Thursday, October 9, 2008

Two soldiers and an A-bomb

Keywords: army experiment, nth country, nuclear fission, militarily significant yield

It turns out that, except for getting the fissiles, making a nuclear bomb is neither as easy nor quite as difficult as one might have wished. A fascinating story.

They would be working in a murky limbo between the world of military secrets and the public domain. They would have an office at Livermore, but no access to its warrens of restricted offices and corridors; they would be banned from consulting classified research but, on the other hand, anything they produced - diagrams in sketchbooks, notes on the backs of envelopes - would be automatically top secret. And since the bomb that they were designing wouldn't, of course, actually be built and detonated, they would have to follow an arcane, precisely choreographed ritual for having their work tested as they went along. They were to explain at length, on paper, what part of their developing design they wanted to test, and they would pass it, through an assigned lab worker, into Livermore's restricted world. Days later, the results would come back - though whether as the result of real tests or hypothetical calculations, they would never know.

"The goal of the participants should be to design an explosive with a militarily significant yield," read the "operating rules", unearthed by the nuclear historian Dan Stober in a recent study of the project published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences. "A working context for the experiment might be that the participants have been asked to design a nuclear explosive which, if built in small numbers, would give a small nation a significant effect on their foreign relations."


"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

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