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In The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, Secretary of War Henry Stimson is quoted as saying, after the Trinity test and Potsdam declaration but before the bombing of Hiroshima:

I have been responsible for spending two billions of dollars on this atomic venture. Now that it is successful I shall not be sent to prison in Fort Leavenworth.

It is also indicated in the text that project director Leslie Groves would have been in trouble:

The bomb was also to be used to pay for itself, to justify to Congress the investment of $2 billion, to keep Groves and Stimson out of Leavenworth prison.

For what crimes would they have been charged? Or would they simply have been detained until the end of the war? What precedent had Stimson worried about the possibility of being imprisoned for being the leader of a failed project?

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Perhaps it was just a figure of speech? –  Felix Goldberg Jul 20 at 7:15
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It is a joke, obviously. –  fdb Jul 20 at 10:07
    
Most probably figure of speech. It was a huge, huge project with large budget, done in secret (i.e without the license of all kind of commities). I guess some administrators may though through how bad they would look if all this turn out to be useless. –  Greg Oct 23 at 7:46

3 Answers 3

It is a mere reflection of the lingering doubts still retained by these non-scientific personnel about the veracity of the science; that somehow the scientists had pulled a fast one on everybody and it was all a big joke. If that had happened there would no doubt have been charges of fraud, and possibly treason.

No scientist working on the project had the least doubt about the science, as witness the memoirs of Richard Feynman: Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Note that scaling by the Consumer Price Index values for 2014 (700) and 1945(54) converts that $2B (1945 $) into roughly $26B (2014 $).

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It was a figure of speech.

What Stimson was saying that if the Manhattan Project had been a $2 billion "dud," most people would have considered that "criminal."

And looking for scapegoats to blame, such as himself and General Groves. "Incarceration" was probably putting too strongly, but they would likely have been "pilloried" by public opinion.

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Oak Ridge Uranium enrichment at K-25 was a spectacularly inefficient project which only managed to enrich 15kg of U235 by April 1945. The German ultracentrifuge process was 30 times more efficient than the American gaseous diffusion enrichment process.

The Haniford Plutonium project by contrast proved reasonably competent using un-enriched Uranium to produce Neptunium 239.

When the Mark II Trinity bomb worked there was a collective sigh of relief.

The Mark I Uranium bomb used against Hiroshima was in-fact a captured German bomb transferred to USA in April 1945 after its capture at Goslar. Under operation Overcast it was converted to US needs by captured German scientists with the the addition of a box shaped tailfin, known as the California Brake.

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Evidence? Research? –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 22 at 12:22

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