The First Atomic Bomb

The First Atomic Bomb

Introduction

The only time a nuclear or atomic bomb has been used in warfare was by the United States of America on August 6th 1945. It was dropped on Hiroshima Japan at 8-15am from the Enola Gay Boeing B29 aircraft and is a day in history that will never be forgotten. The uranium bomb that was not very aptly named “Little Boy “released a ten kilo-ton blast to devastating effect. So how was this bomb created and by who and more importantly why?

The Manhattan Project

In 1939 just before the beginning of World War II President Roosevelt received a letter from none other than Albert Einstein the legendary inventor and mathematician. The letter contained a warning to the president that Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler was planning to create a nuclear bomb. The United States alarmed by this news made the decision to create an atomic bomb themselves before Hitler could do so. This project was named The Manhattan Project. See more on the Manhattan Project by clicking the link

Robert Oppenheimer

The scientist who was in charge of the Manhattan project was Robert Oppenheimer. Physicist Oppenheimer oversaw the project from its inception in 1939 through to the bombs delivery in 1945 and was one of the main architects during those years. During this time the formula for refining uranium in order to create an atomic bomb was created at a cost of over $2 Billion which was an enormous sum of money back in the forties. Oppenheimer was also appointed Chairman of The General Advisory Committee to The Atomic Energy Commission, such was his expertise.

How the World Heard the News

It was the job of Harry S Truman President of the United States to announce to the world that the first nuclear bomb had indeed been dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. Releasing a statement from the USS Augusta in the mid-Atlantic Truman stated that the bomb was up to two thousand times more powerful and deadly than any bomb previously used in warfare before. He also stated that due to the huge dust cloud over the city that it was impossible to estimate the damage that had been done. Hiroshima was chosen as the target city as it was the main supply depot for the Japanese army at the time. Truman was proud that the US had indeed beaten Germany in the race to create a nuclear weapon.

The Second Bomb

It was only three days after the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that a second atomic bomb that was bigger than the first was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. This bomb was nicknamed “fat man” alluding to Winston Churchill and weighed nearly nine thousand pounds. As Nagasaki is a city surrounded by mountains the blast was contained somewhat but none the less resulted in Japan surrendering to the US as they simply had no option, while the declaration of war on Japan by the Russians also speeded the surrender further.

Britain’s Reaction?

Japan signed their surrender in order to avoid annihilation. Prime Minister Clement Attlee who by then had replaced Winston Churchill as prime minister read out a statement in the House of Commons that had been written by Churchill. In the statement he said that there was great potential in the atomic project and that Britain should join together with the US to continue with research. Plants were to be based in the US as Britain was far too easy a target for Germany being in close proximity as she was.

The statement went on “By Gods mercy British and American science outpaced all German efforts. These were on a considerable scale but far behind. The possession of these powers by the Germans at any time might have altered the result of World War II”. Japan surrendered to the allies on 14th August 1945.

How is a Nuclear Bomb Made?

In order to create an atomic bomb huge amounts of enriched uranium need to be made. This is required so that an adequate sustainable chain reaction can occur. Back in 1939 it was very difficult to extract uranium-235, while uranium-238 was less than useless when it came to making a bomb. Both types of uranium are isotopes that are near identical in their make-up, while with chemical extraction methods not being able to separate the two only mechanical methods would work.

Harold Urey, Nobel Prize winning scientist at Columbia University invented an extraction system that used gaseous diffusion. Another eminent scientist Ernest Lawrence from the University of California created a process whereby the division of the two isotopes was made possible by magnetic separation. The next step was to separate further the uranium 235 from the uranium 238 in a gas centrifuge. Once all this was completed splitting the atom was possible and the atomic bomb was created.  See how the first atom bomb was tested

Nuclear Power Today

It was agreed by many nations following the devastating effects of the atomic bomb on Japan that nuclear power must be limited to nations with a non-aggressive agenda. Many called for a ban on the weapons altogether. Instead a nuclear arms race began involving Russia and The United States.

In order to stop an escalation of countries making nuclear weapons a treaty was signed by many countries in 1970. The five main countries that had nuclear weapons by then were United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France. There have been many treaties since where countries have signed up to a non-nuclear weapon future, while some rogue states still attempt to create an arsenal therefore are monitored for activity by the rest of the world.

Apart from nuclear missiles that are there as a deterrent nuclear power is used mostly for peaceful purposes such as to create energy such as electricity. The lessons of Hiroshima still stand firmly in the mind-set of those who witnessed the devastation and loss of life that a nuclear bomb causes.  All we can do is hope that the day will never come when a nuclear bomb is detonated again.