How to build an A-bomb

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Fascinating tale about 2 students enlisted to see how hard (or easy) it was to make a nuke

How two students built an A-bomb… It’s one of the burning questions of the moment: how easy would it be for a country with no nuclear expertise to build an A-bomb? Forty years ago in a top-secret project, the US military set about finding out. Oliver Burkeman talks to the men who solved the nuclear puzzle in just 30 months.

…the two amateurs were ironically aided by information published as part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, which spread word of the benefits of non-military nuclear power around the world. And Atoms for Peace was only the most prominent example of a fad for everything nuclear that propelled a huge amount of technical detail into the public domain.

Eventually, towards the end of 1966, two and a half years after they began, they were finished. “We produced a short document that described precisely, in engineering terms, what we proposed to build and what materials were involved,” says Selden. “The whole works, in great detail, so that this thing could have been made by Joe’s Machine Shop downtown.”

8 thoughts on “How to build an A-bomb

  1. Ok, i don’t see a link to an article or an instructable! How cruel it is to tease us with this and not show us how to make one.

  2. Wow, I remember reading about this in that authoritative tome “The Readers Digest” about 20 years ago. Brilliant stuff, especially the drag inspired compression wave.

  3. Here’s a pretty good article on their little project: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jun/24/usa.science

    One of the starting conditions was “assume Plutonium.” If you look at the periodic table, Plutonium is right next to Unobtainium and only slighlty less difficult to get in the real world.

    The bomb shown in the photo is a Mark III. After WWII, this was the standard U.S. atom bomb for years. It is the Plutonium bomb with some of the engineering and safety features cleaned up.

    A number of the Mark III cases survived and eventually found their way into military museums, repainted and dolled up to look like their Dad.

  4. My grandfather(currently 77 y/o) recounted a similar story, though his involved a highschool report with no intention of actually building an atomic bomb, and a visit from the FBI. I have no personal doubts about this(letter from the FBI to his teacher explaining he deserved an A for the work he had done).

    It just goes to show you what you can learn if you spend some time hitting the books.

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