Gun Site Preservation Picks Up Momentum

Gun Site Preservation Picks Up Momentum

A rendering of the proposed restored Gun Site at Los Alamos

The Atomic Heritage Foundation is pleased to report that preservation of the "Gun Site" at Los Alamos is moving ahead. On September 22 and 23, 2009, AHF President Cindy Kelly and Clay Perkins met with members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and representatives of the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and others to talk about plans for the Gun Site restoration. 

The Gun Site is located just off West Jemez Road in Los Alamos. Once part of Anchor Ranch, during the Manhattan Project the site was called Technical Area 8. Here Manhattan Project scientists and engineers developed and tested the gun-type weapon that works by firing a large cylinder of fissile material into a smaller quantity of the same material. When the two come together, they form a critical mass and set off a chain reaction that produces a nuclear explosion. The scientists fired material using a Naval cannon and observed the results through a periscope from the safety of a concrete bunker. These experiments were critical to the design of the "Little Boy" or uranium-based bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The Gun Site was named as one of three Signature Facilities of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, along with the "V Site" (TA-16-516) and the "Fat Man" assembly and Loading Quonset hut (TA-22-1). The "V Site" was restored in 2006 with funds from a Save America's Treasures grant that were matched by the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

The Energy and Water Development Appropriations for FY 2009 included $500,000 for the "preservation of Manhattan Project properties at the Los Alamos National Laboratories." Before retiring from the Senate, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) worked with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to ensure that $500,000 was included in the FY 2009 appropriations bill passed on July 14, 2009.

Mr. Clay Perkins, a former physicist, rocket scientist with General Dynamics, and developer in San Diego County, has generously agreed to provide the Atomic Heritage Foundation $250,000 in funds for the Gun Site restoration. According to Perkins, the restoration of the site "will be good for us, the Labs, Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Nation, and, most importantly, for history."

Ellen McGehee and John Isaacson are leading the restoration project for LANL. As they explained at the September meeting, phase I should be completed this fall with funds remaining from the "V Site" project and clean-up funds. The purpose is to remove the non-Manhattan Project era wooden structures on the exterior and to examine and ensure the integrity of the roof by removing the dirt and probably installing waterproofing and a new drainage system. The second phase is to address the structure and restoration of the three concrete buildings and the third phase will be to recreate the tower that housed the periscope.