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March 2014
28Harold Agnew with plutonium core redacted
What color was the box they kept the plutonium core in? A small digression on the fact that we can't see past events like those who lived through them did.
12Click to enlarge.
A remarkable Army map from 1945 superimposes the effects of the ruinous firebombing campaign against Japan on the continental United States.
 7"Even rats wouldn't survive the blue, luminescent radioactive dust. Vultures would be poisoned by their own appetites."
A rare find: science fiction giant John Campbell wrote about dirty bombs and U-235 in the summer of 1941.
February 2014
28A medical inspection of a Marshallese woman by an American doctor. "Project 4," the biomedical effects program of Operation Castle was initially to be concerned with "mainly neutron dosimetry with mice" but after the accident an additional group, Project 4.1, was added to study the long-term exposure effects in human beings — the Marshallese. Image source.
What is the legacy of the Castle Bravo nuclear test? How do we assess the human costs of the arms race?
14Szilard glasses 1960 LIFE
In a short story published in 1949, Leo Szilard contemplated how well he and President Truman would fare at a war crimes tribunal. His conclusion: not well.
 7Nagasaki film still
The original, unedited, raw, silent footage of the Nagasaki bombing.
January 2014
31Sculpture of Andrei, Sakharov by Peter Shapiro, outside the Russia House Club & Restaurant on Connecticut Ave in Washington, DC. Image source.
How the wonderful, terrible display of the first Soviet hydrogen bomb changed Andrei Sakharov's views on the responsibility of scientists.
17Lewisite identification poster from World War II.
Los Alamos wasn't the first time that scientists retreated to secret labs.
 6"Any books on atomic power?" From the New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1945.
The year in nuclear history scholarship.
December 2013
27A photograph of an early Hanford reactor that used to be in the Hanford DDRS — one of my favorites, both because of its impressive communication of activity and scale.
Why did three major DOE historical databases go offline in late 2013?
23The components of the B-61 nuclear weapon — the warhead is the bullet-shape in the mid-left. The B-61 was designed for flexibility, not miniaturization, but it's still impressive that it could get 20X the Hiroshima bomb's output out of that garbage-can sized warhead.
By looking at the trends of yield-to-weight ratios, we can peel back the veil just a tiny bit on nuclear weapons design trends.
13"Atomic Bomb," Andy Warhol, 1965.
Should films of nuclear detonations be put in art galleries?
 6Shot Grable, Operation Upshot-Knothole — a 15 kiloton nuclear artillery shell detonated at an altitude of 524 feet.
What airburst physics tells us about nuclear targeting decisions, and why it took so long for the NUKEMAP to support arbitrary burst heights.
November 2013
 8Shot "Baker" of Operation Crossroads — one of the more famous mushroom clouds of all time. Note that the mushroom cloud itself is not the wide cloud you see there (which is a brief condensation cloud caused by it being an underwater detonation), but is the more bulbous cloud you see peaking out of the top of that cloud. You can see the battleships used for target practice near base of the cloud. The dark mark on the right side of the stem may be an upturned USS Arkansas.
A portrait of a year in flux, when the possibilities of a new order moved from the limitless to the concrete.
 1A 1944 "Stay on the job" rally at J.A. Jones Construction Co. in Oak Ridge. The workers seem a little unimpressed. Source.
How many people did it take to make the atomic bomb? Probably many more than you realize.
October 2013
25Nixon portrait cropped
The 37th President had a strange relationship with nuclear weapons — he didn't think they mattered very much.
23The magnesium box used for transporting the plutonium core to the Trinity site. Via Los Alamos.
"At the first sign of any unusual behavior inside the box he was to abandon the automobile and run as far away from it as his legs would carry him..."
11Physikalische Blaetter, August 1944
Who told Werner Heisenberg that an atomic bomb might be dropped on Dresden? Plus: another curious wartime leak.
 4The B-17 bomber (left) and the B-29 bomber (right). Source.
If the first atomic bomb had been ready in 1944, would it have been used against the Nazis? Surprisingly, Roosevelt may have been interested in doing it.
September 2013
27Mk-39 ready-safe switch
New details about a nuclear weapons accident makes it clear how close we came to an accidental, full-yield, megaton-range detonation.
201944 - Forbidden City - Image 3
How did an article about the work at the Los Alamos laboratory come to be published in March 1944?
13Allied troops disassembling the German experimental research reactor at Haigerloch.
Are there any indications that the Germans penetrated into the secrecy surrounding the American atomic bomb project during World War II? Not many.
 9A 1959 advertisement for Union Carbide in the Saturday Evening Post.
News and Notes
Tune in on September 11, 2013, to hear me talk live from Philadelphia on the "nuclear age."
 6Hanford spent fuel rods — the sort of thing that could have been weaponized during World War II as a radiological weapon.
During World War II, the United States didn't just fear a German atomic bomb, but also a German dirty bomb. But secrecy made acting on such fears difficult.
August 2013
30AN-M69 enemy building model
The terrible banality of a weapon explicitly invented to target civilian populations.
23The Los Alamos identification badges for Klaus Fuchs and John von Neumann. Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Did Klaus Fuchs tell the Soviet Union how to make a hydrogen bomb? Recently released documents from the Russian archives shed new light on the question.
16A mockup of the third core's experimental setup, August 21, 1945. (Source: Los Alamos)
Japan managed to avoid getting the world's third plutonium core dropped on them, but it still managed to leave behind a deadly legacy.
 9The bombing of Nagasaki. Original source. Slightly edited to improve foreground/background distinction.
Why was a second bomb used against Japan, so soon after Hiroshima? A review of several theories.
 6Hiroshima in late 1945
Thoughts on the 68th anniversary of Hiroshima, and what gets lost when we focus on individual events.
 2Fallout from a total nuclear exchange, in watercolors. From the Saturday Evening Post, March 23, 1963.
Meditations | Visions
I thought I knew a lot about nuclear fallout, but digging into the details taught me some subtle but important points about how it worked.
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