LANL Site Selection
One of the very first tasks of General Leslie Groves and the Manhattan Project in early 1943 was to locate and acquire sites in the United States where uranium and plutonium could be produced, as well as a site where the atomic bomb would be constructed.
Production of uranium and plutonium required vast amounts of power. Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., were chosen because of their proximity to major rivers. Oak Ridge could draw on the power of the hydroelectric plants on the Tennessee River. Hanford could use the power from the Columbia River. The cold waters of the Columbia also could be used to cool the plutonium production reactors at Hanford. A third site, with much different requirements, was needed where the atomic bomb would be designed and built.
Los Alamos is Chosen
The critical requirement for a site for an atomic bomb design laboratory was enhanced security. Such a site needed to be safe from bombing by enemy aircraft and equally safe from curious citizens. General Leslie Groves ordered a search for such a site conducted throughout the western United States.
Jemez Springs, New Mexico, about 30 miles west of Los Alamos, met the basic requirements, but upon closer inspection in November 1942, Groves and Oppenheimer rejected the site because it was too confined by high canyon walls and lacked a good road. Oppenheimer suggested another site, not far away, called Los Alamos.
Groves approved. Los Alamos seemed ideal. It was isolated, access to and from the site could be controlled, and the surrounding canyons could be used for tests involving high explosives. The War Department acted quickly to acquire the Los Alamos Ranch School and a considerable amount of surrounding public and private land. Because Los Alamos was the site of a school for boys, possession had to wait until the end of the academic term in February 1943.