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The Dayton Project (1943-1948)

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from Wikipedia


“The Dayton Project was one of several sites involved in the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bombs. Charles Allen Thomas an executive of the Monsanto corporation was assigned to develop the neutron generating devices that triggered the nuclear detonation of the atomic bombs once the critical mass had been "assembled" by the force of conventional explosives.


“Thomas established the project in the Runnymede Playhouse on the grounds of the Talbott family estate in a wealthy residential section of Oakwood a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. The Playhouse was a leisure facility that included a ballroom, indoor squash and tennis courts as well as a stage for community theater. It was located at the intersection of Runnymede Road and Dixon Avenue (latitude 39 degrees, 43 minutes, 29.8 seconds; longitude 84 degrees, 10 minutes, 48.3 seconds). The Talbotts were among the heirs of the Delco (by then a part of General Motors) fortune. Before the war, Thomas worked as a chemist for Delco/GM and was married to Margaret Talbott. He promised his mother-in-law that he would return the building to the family intact after the war. He was unable to keep his promise because the building had become contaminated with radioactivity. The facility (also known as Dayton Unit IV) was in use for nuclear work until 1949 when Mound Laboratories was opened in Miamisburg, Ohio. The Playhouse was dismantled in 1950 and latter buried in Tennessee.[1]


“The neutron generator used on the implosion design (such as the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki) was coded named "Urchin". It was composed of alternating layers of polonium (Po-210) and beryllium separated by gold foil. The initiator, located in the center of the bomb, was carefully designed to ensure that during the implosion of the bomb core, the polonium and beryllium mixed. Once the elements mixed, alpha particles emitted by the polonium were absorbed by the beryllium causing it to emit neutrons. The precise timing of the neutron pulse was necessary to avoid pre-detonation of the bomb which would have resulted in a "fizzle" rather than the desired blast. In modern nuclear weapons a pulsed neutron emitting tube has replaced polonium/beryllium initiators, as polonium-210 has a relatively short half-life and thus would need to be replaced every few months.




[One of the people at the Mound Museum told me that Thomas was invited by Oppenheimer to be co-director of the Manhattan project, but he declined, saying he wanted to stay in Dayton with his wife and family, and would only participate in the project if he could stay in Dayton with his wife and family.  Oppenheimer relented, and thus, the Dayton Project. 


Thomas’ role in DELCO was that he worked with Kettering in the development of the Ethyl gasoline additive, and then went into the chemical buisiness himself, which was later bought by Monsanto


His chemical company was the first Dayton Project site, as the offices were used as the base to recruit people and organize the project.  There were three other sites.




The Warehouse


…from the Ohio EPA:


“The Dayton Warehouse is located at 601 East Third Street, at the intersection of East Third and Sears Streets in Dayton, Ohio.  Monsanto Chemical Company rented the Warehouse in 1946 and commenced operations.  Operations involved trace quantities of polonium-210 from the analysis of environmental monitoring samples, bioassay samples from project personnel, and preliminary biological studies on the effect of polonium on laboratory animals.”




The Seminary



“Located at 1601 West First Street in Dayton, Ohio, the property is currently used as a maintenance facility by the Dayton School Board.  In 1943 the federal government leased the site from the Dayton School Board to process polonium-210 for potential use in the Manhattan Project. By 1950 the site was decontaminated and returned to the Dayton School Board. “




(The seminary was still standing at the time of the project: an old photo shows the old Victorian pile surrounded by one-story WWII temporaries.  It probably was torn down sometime after the war.  There is a Wright Brothers connection with the site, too)



The Playhouse



…from the COE inspection report of December 2004:


"In March 1944, the Unites States government acquired the Talbott property in Oakwood under the Emergency Powers Act. At that time, the Runnymede Playhouse building included an indoor tennis court, stage and balcony, squash courts, greenhouse, card rooms and lounge. Monsanto extensively altered the interior of the building for use as a laboratory and research/production facility (Shook and Williams, 1983)."


" Monsanto used the Dayton Unit IV site for the research, development, processing and production of polonium, and the storage of processing residues. Two processes were used to obtain Po-210. The first involved the extraction of Po-210 from lead dioxide wastes generated by the Port Hope radium refinery in Ontario, Canada. A total of 73,774 pounds of lead dioxide wastes were received and processed by the Dayton Project, with the first shipment arriving in November 1943. The second process, found superior to the lead dioxide process, involved the chemical separation of Po-210 from bricks and slugs containing irradiated bismuth-209. The bricks and slugs were irradiated via neutron bombardment at the Clinton Reactor in Oak Ridge,  Tennessee, then shipped to the site for polonium separation using wet chemical (acid extraction)  methods. Once the methods for irradiating bismuth and separating polonium from the irradiated bismuth had been developed, all polonium purified at the Dayton Project was prepared by this method (Moyer et. al., 1956)."






"….the main building had become so contaminated with radioactivity that decontamination was impossible; therefore, the building was demolished. Demolition began in February 1950 and was completed in the early summer, after which the site was returned to the USACE for disposition (Moyer et. al., 1956). As part of the site demolition activities, all radioactive material was removed from the site and sent to either the Mound Laboratories or Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The cobblestones from the driveway were also shipped offsite, along with seven feet of earth taken from beneath the main building foundation (Shook and Williams, 1983). The foundation area was subsequently backfilled, graded and covered with sod. In the intervening years since 1950, the site has been landscaped and converted into residential homes. Also, a short residential cul-de-sac, Katharine Terrace, has been constructed within the northeast corner of the site."






The polonium detonators produced here were used in the first nuclear explosion, at Trinity Site,  12 July 1945, 11:29:45






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