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Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb Paperback – Illustrated, August 6, 1996
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Based on secret files in the United States and the former Soviet Union, this monumental work of history discloses how and why the United States decided to create the bomb that would dominate world politics for more than forty years.
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Includes 94 archival photographs and a glossary with brief descriptions of the hundreds of people interviewed and discussed in the book. Author Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for his previous atomic tome, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (August 6, 1996)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 736 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684824140
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684824147
- Item Weight : 1.9 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 1.3 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #76,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hiroshima bomb, Little Boy, was a uranium-gun model using 64 lbs. of U-235. Prior to its use fire-bombing had totally or partially burned out 63 other Japanese cities and killed hundreds of thousands. (Critical mass for a bare U-235 sphere was later reported in the book to be 56 kg, only 15 kg with a uranium tamper.)
Garman radio-chemists were the first to report creating fission - they'd bombarded uranium with neutrons. Fortunately, both Russian and German researchers were forced to put fission research on the back burner because creating a the material for a bomb was seen as very expensive and requiring years, and the device might not work anyway. (The Russians had ships to demagnetize, tank armor to harden, and radar to invent. None of this, however, stopped them from serious espionage efforts in England and the U.S. Still, Soviet experts were doubtful.) Nevertheless, the Russians proceeded with less costly research, and quickly concluded that gaseous diffusion for enriching U-235 was impractical (uranium hexafluoride was very corrosive, and a plant would need to occupy about 20 acres), and instead recommended high-speed centrifuges to separate the two gaseous forms of uranium.
Eventually, Beria realized that Britain and the U.S. were serious about nuclear bomb research, forwarded an overview of their activities 3/1942 to Stalin, and recommended Russia also pursue the effort. Stalin reacted slower and more cautiously than Roosevelt, but committed to the effort 5/1942. (Part of the problem for Stalin et al - deciding whether the intelligence was real, or faked to entice the Russians into an enormous, fruitless enterprise.) While the Russians struggled with the difficulties using uranium, Americans (Glenn Seaborg) discovered how to make plutonium, a much simpler source of fissionable material; thanks to Klaus Fuchs, the Russians also learned of this work in 1943.
Russia's efforts were helped by its official ban on anti-Semitism, German persecution of Jews, links to Jewish families remaining in Russia, and frequent anti-Semitism and the Depression in the U.S.
Implosion was an alternative to the gun system. Six kg of plutonium cast as two solid hemispheres would begin chain-reacting as soon as brought into contact, but the same amount configured as a hollow shell, from which secondary neutrons would more easily escape, would be essentially inert. Implosion would reduce the core diameter by half. Working out the number and best placement of detonators around the outside was complicated because of the need to avoid interference between the various explosive pressure waves and to ensure everything came together at a point. (Differing explosives with varying speeds were part of the solutions.) Klaus Fuchs (then a British citizen) was chosen to be one of the small group that worked on those efforts. Later they determined that using a solid mass (increasing the density) would reduce the needed material by a factor of eight. An initiator nested in a cavity within the hemispheres would be activated to produce neutrons - too soon --> premature detonation, too slow --> fizzle.
Soviet physicist Yakov Terlersky reported that when he began dealing with atomic espionage after the war, he found 'about 10,000 pages of . . . reports in the safes,' mostly from American sources. On 8/11/45, the Smyth Report detailed the science behind the Manhattan Project and was released to the press.Princeton provided a bound edition ('Atomic Energy for Military Purposes') on 9/1. On item omitted from all but the earliest versions - the phenomena of reactor poisoning by Xenon, a radioactive byproduct of uranium fission. (Xenon soaked up neutrons in the Hanford B reactor, , until it decayed into a non-absorptive daughter product. Fortunately, the U.S. reactor was larger than needed, and by adding more uranium the poisoning effect could be overcome. Lacking such accidental 'foresight,' however, the Russians would likely build early reactors that could not be expanded, and would therefore cycle up for 12 hours, then down for the next 12, etc. - cutting production in half.)
Russia was surprised by America's use of the atomic bomb on Japan - they did not believe we were ready. It also torpedoed any chance of their taking over Europe post-war, upsetting Stalin greatly; he renewed Russian commitment to creating a bomb, and made it top priority. In the U.S., however, the Manhattan team dissolved and its participants took roles in various universities around the U.S. (Another problem - the teams that had assembled gun components also dispersed.) Some continued research the possibility of a thermonuclear weapon. As for Oak Ridge and Hanford, Groves had envisioned creating an industrial capability of turning out not just a few weapons to end WWII, but also steadily producing more afterwards. Ok Ridge produced about 1.1 kg of U235/day, and Hanford about 5 kg/month - those outputs were stockpiled. However, when the AEC took over responsibility for the program, inspection 1/1947 found no bombs ready - lots of parts, and a couple possibly near readiness. Rebuilding actual weapons and 'GI-proofing' their assembly became a priority. Late summer of 1949, the Soviets exploded their first A-bomb - copied from an American one. The U.S. monopoly was broken, but by that time it had at least 100 bombs.
Hanford's reactors again had to be shut down - 'Wigner's disease,' in which the graphite swelled and partially blocked the reactor-fuel-element channels. This not only suspended plutonium production, but that of polonium 210 (a bomb initiator) as well; since polonium lost half its radioactivity in 138.3 days, U.S. bombs would become unreliable within a year. Soon afterwards, the Soviets learned of the problem as well - via espionage.
Teller had recommended in 1947 waiting to develop a Super (H-bomb) bomb until sufficient computing power was at hand. That arrived in 1949 with MANIAC. The U.S. also needed tritium (Canada obligingly converted its Chalk River heavy-water reactor from creating deuterium to tritium). However, in March, 1950, Ulam's calculations proved Teller's envisioned Super design wouldn't work (energy would escape faster than it was created), yet Russia's new bomb spurred continued thinking. Another problem - the required tritium would preclude production of about 100 atomic bombs.
Fuchs, a key Los Alamos worker, confessed to spying in early 1950. (He'd been granted a patent with John von Neumann on a design for radiation implosion to initiate fusion.) Soon others were swept up - including Gold, Greenglass, and the Rosenbergs, and U.S. was swept up in McCarthyism.
In the spring of 1950, Alexander Sachs visited Paul Nitze, head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff. He predicted a North Korean attack upon South Korea sometime late in the summer of 1950 because while Moscow might exploit its new bomb, it would try to minimize risks by acting through a satellite. North Korea was much better armed since beside captured Japanese equipment, the Soviets had left it all their weapons when they withdrew, and had supplied it with more military assistance during the late 1940s and early 1950s than even the People's Republic of China. Kim had already proposed 'liberating' South Korea to Stalin in December 1949. Both Stalin and Mao were cautious, but Kim continued to push and probably cited a speech Acheson made 1/12/1950 in which he'd stated that 'no person can guarantee these areas (outside the Aleutians, Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines) against military attack.' (Acheson claimed he was warning South Korea's Rhee not to invade the North.) And Stalin had realized that Kim's proposal would drive China closer to Moscow.
Ulam ultimately came up with a new idea for sustaining a fusion bomb - compressing the fusion core with radiation instead of relying on material shock. A subcritical stick of U235 or plutonium, positioned at the center axis of a deuterium cylinder, would be compressed to super-criticality by the leading edge of the imploding main fission mass - this second fission explosion would then push outward against the explosion pushing inward - with careful design, in the deuterium fuel mass and burn it much more completely. Uranium U238 and other heavy metals around the outside help reflect neutrons back into the core. It's first test was with less than an ounce of deuterium and tritium, and added 25 KT to the explosion. The subsequent Mike test yielded 10.4 megatons, though 75% of that was from the fission component.
U.S. satellites in autumn of 1961 revealed the Soviet Union had fewer strategic delivery systems than U.S. intelligence had estimated - only 44 ICBMs and 155 heavy bombers, vs. U.S. 156 ICBMs, 144 Polaris missiles, 1,300 strategic bombers. The Soviets were quietly warned of the disparities, and partly as a result of those warnings, Khrushchev installed 29 nuclear missiles in Cuba to match the 15 Jupiter intermediate-range missiles the U.S. deployed in Turkey at the U.S.S.R.'s southern border. (Nine of the 29 were tactical missiles, with authorization given to local Russian commanders.) Another purpose, per the Soviet leader, was to protect Cuba from invasion. The U.S. went to high alert status during the crisis, and safety and security controls were bypassed or later found non-existent. Lemay tried to goad Kennedy into attacking Cuba.
The arms race cost the U.S. about $4 trillion - about the national debt in 1994.
The one topic not addressed (because of its relatively recent importance), is the role and capability of centrifuges in enriching uranium.
In fact, one thing that surprised me was the intent on planning for the next war after WWII. It's been a long time since my last history class, but I remember that there was very little support for entering WWII in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, and, after the war, according to Dark Sun, there was much hoo-ha about being prepared for the next war, in a way that seemed focussed on the offensive. I'm assuming these were different groups of people.
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But inside the book you won't find only the creation of it, a good portion of the book deals with the creation of the first atomic bomb by the Russians through espionage. It might seems useless to know that but this event has been an important catalyst for the creation of the hydrogen bomb.
The book deals also with politics, morals, history and in the end we enter the technical part of the bomb and the plans America did in the eventuality of a nuclear war. Highly recommended to everyone interested in this chapter of the human history.
The only slight downside is that a lot of the early part of the book is spent discussing the way Soviet spies passed on many of the secrets involved in development of the A-bomb, which (although an interesting story) need not have been presented in so much detail.
From the start there is a great deal of information on Soviet espionage and how the secrets they acquired were enormously helpful to them in the development of their own nuclear bomb. In fact, the first half of the book could well be titled The Making of the Soviet Atomic Bomb. The testing of the first Soviet A-bomb naturally led to the USA's drive to proceed with development of thermonuclear weapons and the beginning of the nuclear arms race. This justifies the inclusion of so much material on the Soviet project. I was quite surprised to see just how dependent the Soviets were on information acquired from the West.
When Rhodes does eventually get to the detail of how thermonuclear bombs were developed and the essentials of how they work it makes fascinating reading. On the way there is good insight into some of the key figures of that era: Edward Teller's role, it seems, was not as important as the popular term "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb" would suggest; Curtis LeMay comes across as an efficient, highly determined but utterly ruthless general, only too ready to turn the cold war hot. Towards the end of the book Rhodes explains how LeMay and his boss General Thomas S Power could have accidentally precipitated a major nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. Then there is Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's enforcer. I was somewhat surprised to find that he was a major driving force in the Soviet A-bomb project (having a similar role to General Groves in the US). His paranoia, though, put scientists and engineers permanently on edge - all failure was assumed to be sabotage unless proven otherwise.
All told this is a fascinating historical read as long a you don't expect as much science and technology as in The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I also could have done with a bit less information on the spying activities of Harry Gold and other relatively minor figures.