Kenneth David Nichols – Major General, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

Kenneth David Nichols, 93, a retired Army Major General who as a civil engineer helped build plutonium- and uranium-producing facilities for the atomic bomb, died of respiratory failure February 21, 2000 at the Brighton Gardens retirement home in Bethesda, Maryland.

General Nichols was also an important figure in the development of guided-missile technology, efforts to establish a national defense against nuclear attack and advances in peacetime uses of atomic energy.

In the summer of 1942, General Nichols was reassigned from a combat unit to a special Army Corps of Engineers' organization set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to produce an atomic bomb.

After taking part in initial organizational meetings, he rose to district engineer, reporting directly to General Leslie R. Groves, commanding general of the effort, which was code-named the Manhattan Project.

As pressure mounted to complete the atomic bomb at the earliest possible date, General Nichols supervised research for the production of certain nuclear materials and the construction of atomic installations and related facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington.

While involved in the construction of electromagnetic plants, schools, commercial buildings and barracks, among other projects, he also drafted a policy position on the exchange of atomic information between nations.

He became a leading expert on atomic weapons and later succeeded Groves as head of the Armed Forces special weapons project, which included guided-missile technology.

He also had staff responsibilities for developing military doctrine for the use of atomic and hydrogen weapons.

After 28 years in the Corps of Engineers, he retired in 1953. At the request of the White House, he became general manager of the Atomic Energy Commission. There, he was credited with improving relations between the AEC and the military and with advancing the development of commercial nuclear plants for generating electricity.

During General Nichols's tenure, the AEC started the nuclear reactor demonstration program, which led to the building of five types of experimental power reactors. The AEC also was involved in the controversy over J. Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist who directed the development of the first atomic bomb.

Oppenheimer was dropped as a consultant to the AEC and stripped of his security clearance after he was accused of being a security risk.

General Nichols resigned as the AEC general manager in 1955 and opened a consulting firm on K Street, specializing in commercial atomic energy research and development. His clients included the Aluminum Co. of America, Gulf Oil Corp., Westinghouse Electric Corp. and the Yankee Atomic Power Plant.

General Nichols was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1929. Early in his military career, he volunteered to go to Nicaragua with the Army Engineer Battalion, surveying the proposed Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal.

He received bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Cornell University and a doctoral degree in hydraulic engineering from the University of Iowa.

Under a fellowship from the Institute of International Education, he studied hydraulic research methods in Europe.

He served on numerous committees concerning participation by industry in atomic energy, and he belonged to professional organizations such as the American Nuclear Society.

His honors included the Distinguished Graduate Award from the West Point Association of Graduates.

Survivors include his wife, Jacqueline Nichols of Bethesda; two children, Jacqueline Anne Thompson of Bethesda and David Nichols of Olympia, Wash.; and four grandchildren.

NICHOLS, KENNETH D., Major General (Ret.)

On February 21, 2000, KENNETH DAVID NICHOLS, of Bethesda, MD. Beloved husband of Jacqueline Darrieulat Nichols; father of Jacqueline N. Thompson and K. David Nichols, Jr.; grandfather of Nicole T. Thompson, Anthony J. Thompson, Jr., Kenneth D. Nichols, III and Catherine N. Bruce.

A private graveside service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 11/13/1907
  • DATE OF DEATH: 02/21/2000

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