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Share this page 3.1 Discover All the Secrets of the Secret City

By Stephanie Wells

In the early 1940’s, while World War II was raging in Europe, the Germans were eagerly seeking a fuel source for a weapon that would give them the ultimate power. Meanwhile, the United States, was just as eagerly looking for a site in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee to build a top-secret city that would be used to create the world’s first Atomic Bomb.

Seventy-five thousand people converged on a rural area in 1943 in East Tennessee and not only built four massive production facilities, they also built a city complete with housing, churches, stores, schools, even a bus system.

If you want to learn everything you can about Oak Ridge and it’s contribution to ending World War II, you have to first visit the American Museum of Science and Energy (www.amse.org) and second, you have to take the bus tour.  The 2017 tours start in March.

The bus starts at the American Museum of Science and Energy, makes two stops and drives by two other historical sites. The stops include the New Hope Visitor Center located at Y-12 and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, formerly called X-10 to see the Graphite Reactor. The tour will travel past the Spallation Neutron Source and the East Tennessee Technology Park, the former K-25 site.

What you will see at each of the locations:

The New Hope Visitor Center will give you an introduction to the Manhattan Project and explain Y-12’s role in the Cold War and other Y-12 missions. As stated on Y-12’s website, “Since 1943, Y-12 has played a key role in strengthening our country’s national security and reducing the global threat from weapons of mass destruction.”

The tour also includes the Graphite Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Lab, formerly the X-10 site. A national historic landmark, the Graphite Reactor, served as the pilot project that led to the first production of plutonium.  Visitors will view the world’s oldest nuclear reactor. For more information, click here. 

The tour bus will also take you past the Spallation Neutron Source and the East Tennessee Technology Park, formerly the K-25 site. Instead of my trying to explain a technology that I don’t understand, here is a newscast that does it so much better than I do.

Or you can watch this interesting video for a slightly more technical explanation of the facility.

At the former K-25 site, visitors will learn about the gaseous diffusion process that enriched uranium to power the first atomic bomb. Again, instead of me trying to explain, check out the site’s virtual museum at http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/index.html.

There are two ways to register for the bus tour. One, you can visit the American Museum of Science and Energy beginning at 9 a.m. and register in person or you can register online at www.amse.org/2017-doe-public-bus-tour/.

The days that the bus tour is available varies monthly, so please be sure to check the website at www.amse.org/2017-doe-public-bus-tour/ for the days of the week that the tours are available. If you want to take the tour, you must be a United States Citizen, 10 years of age or older and have a photo identification if you are 18 years of age or older.

The bus and locations are handicap accessible. However, if you use a wheelchair without the ability to walk, you are encouraged to give a 48 hour notification. If you use a wheelchair or walker and can climb a few steps, you do not have to provide prior notification.

The bus tour is included with your admission to the American Museum of Science and Energy which is five dollars for adults, four dollars for Seniors that are 65 years of age or older and three dollars for children between the ages of ten and seventeen. The bus opens for boarding at 11:15 a.m. and will leave promptly at 11:30 a.m. The bus will return at 2:30 p.m. I suggest that you eat lunch before boarding the bus because food is not allowed on the tour.

Before you visit:

Want to learn about the history of Oak Ridge, check out a great documentary at http://www.y12.doe.gov/library/videos/secret-city-war-years.