back to article Happy NukeDay to you! 70 years in the shadow of the bomb post-Trinity

At 5:30am on July 16, 1945, American and British scientists watched the detonation of the world's first nuclear weapon and mankind entered the atomic age. Youtube Video The Trinity test was the high point of the Manhattan Project, the Allied powers' plan to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans or Japanese managed it. The …

Pint

"miscalculations tripled that energy output"

That was not a miscalculation, but ignorance. At the time, nobody knew that Li-7 (a 60 % part of the secondary charge) was highly reactive, hence the runaway reaction: Li-7, being fed Neutrons by the primary charge, more or less amplified what had been intended, by fissioning into fusion fuel. Had they used mostly Li-6, the calculated result would have been achieved.

Before the Castle Bravo test, nobody had known this, hence nobody could calculate the effects correctly. So... OK, a miscalculation, but due to missing data. I would say that makes it a case of ignorance over a miscalculation, since a miscalculation is usually what happens when you have correct data input and still get a wrong result.

I'm thankful that I can sit here and talk about such grand failures of engineering (because that was more or less an engineering problem, not a physics one; the phyiscs underlying the process had been worked out a decade earlier...) and have a beer while not being at undue risk of being incinerated. Pint of Doom Bar, please...

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Re: "miscalculations tripled that energy output"

Teller also was all butt hurt about that bomb and refused to participate. He knew it succeed though by watching a seismograph in California.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "miscalculations tripled that energy output"- Teller also was all butt hurt

Teller was by all accounts such a ghastly piece of shit that no matter how butt hurt he was, he couldn't possibly have been butt hurt enough

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Personal connection

My first job was working for Laser-Scan in Cambridge, a company founded by Otto Frisch. He died shortly after I joined, however my colleagues knew him very well. His and Rudolf Peierls' 1940 memorandum worked out how only a small amount of fissionable material was required and described the effects of the blast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frisch%E2%80%93Peierls_memorandum

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Unhappy

Whatever happenned to the good old says?

"At Los Alamos no one discriminated on the ground of where you came from, or if you were a Christian or a non-believer," Brownlee explained. "The only thing they discriminated against was to be dumb – and it was a top priority to show you weren't."

If only some things stayed the same- where would we be now?

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Re: Whatever happenned to the good old says?

With politicians with a modicum of brains?

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Re: Whatever happenned to the good old says?

>If only some things stayed the same- where would we be now?

Well if he had let nuts like Teller run everything our milk would now be chunky from all the Strontium 90.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whatever happenned to the good old says?

"Extra Strontium Yogurth! Now with added isotopes!"

I am sure the DU babies left after US wars would approve.

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Coat

Re: Whatever happenned to the good old says?

"The only thing they discriminated against was to be dumb – and it was a top priority to show you weren't."

If only some things stayed the same- where would we be now?

Probably on a forum, fishing for upvotes.

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Mushroom

The Manhattan Project

The amazing thing is that the Manhattan Project developed not one but two different atomic bombs (Fat Boy and Little Boy) as well as the theory behind thermonuclear bombs, In 3 years. The Germans didn't get beyond developing a primitive nuclear pile (which the Americans did in 1942). When German scientists were told about the bombing of Hiroshima, they couldn't believe that it was an Atomic bomb, insisting it must be a dirty bomb.

Icon: well, someone had to...

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LDS
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Re: The Manhattan Project

Because "at Los Alamos no one discriminated" - Nazi fanatics had the "bright idea" of discriminating everybody, without understanding many of their brightest minds were among those who they were discriminating most and trying to destroy wholly. Also, they could not attract minds from anywhere, but other fanatics like them. In a horrible way, it was good, because Germany lacked first the human resources, then it also lacked the material ones.

That's what happens when very dumb people can get the full support of many other people who decided to be very dumb and believe them blindly.

The Manahattan Project was able to collect the best people around - although there were also some working for the next Nazis, the Soviets...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Manhattan Project

"Also, they could not attract minds from anywhere, but other fanatics like them."

The V2 rocket project suffered similar political effects that slowed it down. Otherwise the V2 would have been unleashed earlier in the war - and even an ICBM might have been developed for use against the USA. Both the USA and the USSR plundered that project of people and materials in the light of their forthcoming post-war enmity.

Even the first operational jet aeroplane - the Me262 - was produced primarily as a light bomber because Hitler could not admit the need of a defensive fighter. The British jet fighter development project was never fully supported until it was too late to have any effect on the outcome of the war.

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Re: developed in 3 years

Yes, it is quite amazing what a group of truly intelligent people can achieve when the situation calls for it.

However, they did not start from scratch. They started with all the documents that German scientists had brought them, and they had some leading German scientists to continue the work.

Not that that diminishes their achievement in any way.

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LDS
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Re: The Manhattan Project

IIRC German planned the A9/A10 two stage rocket to hit US soil. Just, without a very destructive payloads, all V-weapons were more expensive than destructive. Thanks to heaven Germany couldn't make a nuclear weapon, and put it atop a V-2, or a larger version...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Manhattan Project

"Thanks to heaven Germany couldn't make a nuclear weapon, and put it atop a V-2, or a larger version..."

The V2 technology forcibly exported to the USA and USSR no doubt was used for that purpose?

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Re: The Manhattan Project

You also have to remember allied bombing / sabotage and supply shortages played a big part in slowing down the German efforts. The US had no such issues.

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In a month we can celebrate 70 years of not using nuclear weapons in anger.

Then, hopefully, we can make it another 70 years and take it from there...

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Devil

What worries me...

Is the whereabouts of all the nukes that were stationed in the former USSR. Have they been safely gathered and decommissioned? Are they still in their silos, rotting? Are any missing and if so, where did they go?

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LDS
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Re: What worries me...

I believe even the Russians are very scared an atomic devices can end in some uncontrollable fanatic hands. Helping Iran to get one may work and bring money in, letting a bomb loose is something I guess they don't want, especially because there are also some terrorists who would blow up the Kremlin as well, if only they could - and once you lost one bomb to people just looking at the money, you can't really know where it ends up.

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Re: What worries me...

"Have they been safely gathered and decommissioned?"

Most of them have been used to power USA reactors - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatons_to_Megawatts_Program

The russians were strapped for cash and paying them to dismantle the bombs was beneficial all around.

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Mushroom

Re: What worries me...

Are they still in their silos, rotting? Are any missing and if so, where did they go?

Really, it's a mess...

Who are the nuclear scofflaws

Given all the frothing by hawkish U.S. Senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power. The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.

Nine nations, however, have flouted the NPT by either developing nuclear weapons since the treaty went into effect or failing to honor the commitment to disarm. These nine scofflaws and their nuclear arsenals are Russia (7,500 nuclear warheads), the United States (7,100 nuclear warheads), France (300 nuclear warheads), China (250 nuclear warheads), Britain (215 nuclear warheads), Pakistan (100-120 nuclear warheads), India (90-110 nuclear warheads), Israel (80 nuclear warheads), and North Korea (10 nuclear warheads).

Nor are the nuclear powers likely to be in compliance with the NPT any time soon. The Indian and Pakistani governments are engaged in a rapid nuclear weapons buildup, while the British government is contemplating the development of a new, more advanced nuclear weapons system. Although, in recent decades, the US and Russian governments did reduce their nuclear arsenals substantially, that process has come to a halt in recent years, as relations have soured between the two nations. Indeed, both countries are currently engaged in a new, extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. The US government has committed itself to spending $1 trillion to “modernize” its nuclear facilities and build new nuclear weapons. For its part, the Russian government is investing heavily in the upgrading of its nuclear warheads and the development of new delivery systems, such as nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines.

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Mushroom

"test explosions should be resumed and held regularly with the world's politicians watching"

And, as seems to be the protocol at major political events, the leaders get to sit front and centre, nice and close...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "test explosions should be resumed and held regularly with the world's politicians watching"

As has been seen in the past - chop off the head of an all-powerful leader and often like the Hydra many more sprout up to compete in the power vacuum.

Without Tito Yugoslavia disintegrated into civil wars along ethnic lines. So did Iraq without the iron grip of Hussein. Ditto Libya and Gaddafi. Syria is following a similar trajectory.

It is best to avoid precipitating such a power vacuum.

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LDS
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Re: "test explosions should be resumed and held regularly with the world's politicians watching"

Do you remember how Heracles killed the Hydra? Burning each wound after each head was cut to hinder the creation of others. I guess a nuclear explosion is really good at burning hydras...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "test explosions should be resumed and held regularly with the world's politicians watching"

"I guess a nuclear explosion is really good at burning hydras..."

The competitors who attempt to take advantage of a power vacuum fall into four categories. The regime's underlings; the suppressed oppositions in the country; the exiled oppositions; other countries who want land or resources.

Iraq was an example of pretty much all four.

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

From what I read on Wikipedia (I know, I know) the neutron bomb is just a version of the thermonuclear device where the tertiary fuel (non-enriched uranium) is omitted. The neutron radiation burst is about the same but the explosive yield is reduced. Perhaps the terror of this weapon was exaggerated somewhat?

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

NO, no... It was most definitely not exaggerated...

The disadvantage of a "standard" nuclear device was that it destroyed *everything*.. Which was, and still is, deemed a waste of precious resources. The neutron bomb caused *much* less damage, but instead turned everything into ( mostly) extremely short-lived radioactive hell. It's an "anti-personnel" device, killing *slowly* through radiation poisoning.

It was, and still is, the ultimate genocide device.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

Thumbs down for a Repo Man quote? What's wrong with you people?

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

>It's an "anti-personnel" device, killing *slowly* through radiation poisoning.

>It was, and still is, the ultimate genocide device.

No the ultimate genocide device would have been the Cobalt bomb that Phillip K Dick as so scared off. Still have to agree that big amounts of Cobalt 60 is some really nasty stuff.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

The neutron bomb was intended for use against armoured targets. The problem with tanks is that they are really rather robust and not terribly flammable. So to destroy 10,000 soviet tanks rolling across Germany you have to do rather a lot of damage to Germany.

The idea of the neutron bomb is that the neutrons pass through the tank armour and terminally inconvenience the crew - without having to waste rather a lot of energy melting the tank.

The soviet solution was to wrap the fuel tanks, containing rather a lot of hydrocarbons, around the crew. Hydrogen has a good capture cross section for neutrons.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

"The soviet solution was to wrap the fuel tanks, containing rather a lot of hydrocarbons, around the crew. Hydrogen has a good capture cross section for neutrons."

They were supposed to survive long enough to get their rounds off at the invading NATO forces, that's all. The USSR was afraid of a NATO invasion preceded by a surprise neutron bomb attack. Limited neutron protection is no good for an invading force - they'll still die in a few hours - so this was just one more piece of evidence that the USSR was actually frightened rather than aggressive.

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

The USSR was actually frightened AFTER Stalin died (FIFY). That made all the difference in the world. If he lived another decade there might well have been a nuclear war.

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

"but the explosive yield is reduced."

Over that of a thermonuclear bomb, yes.

It's still a nuclear weapon and still highly destructive in the immediate vicinity out to 2-3km.

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

"The soviet solution was to wrap the fuel tanks, containing rather a lot of hydrocarbons, around the crew. Hydrogen has a good capture cross section for neutrons."

Water is even better and it doesn't have the inconvenient tendency to catch fire.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

"If he lived another decade there might well have been a nuclear war."

But he wasn't going to, was he? He was raving bonkers by 1952. Krushchev killing Beria was possibly the most significant event. Krushchev was no idiot, and he had been involved in rescuing the USSR from Stalin's earlier incompetence during WW2.

In fact the US appeared to be planning to invade the Soviet Union during the 1950s, with the development of tactical nuclear weapons. American politicians seem to have a long term inability to perceive how their actions look from the other side, perhaps because the US has never been invaded and the only serious attack on US territory was a long way away in Hawaii (the twin Towers attack would have been considered a minor event if it had happened in Germany or Russia during WW2, with "only" two or three thousand people killed, whereas Pearl Harbor actually had strategic consequences.) They aren't unique in this but as the possessors of the largest military in the world their lack of empathy is particularly noticeable. I suspect one of the problems that the US has with Putin is that he acts as if he was an American President, destabilising and trying to establish puppet governments. Who does he think he is? Ronald Reagan?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

"Water is even better and it doesn't have the inconvenient tendency to catch fire."

There isn't much room in a tank to begin with and making it larger makes it more, not less, vulnerable to conventional attack.

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Re: No mention of the neutron bomb?

Putin destabilising and trying to establish puppet governments

The worst thing is that this is not even the case.

Meanwhile, Kiev's chocolate king oligarch has nazi troopers and tourist islamists trying to cause serious trouble. Europe still has a few yearsdecades of fun times ahead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Water is even better

Land submarines - attack!

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Maybe the Reg should send a reporter to the Atomic Testing museum in Las Vegas. Truly a terrible, terrifying and informative place. Maybe it's just me, but they seem almost cocky about dropping bombs on Japan. Even though it was quite clear that the wind had gone from Japans sails.

Reading anything about the blasts and testing upsets me. Its an avenue best left well alone.

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Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas

I have been there. Twice. I can attest that the horrific and devastating results of nuclear bombing are not downplayed. They do take the position that dropping the bombs was to save lives vs. direct invasion of Japan. A small theater displays a film with some RahRah political aspects,etc, but the bombs are only PART of the full story in this museum. There is also significant space devoted to nuclear energy for electricity and research. To me, the most interesting parts were the exhibits devoted to human naivete surrounding radiation and its effects. Much of the museum is intended to demystify and set right any misconceptions about all things nuclear - bombs AND energy production AND scientific/medical research. The present the Bad and the Good and at least attempt to strike a balance between the two. I do hope they update their energy production section with more recent info on newer reactor designs.

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Mushroom

I can

think of several dozen politicians/world leaders who need a practical demostration of a nuclear weapon and the ensuring results.

In fact they should be given a close up tour of the bomb an hour before its due to go off to see just how small it is and how cleverly designed it is..... did anyone remember to reset the firing clock from summer to winter timBOOM

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Pint

Pugwash and the Russell-Einstein Manifesto

Cheers to the memory of Jo 'Prof' Rotblatt, who did as much as anyone to curb nuclear proliferation and, together with scientists across the world, to explain to politicians and military chiefs that mutually assured destruction would be the inevitable result of nuclear war.

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low background steel

Anybody know if pre-bomb cast iron is worth more than just its scrap value?

I have about a mile of 9 inch and half a mile of 4 inch pipe laying around.

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Re: low background steel

It has to have been well shielded - hence the Scapa Flow metal

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The only way to win, is not to play.

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"Hmmm... this software has bugs"

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LDS
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Even Roman sunken ships are exploited for pre-bomb metals.

One detector IIRC placed in a laboratory under the Gran Sasso mountain was built using lead ingots found in the wreck of a Roman ship sunk in the Po delta, exactly because of their very low radiation levels, having being extracted two thousand years ago, and since then "stored" in the sunken ship.

The ship items are now in a permanent exhibition in Comacchio (not far from Ravenna, the last capital of the Roman Empire, and one of the main harbours of that era), while the wreck is in a special container to preserve the wood, but not yet visible to the public.

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Mushroom

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi even took bets on the likelihood that the bomb would ignite the nitrogen in the atmosphere and cause a global catastrophe, before he was asked to stop because it was making people nervous.

Fermi had a reputation for his jokes/sarcasm

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