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Race for the Superbomb | Article

U.S. Sites and Programs

Bikini Atoll 

Bikini Atoll, located in the central Pacific, is one of the 29 atolls and five islands that make up the Marshall Islands. Bikini itself is perhaps best known in the West for the role it played in the U.S. nuclear test program. A number of atomic tests took place on Bikini, the first of which called Operation Crossroads, was scheduled for March of 1946. The 167 islanders, who were living on Bikini at the time were evacuated by U.S. officials. In 1969 after U.S. agencies declared that it was safe to return to Bikini, President Johnson ordered the atoll to be resettled "with all possible dispatch." Bikini Islanders began returning home in the early '70s. But subsequent monitoring of the islands revealed higher levels of radioactivity than originally thought. In September 1978, the Islanders were once again evacuated. They have not returned. 


After the Soviet Union tested its first atomic device in August 1949, several U.S. nuclear physicists, including Edward Teller, argued that the country needed a second nuclear weapons laboratory. Ernest Lawrence, the founder of the University of California's Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, agreed with Teller and suggested that the new facility should be established in Livermore, California. In September 1952 the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was set up on the grounds of a former naval air station, with the 32-year-old Herbert York as its first director.

Los Alamos 

In 1942 General Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, the name given to the top-secret U.S. atomic bomb program, began looking for a suitable site for a new weapons laboratory. He wanted a location that was at least 200 miles from either the Mexican or Canadian borders; that was west of the Mississippi river; that had a good supply of water; a temperate climate; and that was easily accessible. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project, recommended the site of a boys' school in New Mexico that he had visited as a young man. The Los Alamos Ranch School was located about 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The Manhattan Project acquired the school and construction of the new laboratory began almost immediately.

Manhattan Project 

The Manhattan Project was the code-name given to the wartime, top-secret atomic weapons program. The project was named after the Manhattan Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based in New York City, where much of the early research was done. 

The Strategic Air Command 

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was established on March 21, 1946, with the mission of conducting long-range operations anywhere in the world at any time. General Curtis LeMay was put in command of the unit in October 1948. Within a few years he had built it into one of the most powerful fighting forces in the world. His first SAC war plan, completed in March 1949, called for attacks on 70 Soviet cities with 133 atomic bombs.

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