Science, Technology, and the Military: The Manhattan Project
Atomic weapons, and indeed the resulting dawn of the nuclear age, in the absence of military and defense-related procurement would not have been developed at all – it would not have “been developed anyway” as some critics propose. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine that, without the threat of Germany’s developing nuclear weapons during World War II, the U.S. government would have mobilized the scientific, technical, and military resources devoted to the Manhattan Project. It is equally difficult to imagine circumstances other than the cold war that would have enabled US government to sustain its investment in nuclear energy into the 1980s.
What if there had been no Manhattan Project? Pool has argued that, in the absence of an atomic weapons program, the United States would not have built nuclear enrichment facilities. And without the enriched uranium supplied by the AEC’s weapons program, it is unlikely that a nuclear navy program would have been implemented or that a nuclear power program would have been developed (Peter 1999, p. 43). Chauncey Starr, one of the more experienced and thoughtful observers of the nuclear power industry, speculated in the mid-1990s that, in the absence of the threat of war, Hahn and Strassman’s work would have been written up in the scientific literature and treated as a subject of mostly academic interest. Because of high cost, research and development of atomic reactors would have proceeded at a modest pace. Low-power nuclear reactors would have been developed to produce isotopes primarily for medical and industrial applications (Peter 1999, p. 41).
The resulting Manhattan Project, under the overall command of U.S. general Leslie Groves, involved 43,000 people working in thirty-seven installations across the country, and it ended up costing 2.2 billion contemporary dollars. In December 1942 beneath a football stadium at the University of Chicago, the Italian...