ROANE ALLIANCE

We plan and implement strategies for the controlled growth of Roane County’s economy as a unified voice representing the best Tennessee has to offer businesses, citizens and travelers.

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ROANE ECD

We bring growth-oriented businesses with strong fiscal discipline, infrastructure and workforce-ready people to East Tennessee.

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ROANE TOURISM

We attract travelers who seek unique heritage and the best outdoor recreational experiences to Roane County.

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ROANE CHAMBER

We connect leaders and organizations for the benefit of local and regional business growth.

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EDUCATION MATTERS

We empower leaders, parents and students to invest in education, so they are better prepared to fulfill the workforce opportunities of Roane County’s future.

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RETIRE ROANE

We offer natural beauty, historic charm and low-cost living, distinguishing Roane County as one of the best retirement destinations in the nation.

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The Story behind the Secret City

 

Roane County and Two National Initiatives

The war years from 1941 to 1945 transformed Roane County in many ways. The biggest impacts came from two national programs that had a direct focus on the county. The Tennessee Valley Authority, formed in 1933, completed Watts Bar Dam in 1942. The long-term result was that people in the region got more electricity, a year-round navigable waterway all the way to Knoxville, and one of the most beautiful lakes and recreation areas in the country. The second national initiative, the Manhattan Project, forever changed U.S. and world history.

The year was 1939, and the Nazis were doing well. The German war machine was overrunning Europe, and their scientists had just discovered fission. News of the discovery reached the United States within weeks. The implications were apparent to the nuclear physics community in Germany, the United States, England and elsewhere. It might be possible to build a bomb, based on fission, of unimaginable energy and destructive power. The scientists that understood this possibility were terrified at the prospects for the world if the Hitler regime built the bomb first. It was also very clear that the Nazis were ahead.

In July 1939, at the suggestion of physicists Eugene Wigner (later to be named Research Director at Roane County's Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and Leo Szilard, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt urging him to start a research program on the feasibility of making a nuclear weapon. The recommendation was accepted. Approximately six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war, Roosevelt received the report. Scientists concluded that an atomic bomb was feasible and recommended that a full-scale project be started. The report was approved by the president four days later.

The Manhattan Project formed under the Army Corps of Engineers to develop the atomic bomb. Land was carved out of Roane and Anderson counties to be used for demonstrating the feasibility of producing large amounts of plutonium in a nuclear reactor and separating it from the irradiated reactor fuel, and for separating the fissionable isotope U-235 from natural uranium. A factor in the East Tennessee location was the availability of a large amount of TVA-generated electricity from the just-completed Watts Bar Dam and other TVA facilities.

Places Called K-25, Y-12 and X-10

The Corps of Engineers moved quickly to file a "declaration of taking" in federal court to seize possession of 56,000 acres in Roane and Anderson counties. Schools, churches and roads were closed. Whole communities disappeared in a matter of weeks—either by voluntary moving or eviction. As harsh as the actions were, there was justification. Officials of the Manhattan Project were determined to beat the Nazis to the atomic bomb. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way of that objective.

The Corps of Engineers operation in East Tennessee was initially called the Kingston Demolition Range. Later, it was designated the Clinton Engineer Works, which consisted of three main facilities: the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, the Y-12 electromagnetic separations plant, and the X-10 reactor and associated chemical facilities. Operation of these facilities required a workforce that reached 80,000. Only top officials and scientists had any idea of the objectives. The secret project had an insatiable appetite for labor, materials and equipment. They paid high wages and siphoned labor from local farms, businesses and industry.

On August 6, 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was devastated by Little Boy, a single nuclear bomb. The secrecy that enshrouded the work in Oak Ridge lifted, as realization set in among its mass of working civilians and the public in general that the project had been an atomic bomb. When Japan didn’t surrender, the city of Negasaki experienced the same fate as Hiroshima, three days later. The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945, bringing to a close the costliest war in history. The uranium in the Hiroshima bomb came mostly from the Y-12 electromagnetic separations plant, but a small quantity came from the K-25 plant in Roane County. The plutonium in the Negasaki bomb was produced from a process developed at Roane County's X-10 plant. For the people of the Secret City, Initial shock gave way to celebration that the long war was finally over.