65th anniversary of first nuclear test
It started with a pen and paper, a letter written by Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, explaining the urgency of work on uranium fission.
Several nations in Europe had become entrenched in the Second World War, and the United States propelled itself into work on developing a nuclear bomb.
“Tens of thousands of people worked on it,” said Robert Norris, Senior Research Associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The largest corporations in America were recruited. So it’s not something that can be done in a laboratory here.”
Instead a large bomb weighing almost 10,000 lbs was assembled at a top secret facility Los Alamos, New Mexico.
“The nicknames for the two bombs that ended World War Two – one was called Little Boy and that was a uranium fueled weapon,” Norris said. “And then Fat Man.”
The Fat Man, or implosion bomb, used plutonium instead of uranium. At the center of it was an initiating device encased in a highly explosive shell that made the blast wave go inward.
At 5:30 am only July 16, 1945, the test was carried out.
“July 16 is really the beginning of a new era in our history,” Norris said.
It was the beginning of the atomic age and of the arms race.
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent.” These are the words of Robert Oppenheimer, the Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project. Three weeks after the test in New Mexico, known as the Trinity Test, the uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days after that on August 9, the Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. A few days later the Japanese surrendered and the pacific war was over.
The action itself of colossal important but experts say the ability to develop and test became the driver of the arms race.
“The British got it, the French got it, then the Chinese,” Norris said. “Then the Indians, the Pakistanis. Now the North Koreans have tested twice.”
“The reason why countries tested over the years is primarily to develop new and more deadly types of nuclear weapons and to demonstrate their power and to send signals to one another,” said Daryl Kimball with the Arms Control Association.
Signals like the one sent by Iran, signals that even today steer relations and shift the balance of power around the world.