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Chapter 1: Wartime Laboratory

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THE SILVER LINING OF THE CALUTRONS

The 1100 calutrons at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant that provided the explosive power for the first atomic bomb eventually achieved incredible economic value. In 1943 the AEC borrowed 14,700 tons of precious silver from the U.S. Treasury to use as electrical conductors in bus bars and windings for the calutrons' magnets. The silver was borrowed because of the wartime shortage of copper. 

In a series of shipments from the late 1940s through the early 1950s, almost 12,500 tons of silver were returned to the U.S. Treasury. In 1968 most of the remaining silver was returned, leaving only 70 tons for four calutrons being used by the Laboratory to produce samples highly enriched in stable isotopes. The 1968 market value of the returned 2145 tons of silver was $124 million!

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