The first idea of a big bomb appeared in a novel written by a NZ ex-prime minister, Julius Vogel. His novel “Anno Domini” or “Woman’s Destiny.” published in 1889 is a novel that makes many extraordinary predictions about the future including a “means of unleashing a cataclysmic explosion.” Vogel predicted: the internet, jet aircraft, women Prime Ministers, etc.
H G Wells in his novel “The World Set Free.” written in 1913 and published in 1914 was based on a prediction of nuclear weapons of a more destructive and uncontrollable sort than the world has yet seen. Wells’s “atomic bombs” have no more force than ordinary high explosive. They consist of “lumps of pure Carolinum” that induce “a blazing continual explosion” whose half-life is seventeen days, so that it is “never entirely exhausted,” so that “to this day the battle-fields and bomb fields of that frantic time in human history are sprinkled with radiant matter, and so centres of inconvenient rays.” The novel is dedicated “To Frederick Soddy’s Interpretation of Radium,” a volume published in 1909. Soddy was a chemist assistant to Rutherford in Canada when Rutherford developed his theory of transmutation that got him a Nobel Prize. Soddy got a Nobel Prize for his work on isotopes. Soddy is remembered for some books on economics which makes him an economist who got a proper Nobel Prize.
Most chemical explosives are some form of chemical nitrates. Sodium or potassium nitrates can be used to supply the oxygen source in gunpowder. There is ammonium-nitrate, nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, trinitrotoluene (TNT), cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX), pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), and so on. These materials explode at different rates. RDX has an velocity of exploding of 8,750 m/s while ammonium-nitrate has a velocity of only 5,270 m/s.
The Monroe effect which is created by concave spaces in the explosive material is an important factor in the use of explosives for demolitions as the explosive force becomes focussed. It is the reason that explosives can puncture amour plate by the use of a conical space that focusses a plasma jet.
The biggest chemical explosion ever was at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel resulting in a fire which further caused an explosion rated at about 2.9 kt of TNT. The Richmond area of the city was destroyed killing 2000 people.
Wells’s novel may even have influenced the development of nuclear weapons, as the physicist Leó Szilárd read the book in 1932, the same year the neutron was discovered by Chadwick who was a co-worker of Rutherford (Rutherford predicted the existence of the neutron) and got a Nobel Prize also.
Szilard was a Hungarian refuge helped by Rutherford’s Academic Assistance Council which was set to find jobs for Jews fleeing Europe. In London, where Southampton Row passes Russell Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change. A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12th, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull. Drizzling rain would begin again in early afternoon. He often walked to think. In any case another destination intervened. The stoplight changed to green. Szilard stepped off the curb. As he crossed the street, time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woes, the shape of things to come. Szilárd conceived the idea of neutron chain reaction. An atom fissioned by neutron particles might break apart producing even more neutrons. He filed for patents on it in 1934. Szilard read an article in The Times summarizing a speech given by Lord Rutherford in which Rutherford rejected the feasibility of using atomic energy for practical purposes. The speech remarked specifically on the recent 1932 work of his students, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, in “splitting” the lithium atom into alpha particles, by bombardment with protons from a particle accelerator they had constructed.
Rutherford went on to say: “We might in these processes obtain very much more energy than the proton supplied, but on the average we could not expect to obtain energy in this way. It was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine. But the subject was scientifically interesting because it gave insight into the atoms.”
Szilard went to see Rutherford. It is recorded that Rutherford “threw him out” although this probably means that Rutherford did not support his idea. Rutherford is quoted as saying “Fortunately at the present time we had not found out a method of so dealing with these forces, and personally I am very hopeful we should not discover it until man was living at peace with his neighbour.”.
In the beginning of 1939, Niels Bohr brought news to New York of the discovery of nuclear fission where neutron impacts produced more neutrons in Germany by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, and its theoretical explanation by Lise Meitner, and Otto Frisch. When Szilard found out about it on a visit to Eugene Wigner at Princeton University, he immediately realized that uranium might be the element capable of sustaining a chain reaction.
Szilard drafted a confidential letter to the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, explaining the possibility of nuclear weapons, warning of the German nuclear weapon project, and encouraging the development of a program that could result in their creation. With the help of Wigner and Edward Teller, he approached his old friend and collaborator Einstein in August 1939, and convinced Einstein to sign the letter, lending his fame to the proposal. That famous letter initiated the Manhattan Project which developed two types of atomic bombs.
On 9 October 1941, President Roosevelt approved the atomic program after he convened a meeting with Vannevar Bush and Vice President Henry A. Wallace. The Manhattan Project got really underway under Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1942. Unfortunately this was the same time that Hitler decided not to pursue a German program. There was no intelligence about the German program just assumptions.
Enrico Fermi who was responsible for the first atomic pile determined that a fissioning uranium atom produced 1.73 neutrons on average. Because the central nucleus is a very small proportion of an atom’s space, neutrons can easily escape any action in small volumes of uranium. Rutherford described the nucleus as like a fly in the cathedral (St Pauls in London) with the electrons taking up the most of the space. A volume in which the production of neutrons balances the neutrons initiating fissions plus the neutrons escaping is called a critical mass.
This led to one type of bomb in which two sub-critical shapes of uranium are shot together to form a critical mass to explode. 64kg of enriched uranium was used. A cylinder of uranium smaller than the critical mass is shot down to a set of hollow uranium cylinders to create a cylinder of solid uranium above the critical mass. In a small shape neutrons could escape before hitting enough uranium nuclei to maintain fission but when the two parts come together more neutrons can expand the fission. This became the design of the “little boy” nuclear weapon used on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. The energy released was about equivalent to 13 Kilo tons of TNT through the conversion of about 0.6 grams of matter. Since this idea was found many new devices have been constructed.
The Nagasaki bomb was the type where a sphere of fissile plutonium is compressed by shaped explosives to form a critical mass that explodes. This is the basis of many bomb developments. It used to create a fusion bomb to act as a trigger for the H-bombs.
I think that these weapons are so terrible that it is time to stop and dismantle them and have a nuclear free world. Having these weapons of mass destruction is a sign of a psychopathic state.