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Did a WWII nuclear experiment make the U of C radioactive? Um, No. But did the Manhattan Project’s Enrico Fermi consider the risk to Chicago? via WBEZ

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Chicago Pile 1 was never meant to be under the University of Chicago’s former football field. Project managers originally wanted the full experiment to run in the Red Gate Woods, southwest of the city. But builders at Red Gate went on strike, so Compton and Fermi faced a decision: abandon the experiment, or move it. Fermi told Compton he felt confident that the pile could be built safely and effectively in the squash court under Stagg field.

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Compton trusted Fermi, enough so that he chose to move forward with the experiment at Stagg Field without telling the University’s president. “The only answer he could have given would have been no, and this answer would have been wrong, so I assumed the responsibility myself,” said Compton in his memoirs.

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The following year Chicago Pile 1 was moved out to Red Gate woods, where it was intended to be in the first place. There, scientists reshaped it as a cube and renamed it Chicago Pile 2. When its physicist guardians felt they had learned all they could from the pile, they buried it in the woods. This burial site is on public land and even has a gravestone to befuddle unsuspecting hikers and other passersby.

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The grave isn’t easy to find – Google Maps will lead you only to an unmarked trail-head and, after you arrive, you’ll find no sign saying “Nuclear reactor this way.” If you’re a little weak-kneed about visiting or you feel uncomfortable hitting up the stray jogger or hiker about the pile’s ultimate demise, you can find details and a museum-like tour at the nearby Argonne National Laboratory.

Read the whole story at Did a WWII nuclear experiment make the U of C radioactive? Um, No. But did the Manhattan Project’s Enrico Fermi consider the risk to Chicago?

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