If they arrived at different conclusions, Beria would bring them together for the first time and have them debate with their newfound counterparts. Beria used the espionage information as a way to double-check the progress of his scientists, and in his effort for duplication of the American project even rejected more efficient bomb designs in favor of ones that more closely mimicked the tried-and-true Fat Man bomb used by the U.
The news of the first Soviet bomb was announced to the world first by the United States, which had detected the nuclear fallout it generated from its test site in Kazakhstan. The loss of the American monopoly on nuclear weapons marked the first tit-for-tat of the nuclear arms race. The response in the U. Recent information from declassified Venona intercepts and the opening of the KGB archives after the fall of the Soviet Union show that the USSR had useful spies that helped their program, although none were identified by McCarthy.
In Congress established the civilian Atomic Energy Commission AEC to take over the development of nuclear weapons from the military, and to develop nuclear power. The AEC made use of many private companies in processing uranium and thorium and in other urgent tasks related to the development of bombs.
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Many of these companies had very lax safety measures and employees were sometimes exposed to radiation levels far above what was allowed then or now. The notion of using a fission weapon to ignite a process of nuclear fusion can be dated back to At the first major theoretical conference on the development of an atomic bomb hosted by J. Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley , participant Edward Teller directed the majority of the discussion towards Enrico Fermi's idea of a "Super" bomb that would use the same reactions that powered the Sun itself.
It was thought at the time that a fission weapon would be quite simple to develop and that perhaps work on a hydrogen bomb thermonuclear weapon would be possible to complete before the end of the Second World War. However, in reality the problem of a regular atomic bomb was large enough to preoccupy the scientists for the next few years, much less the more speculative "Super" bomb.
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Only Teller continued working on the project—against the will of project leaders Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe. After the atomic bombings of Japan, many scientists at Los Alamos rebelled against the notion of creating a weapon thousands of times more powerful than the first atomic bombs. For the scientists the question was in part technical—the weapon design was still quite uncertain and unworkable—and in part moral: such a weapon, they argued, could only be used against large civilian populations, and could thus only be used as a weapon of genocide.
Many scientists, such as Bethe, urged that the United States should not develop such weapons and set an example towards the Soviet Union.
Promoters of the weapon, including Teller, Ernest Lawrence , and Luis Alvarez , argued that such a development was inevitable, and to deny such protection to the people of the United States—especially when the Soviet Union was likely to create such a weapon themselves—was itself an immoral and unwise act.
Oppenheimer, who was now head of the General Advisory Committee of the successor to the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission, presided over a recommendation against the development of the weapon. The reasons were in part because the success of the technology seemed limited at the time and not worth the investment of resources to confirm whether this was so , and because Oppenheimer believed that the atomic forces of the United States would be more effective if they consisted of many large fission weapons of which multiple bombs could be dropped on the same targets rather than the large and unwieldy super bombs, for which there was a relatively limited number of targets of sufficient size to warrant such a development.
What is more, if such weapons were developed by both superpowers, they would be more effective against the U.
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In the end, President Truman made the final decision, looking for a proper response to the first Soviet atomic bomb test in On January 31, , Truman announced a crash program to develop the hydrogen fusion bomb. At this point, however, the exact mechanism was still not known: the classical hydrogen bomb, whereby the heat of the fission bomb would be used to ignite the fusion material, seemed highly unworkable. However, an insight by Los Alamos mathematician Stanislaw Ulam showed that the fission bomb and the fusion fuel could be in separate parts of the bomb, and that radiation of the fission bomb could first work in a way to compress the fusion material before igniting it.
Teller pushed the notion further, and used the results of the boosted-fission " George " test a boosted-fission device using a small amount of fusion fuel to boost the yield of a fission bomb to confirm the fusion of heavy hydrogen elements before preparing for their first true multi-stage, Teller-Ulam hydrogen bomb test. Many scientists, initially against the weapon, such as Oppenheimer and Bethe, changed their previous opinions, seeing the development as being unstoppable. Its explosion yielded energy equivalent to Truman had initially tried to create a media blackout about the test—hoping it would not become an issue in the upcoming presidential election—but on January 7, , Truman announced the development of the hydrogen bomb to the world as hints and speculations of it were already beginning to emerge in the press.
Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union exploded its first thermonuclear device, designed by the physicist Andrei Sakharov , on August 12, , labeled " Joe-4 " by the West. This created concern within the U. This first device though was arguably not a true hydrogen bomb, and could only reach explosive yields in the hundreds of kilotons never reaching the megaton range of a staged weapon.
Still, it was a powerful propaganda tool for the Soviet Union, and the technical differences were fairly oblique to the American public and politicians. Following the Mike blast by less than a year, Joe-4 seemed to validate claims that the bombs were inevitable and vindicate those who had supported the development of the fusion program. Coming during the height of McCarthyism , the effect was pronounced on the security hearings in early , which revoked former Los Alamos director Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance on the grounds that he was unreliable, had not supported the American hydrogen bomb program, and had made long-standing left-wing ties in the s.
Edward Teller participated in the hearing as the only major scientist to testify against Oppenheimer, resulting in his virtual expulsion from the physics community. On March 1, , the U. The device yielded 15 megatons, more than twice its expected yield, and became the worst radiological disaster in U.
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The crew of the Japanese tuna-fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 , who had been fishing just outside the exclusion zone, returned to port suffering from radiation sickness and skin burns ; one crew member was terminally ill. Efforts were made to recover the cargo of contaminated fish but at least two large tuna were probably sold and eaten. A further 75 tons of tuna caught between March and December were found to be unfit for human consumption. When the crew member died and the full results of the contamination were made public by the U.
The hydrogen bomb age had a profound effect on the thoughts of nuclear war in the popular and military mind. With only fission bombs, nuclear war was something that possibly could be limited. Dropped by planes and only able to destroy the most built up areas of major cities, it was possible for many to look at fission bombs as a technological extension of large-scale conventional bombing—such as the extensive firebombing of German and Japanese cities during World War II. Proponents brushed aside as grave exaggeration claims that such weapons could lead to worldwide death or harm.
Even in the decades before fission weapons, there had been speculation about the possibility for human beings to end all life on the planet, either by accident or purposeful maliciousness—but technology had not provided the capacity for such action. The great power of hydrogen bombs made worldwide annihilation possible. The Castle Bravo incident itself raised a number of questions about the survivability of a nuclear war. Government scientists in both the U. While technically true, this hid a more gruesome point: the last stage of a multi-staged hydrogen bomb often used the neutrons produced by the fusion reactions to induce fissioning in a jacket of natural uranium, and provided around half of the yield of the device itself.
This fission stage made fusion weapons considerably more dirty than they were made out to be. This was evident in the towering cloud of deadly fallout that followed the Bravo test. When the Soviet Union tested its first megaton device in , the possibility of a limited nuclear war seemed even more remote in the public and political mind. Even cities and countries that were not direct targets would suffer fallout contamination. Extremely harmful fission products would disperse via normal weather patterns and embed in soil and water around the planet.
Speculation began to run towards what fallout and dust from a full-scale nuclear exchange would do to the world as a whole, rather than just cities and countries directly involved. In this way, the fate of the world was now tied to the fate of the bomb-wielding superpowers. Throughout the s and the early s the U. This had massive political and cultural effects during the Cold War. The first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were large, custom-made devices, requiring highly trained personnel for their arming and deployment.
They could be dropped only from the largest bomber planes—at the time the B Superfortress —and each plane could only carry a single bomb in its hold. The first hydrogen bombs were similarly massive and complicated. This ratio of one plane to one bomb was still fairly impressive in comparison with conventional, non-nuclear weapons, but against other nuclear-armed countries it was considered a grave danger. In the immediate postwar years, the U. Army, rather than Nobel Prize—winning scientists.
In the s, the U. Tests were divided into two primary categories: "weapons related" verifying that a new weapon worked or looking at exactly how it worked and "weapons effects" looking at how weapons behaved under various conditions or how structures behaved when subjected to weapons. In the beginning, almost all nuclear tests were either atmospheric conducted above ground, in the atmosphere or underwater such as some of the tests done in the Marshall Islands. Testing was used as a sign of both national and technological strength, but also raised questions about the safety of the tests, which released nuclear fallout into the atmosphere most dramatically with the Castle Bravo test in , but in more limited amounts with almost all atmospheric nuclear testing.
Because testing was seen as a sign of technological development the ability to design usable weapons without some form of testing was considered dubious , halts on testing were often called for as stand-ins for halts in the nuclear arms race itself, and many prominent scientists and statesmen lobbied for a ban on nuclear testing. In , the U.
As a show of political strength, the Soviet Union tested the largest-ever nuclear weapon in October , the massive Tsar Bomba , which was tested in a reduced state with a yield of around 50 megatons—in its full state it was estimated to have been around Mt. In , all nuclear and many non-nuclear states signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty , pledging to refrain from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. The treaty permitted underground tests. Most tests were considerably more modest, and worked for direct technical purposes as well as their potential political overtones.
Weapons improvements took on two primary forms.
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One was an increase in efficiency and power, and within only a few years fission bombs were developed that were many times more powerful than the ones created during World War II. The other was a program of miniaturization, reducing the size of the nuclear weapons. Smaller bombs meant that bombers could carry more of them, and also that they could be carried on the new generation of rockets in development in the s and s.
These included scientists such as Wernher von Braun , who had helped design the V-2 rockets the Nazis launched across the English Channel.
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