and other equipment and materials, became one of the most important activities undertaken by the Army in administering the Manhattan Project. Illustrative of this fact was that Army personnel at every level participated in some aspect of these activities: General Groves and the Washington Liaison Office coordinated with appropriate Washington agencies to secure essential procurement priorities; the district engineer and area engineers supervised process support activities at field installations and major procurement centers; and the Army Engineers and the Signal and Transportation Corps contributed substantially in their respective fields of expertise. And while the problems were most pressing in the early months of site development, Army personnel from the project and other War Department agencies continued to be involved in their solution on a lesser scale throughout the war.
Power Requirements and Sources
Of all the aspects of process support required for the atomic project, none was more vital than electric power. Electricity constituted, so to speak, the very lifeblood of almost every important production process, as well as of many other project activities. In planning and developing the project’s electric power program, the Army faced three basic problems. The first was how to procure large amounts of electricity from a wartime economy that was only beginning to overcome chronic shortages. Project leaders initially had estimated a need for approximately 150,000 kilowatts, but the decision to relocate the plutonium
production facilities at a separate site had upped the requirement to more than a quarter of a million kilowatts, an amount of electricity that at the time would have met the needs of a typical American city with a population of half a million. As large as these early estimates of power requirements for the project were, time would prove them to have been far too low.1
A second problem was to ensure electric service that would never be interrupted. This requirement for virtually unparalleled transmission reliability arose from the peculiarly hazardous character of the industrial processes. Only continuous operation of pumps, fans, and refrigeration equipment would dissipate heat and remove radioactive gases adequately. Also, in the electromagnetic and diffusion processes, almost any interruption in the progressive purification stages would play havoc with closely coordinated production schedules.2
The third problem was a matter of security, and related not to supply but to distribution of electric power. Because the quantity of power required could not be produced by generating plants located within the confines of the atomic reservations, much of it had to be brought over extended transmission lines running through areas beyond the reach of effective security protection. Project engineers, therefore, had to devise special techniques that would thwart the efforts of potential saboteurs.3
During the early period of project development, Manhattan’s administrative and engineering staffs devoted considerable attention to procuring electric power for the proposed atomic installations, especially for the site(s) that would house the major production plants. Preliminary site investigations in Tennessee and later in Washington State occasioned talks with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The objective of these talks was to obtain assurances from the power agencies that sufficient power would be available when needed, or could be developed from new generating facilities under construction.4 The Army succeeded in
getting these assurances, but at best they were tentative and did not in any sense constitute a firm guarantee to deliver power to a specified point on a given date. In fact, at the time neither the TVA nor BPA had an appreciable amount of surplus power. Most of their output was committed to war industries, particularly producers of aluminum, and to the many communities located in their service areas.5
Manhattan leaders’ early recognition that a very high priority must go to securing firm commitments for an adequate supply of electric power for the atomic production plants led them to seek immediate assistance from several agencies in the War Department, especially the Office of the Under Secretary of War and the Corps of Engineers, that had developed the organization and personnel prerequisite to negotiating priorities and arranging procurement for electric power and scarce electrical equipment in the wartime economy. General Groves, for example, frequently drew extensively upon the vast amount of data on the nation’s electrical resources in engineer files, accumulated since 1920 in carrying out a continuous survey for War Department mobilization planning purposes. Groves also borrowed expert personnel from the engineer staff, including Carl H. Giroux, who became chief adviser on power matters for the Manhattan District.6
Groves and Capt. Allan C. Johnson of the District’s Washington Liaison Office handled most of the many matters that, in the tightly controlled wartime economy, required clearance through the Power Division (later called the Office of War Utilities) of the War Production Board. They also took responsibility for those aspects of the Hanford negotiations with the BPA that required approval from the Department of Interior. Keeping in close touch with Groves and Johnson,
District headquarters officials assisted in many aspects of the Clinton negotiations with the TVA, which had its headquarters in Knoxville, conveniently near the Tennessee site.7
Because of the tentative nature of earlier TVA power commitments, Groves directed Captain Johnson to visit the War Production Board. Inquiring about the status of these commitments, the board assured Johnson that more than sufficient power would be available at the Tennessee site when needed. These commitments, however, were based on Manhattan’s original power assessment for the site, which, by October 1942, project engineers had determined was too low. New electric power projections were calculated, and on the nineteenth Deputy District Engineer Nichols informed Herbert S. Marks, acting director of the Power Division, that a maximum of 75,000 instead of 60,000 kilowatts would be required by midsummer of 1943, increasing to 125,000 kilowatts by October of that year. Upon reviewing the estimated power requirement of 150,000 kilowatts for early 1944, Nichols remarked that this figure was probably too high and suggested the total be reduced to about 130,000 kilowatts. A final concern was if this requirement would absorb the extra power resources the TVA was accumulating for emergency use, but Marks reassured
Nichols that all power requirements for Clinton would be met.8
Yet sweeping changes under way in the War Production Board’s policy relating to nonmilitary government construction threatened the TVA’s program for expanding its generating facilities. On 20 October, WPB Chairman Donald Nelson directed all federal agencies involved in large-scale building programs to cease nonmilitary construction not directly essential to the war effort. When news of the directive reached Captain Johnson, he conferred at once with Groves, Nichols, and board officials. Meanwhile, General Styer sent word that TVA Chairman David E. Lilienthal already had asked Under Secretary of War Patterson to resolve this dilemma in face of increasing War Department demands for TVA power.
Johnson interpreted these developments to mean that Manhattan should await the outcome of Lilienthal’s consultations with Patterson before submitting a protest, thereby avoiding any contretemps. Patterson subsequently intervened with the War Production Board and obtained permission for the TVA to complete one of its largest projects – the Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River in western North Carolina – on the grounds that it was essential to the war effort. And to give additional support to the TVA’s case for continuing work on the dam, Groves had the Engineers deputy chief inform the agency that the Manhattan District’s maximum power requirements would be between 125,000 and 150,000 kilowatts. Bottlenecks removed, direct action assured completion of the major Fontana generating facilities by early 1945, in time to furnish the Clinton installations with the additional power they would need.9
The Military Policy Committee’s December 1942 decision to shift location of the plutonium production facilities from Tennessee to another site presented project leaders with another major problem in power procurement. Project engineers estimated that the plutonium installations would require approximately 140,000 kilowatts of electricity by early 1944. Although General Groves was aware of this requirement, he had not obtained a preliminary commitment from the War Production Board and the BPA when Hanford was selected as the plutonium site. Groves was apparently relying on ample evidence that major units of the great Grand Coulee Dam hydroelectric plant, which would have an operating capacity of more than 800,000 kilowatts by mid-1944, were nearing completion. He knew from site reports that the BPA’s existing Midway Substation was strategically located at the western edge of the area, where project transmission lines could readily tap the BPA system. Also, lines owned by the Pacific Power and Light Company, a privately owned utility that supplied most of the electricity to local communities in the area, crisscrossed the Hanford
reservation at several points, providing an immediately available source of power for early construction activities.10
As early as mid-January 1943, the War Production Board learned that the Manhattan Project would be seeking a large block of electric power somewhere in the Pacific Coast area, but it did not hear officially from Groves until early February. On the seventh of that month, Groves submitted a brief description of Han-ford’s anticipated requirements to the Power Division. Beginning in April, he indicated, the plutonium project would need about 10,000 kilowatts for construction purposes. By December, this requirement would grow to 40,000 kilowatts and then rise in regular increments to a maximum load of approximately 140,000 kilowatts in 1944. Meanwhile, Groves noted, preliminary studies were already under way to determine what electrical equipment must be procured for the plutonium plants and their power distribution system.11
The War Production Board promptly notified Groves that the BPA could meet Hanford’s power requirements from its Midway Substation and stated its general agreement with the preliminary plans for electrical equipment and distribution for the plutonium site. With this confirmation, Groves turned over to Giroux, his power consultant, the detailed task of reserving blocks of power to be available on specified dates. In negotiations with the BPA office in Washington, D.C., Giroux paved the way for a firm agreement on power reservations, which project officials reached in mid-March with the BPA administrator.12
Because of the urgent need for speed, Manhattan had to go ahead with preliminary arrangements for power at both Clinton and Hanford on the basis of only a minimum of information concerning precise design and operating characteristics of the production plants. Consequently, as construction and operation processes were developed in greater detail, project engineers frequently had to revise estimated power requirements – usually upward. New surveys conducted at Clinton in March 1943 revealed that total power needs by May 1944 would be about 285,000 kilowatts (electromagnetic plant, 114,000; gaseous diffusion plant, 160,000; plutonium semiworks, 1,200; the town of Oak Ridge and other installations, 9,500), nearly twice the original estimate. Faced with the considerable increase in previously projected requirements, General Groves dispatched Giroux to the War Production Board. Following negotiations with the TVA, the board reported back to Giroux that the TVA could furnish the indicated 285,000 kilowatts of firm power without unduly
interfering with its commitments to other users.13
At about the same time, important new information came from Kellex Corporation designers on plans for the gaseous diffusion (K-25) plant: Total dependence upon outside power resources would not be practicable or safe. The diffusion process required a vast system of motor-driven pumps and blowers and the Kellex studies showed that even the briefest interruption in power supply would cause an unacceptable reduction in productivity. “For many months ... ,” Groves later recalled, “we labored under the belief that if the plant was shut down through power failure or for any other reason – for as much as a fraction of a second – it would take many days, some said seventy, to get back into full operation.”14
The obvious solution was to provide the gaseous diffusion facility with its own electric generating unit, and Kellex designers advanced a number of reasons for favoring an on-site location for this power source. An on-site plant could be designed to produce the variable-frequency current required for the diffusion process, thus eliminating the need for expensive, complicated, and difficult-to-procure equipment to transform the TVA’s fixed-frequency current. And, a power plant on the reservation would be far less exposed to sabotage than the TVA’s off-site facilities, especially its extended transmission lines running miles across open country to the Clinton site. Furthermore, there was always the chance that the TVA, with so many wartime industries dependent upon its resources, might not be able to supply uninterrupted power. With these arguments, Kellex officials persuaded project engineers that a steam-electric plant capable of generating the basic power load for the diffusion process should be built immediately adjacent to the main K-25 works. Groves, in particular, was impressed by the highly positive security and engineering advantages of an on-site power plant.15
Kellex’s persuasive arguments led to the District’s decision in mid-April 1943 to build the steam-electric plant and, shortly thereafter, to contract with the prime construction contractor for K-25, the J. A. Jones Construction Company, for its erection. By early summer work was under way on the generating unit, one of the largest of its type to be built up to that time. Its original design called for nine turbo-generators, operating with coal-heated steam from three
750,000-pound boilers, to produce a maximum of 238,000 kilowatts of variable-frequency power. With this anticipated output, project engineers could reduce estimates of fixed-frequency power needed from the TVA for K-25’s “nonvital requirements” to approximately 35,000 kilowatts.16
Building a major power plant added substantially to Manhattan’s procurement problems during K-25 construction, so District procurement officials frequently turned to the War Production Board’s Office of War Utilities for aid in obtaining a variety of scarce equipment. The utilities agency, for example, persuaded a Chicago firm to cancel its order for two already partly fabricated 750,000-pound boilers and also reassigned priorities previously granted to other war projects, thus enabling Manhattan to obtain not only the essential boilers but also eight 25,000-kilowatt turbo-generators. Manhattan subsequently sought a ninth generator to meet
peak demands to protect against sabotage, but War Utilities Director J. A. Krug balked at the request, pointing out to Groves that power from outside sources could be brought to the plant over two separate transmission circuits. Each would carry electricity from a different power source, but each would be capable of transmitting the entire power load available in the area. Furthermore, the two TVA circuits were of lightning-proof construction and there was a third independent circuit that could be tied in with them if necessary. “Except for simultaneous sabotage of all circuits,” Krug concluded, “a failure of external power supply is virtually inconceivable. Certainly the combined reliability of several such circuits is incomparably higher than that of a ninth generator unit.”17
Krug’s arguments failed to budge Groves, who countered with the statements that the gaseous diffusion process simply could not afford to depend upon outside sources for any part of its power and that there would be technical difficulties converting the TVA’s current to variable frequency. Groves was willing, however, to consider a compromise solution suggested by Kellex, the substitution of two small turbo-generators capable of producing almost as much current as one large generator. Krug agreed, but the two small units did not suffice and eventually three more turbo-generators were added, bringing the total to fourteen.18
While solving the huge electric power requirements of the major production plants at Clinton and Hanford, Manhattan’s administrative and engineering staffs also took care of the lesser power needs of the project’s research and development installations, including those of Los Alamos. Expanding facilities in Chicago were typical. The Metallurgical and Argonne laboratories required a comparatively small but reliable source of electricity to operate their many research and development projects, and Captain Johnson negotiated with the War Production Board for allocation of adequate power from existing local sources. The Los Alamos Laboratory, because of its geographic isolation, presented different problems. There, the Army post commander assisted project engineers in procuring several small, easily obtainable diesel generators capable of producing the relatively small amount of current required to meet initial needs.19
Implementation of the Power Program
Manhattan had largely completed the acquisition phase of its power program by mid-1943. Its next task was to bring these resources to bear upon achievement of basic program objectives through negotiation of complex purchase contracts and operating agreements with the TVA, BPA, and other outside suppliers; through design and construction of distribution systems; and through procurement of materials and equipment.
Manhattan’s general purchase contract for power service to Clinton was based on policy agreement that TVA Chairman Lilienthal and Under Secretary of War Patterson had drafted in the fall of 1942. Under terms of this agreement, the TVA would supply all War Department projects at its lowest primary rate, that is, the rate normally granted only to purchases made under long-term contracts; the War Department could terminate any purchase contract on thirty-days’ notice without penalty; and, as needed, the TVA would construct additional transmission lines while the War Department would build substations and connecting lines.20
The earlier view that War Department purchases would constitute a relatively small part of the TVA’s total power production came under close scrutiny in 1944, because power requirements at Clinton had multiplied greatly. Consequently, when Lilienthal prepared to approve Manhattan’s power contract in April, he began to have serious qualms about the long-range impact of its future purchases upon the economy of the TVA system. He pointed out to Patterson that if, under the terms of the 1942 agreement, Manhattan should suddenly decide to terminate its purchases of electricity on thirty-days’ notice, the TVA would face the prospect of excessive financial loss. Under normal commercial purchase agreements, the TVA protected itself by long-term contracts and higher rates. Lilienthal requested that the War Department provide that “the contemporary record make it clear that the loss, should it occur, is one of the costs of the war and therefore not one that the consumers of electricity in the Tennessee Valley should be singled out to bear.”21
The Under Secretary of War acknowledged that the TVA was indeed likely to suffer substantial losses should Manhattan elect to exercise the right of thirty-days’ cancellation of service and therefore agreed that, if the TVA did not at once find other purchasers for the power it was furnishing the Clinton site, the War Department would support the agency in claiming that such losses were compensable. Manhattan’s basic power supply contract for Clinton was signed on 25 April 1944 (effective 1 October 1943), with supplemental provisions for a variety of other electrical services subsequently added. Because the TVA viewed all Clinton activities as being for a single consumer, it billed Manhattan in the same manner as the other large commercial users of power on the TVA system.22
The BPA’s general purchase contract for power service to Hanford, although agreed upon in February 1944, was not completed in final form until November. The primary cause of delay was General Groves’ conviction that the purchase contract did not provide sufficient guarantees for reliable service. Patterson requested the Office of War Utilities to grant additional priorities that would give Hanford first claim on Bonneville power resources under all circumstances and would expedite procurement of materials and equipment needed to make its distribution system more reliable. To establish Hanford’s prior claim to power from the Bonneville system, the War Utilities director had his staff prepare a draft priorities directive. This directive, to become effective when the plutonium facilities began actual operations, indicated that the War Production Board had approved all requests for materials and equipment for the BPA-Hanford electrical distribution system to date and that it would continue to do so in the future.23
Before giving Hanford prior claim to BPA power, the Office of War Utilities required negotiation of a satisfactory operating agreement. Precise terms, however, were not completed until August 1944, when Manhattan finally forwarded a completed draft to the BPA administrator. The latter took strong objection to certain key provisions, especially those ensuring maximum reliability of electrical service to Hanford. Such provisions, the administrator contended, not only would place unreasonable restrictions on the BPA’s generating and transmission facilities, resulting in serious financial losses, but also would prevent the BPA from meeting the full demands of its other customers and from securing new users.
Faced with the prospect of further delay in negotiating a satisfactory agreement with the BPA, General Groves once again turned to Under Secretary of War Patterson. The Manhattan commander explained to Patterson that the BPA administrator’s objections were essentially the same as those earlier advanced by Lilienthal concerning the terms of TVA service. On 11 August 1944, acting on behalf of Patterson, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy informed the BPA administrator that if the Bonneville system should incur losses because of “the particular conditions necessarily imposed by the war effort in this instance [service in Hanford], such losses would be one of the costs of the war.24
As soon as the BPA received solid assurances from the War Department that such losses would be covered, it notified the Under Secretary that it would promptly approve the agreement. Under terms of the agreement, the BPA guaranteed Hanford 150,000 kilowatts of electricity and agreed to supervise the remodeling, equipping, maintenance, and repair of the existing transmission system to ensure a stable and uninterrupted flow of power under all predictable conditions. The BPA’s approval of the operating agreement cleared the way for the Office of War Utilities to issue the long-delayed priorities directive, thus removing the last obstacle to the development of Hanford’s power service.25
Implementation of the power resources to meet the relatively modest needs of Manhattan’s other installations presented few problems. In most instances, these facilities simply established whatever hookups were required into the already existing transmission systems. No special priorities or operating agreements were necessary as long as the demands of the project did not place an undue burden on the supply of power available. Atomic laboratories on the campuses of universities (for example, at Chicago, California-Berkeley, and Columbia) tapped into available facilities. The heavy water plants at Trail, British Columbia, and at the Army’s three munitions installations likewise drew upon existing sources of power. The situation differed somewhat at Los Alamos, where the nearest high-power transmission line was almost 25 miles distant from the installation site. For more than a year, small diesel-powered generators supplied the bomb laboratory with sufficient electricity. But in August 1944, when power demands increased beyond the maximum load that could be safely generated over an extended period by existing units, project engineers recommended securing additional sources of electricity. Based on their investigation that procurement of an additional generator would take longer and provide less flexibility than constructing a high-voltage line to tie in to the New Mexico Power Company’s nearest transmission line, the Army authorized the connecting line. Projected power requirements for 1945, however, surpassed the supply available from the new source. To overcome this shortfall, two more diesel generating units were procured and, in 1946, began providing the additional power needed by the bomb laboratory.26
Distribution: Clinton Engineer Works
Both the Clinton and Hanford sites were selected in part because of their location near major power transmission lines, but neither had within its boundaries a well-developed local electrical distribution system. Of the two major sites, Clinton was more deficient in this respect. The thinly populated,
largely rural Tennessee countryside had only the low-voltage distribution facilities required to provide local farmers and villagers with modest amounts of electricity. Hence, an immediate task for Manhattan engineers in the fall of 1942 was to plan, design, and build a complex and elaborate system capable of meeting the substantial, highly diversified, and ever-changing power needs for constructing and operating large-scale production plants and their supporting community facilities. Preliminary studies established that such a system required two major types of construction: a net of connecting and tie lines to carry current from the TVA’s high-voltage transmission systems, and a number of substations to receive, step down, and distribute the high-voltage electricity.27
Getting the electrical distribution system at Clinton built and in operation was a matter of high priority, for site development hinged on a supply of adequate electricity. As soon as Manhattan had assurances from the War Production Board and the TVA that sufficient power would be available, it began negotiating a series of contractual agreements with the TVA. These agreements, most of them completed in early 1943, provided for construction of various transmission line. At the same time, the District assisted Stone and Webster and Du Pont in making arrangements with the TVA to furnish electricity for preliminary construction work via the existing low-voltage transmission system.
To ensure that the system’s complex substations would be ready when needed, the District arranged for the construction contractors to build these units. In supplemental contracts negotiated in early 1943, Stone and Webster agreed to build two substations in the electromagnetic (Y-12) plant area that would serve that installation and the Oak Ridge community. Similarly, the A. S. Schulman Electrical Company, working with Kellex on the gaseous diffusion plant, assented to construct the substation that would give that installation access to TVA power.28
As 1943 unfolded, the TVA and the construction contractors moved ahead rapidly with the distribution system – a system that would continue to expand and change throughout the war as new demands were made upon it. The availability to Manhattan of the TVA’s large staff of experienced electrical engineers and of subcontractors with the necessary equipment and line crews helped to expedite construction. To keep abreast of all developments, the district engineer maintained close supervision over the work through his unit chiefs in charge of construction on Y-12, K-25, and the Oak Ridge community.29
The first part of the Clinton electrical distribution net to take shape was the basic transmission line, a 154-kilovolt loop, to supply electricity to the electromagnetic plant and the first section of the town of Oak Ridge. The TVA, under terms of a subcontract
with Stone and Webster, designed and built this loop, completing it in June 1943. At a point some distance northeast of the Tennessee site the loop cut into an existing 154-kilovolt TVA line, which carried current generated in hydroelectric plants on the Tennessee River at Norris Dam, northeast of the Clinton site, and Watts Bar Dam, southwest of the site, and ran a distance of 3.6 miles to substation Elza Number 1, built by Stone and Webster adjacent to the electromagnetic plant.30
That summer, when electrical service from the TVA’s existing rural 12-kilovolt line to the plutonium (X-10) semiworks became unsatisfactory, the TVA, with District authorization, built a new 13.8-kilovolt connecting line. This line, which extended some 6 miles from the switch house at the K-25 power plant to the X-10 area, ensured the comparatively small requirements – never more than 1,000 kilowatts – of the semiworks and its laboratory facilities.31
By fall, expansion of the electromagnetic plant and rapid growth of the town of Oak Ridge created a demand for more electricity. To supply additional power, the TVA, again operating under a Stone and Webster subcontract, designed and built a new 154-kilovolt line. Completed in mid-1944, this 14-mile line ran from the TVA’s Fort Loudoun Dam generating facilities on the Clinch River south of the site to substation Elza Number 2, built by Stone and Webster at the west end of the extended electromagnetic plant area. It also included a 1.3-mile tie line from Elza 1 to Elza 2, making possible the interchange of power between the two switching points.32
The reliability and efficiency of the distribution system was further increased with the addition of a 154-kilovolt line between the electromagnetic plant in the eastern sector of the reservation and the gaseous diffusion facilities in the western sector. The TVA, with District authorization, designed and built this additional transmission line, which ran between Elza 1 and a step-down transformer at the K-25 site. When finished in late 1943, this line not only gave the K-25 area a temporary source of power, pending completion of its own substation, but also furnished the means for satisfying unanticipated power requirements from surpluses available elsewhere in the TVA system.33
An increasing demand for TVA power was a corollary to the rapidly expanding atomic production facilities at Clinton, but precisely where it would occur and in what quantities was difficult to predict. This was particularly the case in the gaseous diffusion plant area, where the decision in 1944 to use steam from the K-25 power plant for operating the thermal diffusion (S-50) process and in 1945 to build a side-feed extension (K-27)
unit made further tapping of the TVA system mandatory. To compensate for the lower electrical output of the K-25 powerhouse, the TVA agreed to build a 154-kilovolt line from its Fort Loudoun Dam to the K-25 substation, adjacent to the main gaseous diffusion plant, and a supplementary connection from its Norris-Watts Bar line to the newly erected K-27 and existing K-25 substations. A number of other connections were in the planning, but the end of the war obviated their construction.34
By mid-1945, transmission facilities and power sources at the Tennessee site were capable of providing current at a peak demand rate of 310,000 kilowatts, distributed as follows: Y-12, 200,000; town of Oak Ridge, 23,000; K-25, 80,000; S-50, 6,000; and X-10, 1,000. Actual peak demand during the wartime period never quite reached the maximum figure of 310,000 kilowatts. The highest demand rate recorded was 298,800 kilowatts on 1 September 1945. Peak consumption for any extended period during the war occurred in August 1945, when the electricity used by all facilities for the month totaled about 200 million kilowatt hours.35
Distribution: Hanford Engineer Works
As at the Tennessee site, the nucleus of the electrical distribution system for the Hanford site was the existing net of transmission lines and substation facilities, built and operated by local utility firms, including the Pacific Power and Light Company. While awaiting outcome of the prolonged negotiations with the BPA, the Corps of Engineers’ Real Estate Branch moved ahead with acquiring these existing facilities. At the same time, Lt. Col. Franklin T. Matthias, the area engineer, and his staff, joined with BPA, Pacific Power, and Du Pont engineers in drawing up plans for the extensive alteration and addition to the existing distribution system, and expediting procurement of materials to carry these out.36
Project engineers surveying the existing electrical distribution facilities at the Hanford site found that transmission lines crisscrossed the area at a number of points, constituting a basic power net that could be readily adapted to project requirements. The BPA had built two 115-kilovolt lines through the area that hooked in to the main Bonneville-Coulee twin 230-kilovolt high line at the Midway Substation, located near the western boundary of the site. One of these 115-kilovolt lines extended through site territory east to Hanford village, and thence southeast to Walla Walla, Washington, where it terminated; the other ran generally west from Midway across the western boundary of the site and then northwest to Ellensburg, Washington. Pacific Power’s utility lines in the area had been built to serve the small local communities and
some individual farms. Its main line, carrying 66 kilovolts, ran north from Pasco through Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs, thence west to the Priest Rapids Irrigation District’s hydroelectric plant on the Columbia River at the northwest corner of the site; this 66-kilovolt line tied into the BPA’s 115-kilovolt line at Hanford, thus making it possible for Pacific Power to secure current as needed from the Bonneville system. Short sections of additional 66-kilovolt lines, which provided service to communities in the vicinity of the site, also traversed the project area. To ensure effective control and avoid unnecessary duplication of facilities, Manhattan eventually acquired all of Pacific Power’s lines and substations within the site.37
While the existing transmission net at Hanford proved to be more than adequate for initial construction activities, it was not capable of bringing the high-voltage loads required for the production plants. For this purpose, BPA engineers designed a 230-kilovolt loop, approximately 52 miles long, that tapped the Bonneville-Coulee lines at the Midway Substation and then ran eastward in a circular configuration that brought it near each pile and separation plant. To ensure complete reliability of service, the BPA built this loop so that current might be fed in from either end and also constructed two additional 230-kilovolt feeder lines to supplement those already running between the Bonneville and Grand Coulee hydroelectric plants. Substations erected in the plant areas reduced the high-voltage current to the levels required for the different plant operations.38
The lines acquired from Pacific Power also became an integral part of the Hanford power network. Electricity for the metal fabrication and testing area, the administration area, and Richland village – all located in the southeastern corner of the site – was fed in through the existing BPA 115-kilovolt line from Midway to Hanford, and thence carried southward over the power company’s 66-kilovolt Hanford-Pasco line. This latter section was the only part of the company’s original system retained as part of the permanent distribution net after Du Pont completed construction. Experienced Pacific Power crews, under subcontract to the Hanford Engineer Works, did much of the construction and modification work on the transmission system.
On 25 February 1944, Du Pont took over complete responsibility for operation and maintenance of all electrical facilities that were not an integral part of the BPA system. The only exception was the Priest Rapids plant, which Pacific Power operated under a separate government contract with technical assistance from Du Pont. This plan was consistent with the Army’s stringent security policy of reducing to a minimum the number of firms involved in operational phases of producing fissionable materials. Even though BPA crews continued to maintain and repair its lines in the project area, the area engineer
kept them under constant security surveillance.39
In developing Hanford’s complex transmission facilities, the BPA and Pacific Power found that procurement of electrical equipment – in particular, wire, generators, and utility poles – was one of their most difficult problems and repeatedly sought assistance from Manhattan. The BPA, for example, had to prepare extensive data to justify its many priorities requests for electrical equipment, and Colonel Matthias assigned an electrical engineer from his staff to the BPA’s engineering office in Portland to assist with this task. A typical problem for the Hanford distribution system was procurement of cable for the 230-kilovolt loop in the production plant area. When Manhattan applied for an allotment of scarce copper for this purpose, the War Production Board recommended that it use aluminum cable. Project engineers assented to using aluminum, but then experienced both difficulty and delay in securing the board’s sanction for the substitution. As a result, Hanford could not begin procurement of the cable until July 1943. Fortunately, continuing and vigorous expediting efforts by the Army enabled the BPA to complete the loop in time to furnish the electrical energy essential for initial operations of the plutonium production piles in late 1944.40
When considered against the background of severe shortages of both electric power and equipment in a wartime economy, securing an adequate supply and distribution of electric power for the atomic installations was a significant achievement for the Manhattan Project and its Army administrators. Their early recognition of the need for firm priorities commitments and skillful use of War Department resources for obtaining them guaranteed Manhattan continuous access to the electric power essential for all of its wartime operations.