First Atomic Explosion
The 16th of July 1945 AD
The Atomic Age began at 05:30 local time on July 16 1945 when a nuclear device nicknamed ‘The Gadget’ was exploded at a test site in New Mexico. The test, codenamed Trinity by Robert Oppenheimer – he never fully explained the reason, though he did cite the poetry of John Donne as his inspiration – produced an explosion equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, turning the desert sand beneath it to glass.
Work on developing a nuclear weapon had begun in 1939, after physicist including Einstein, Teller, and Szilard had sent a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the potential of such devices. Work at Birmingham University gave Britain an early technological lead in the race, but America soon overtook it. Churchill and Roosevelt agreed on collaboration, not without suspicion as to British motives, establishing protocols on sharing knowledge in the Quebec Agreement in August 1943 – ignored after the war by the Americans. We sent physicists including Klaus Fuchs and Nobel Laureate James Chadwick to participate in the project.
On August 6 a rather different device (using Uranium rather than Plutonium) was used against Hiroshima . On August 9 a second nuclear attack was made, on Nagasaki, with a device very similar to The Gadget. The two weapons killed roughly 150,000 immediately; by 1950 that death toll had more than doubled because of the effects of radiation.
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