SK Docs: Race for the Superbomb

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The nuclear arm’s race really shifts into high gear after the atomic bombs were dropped on the Japan. The Los Alamos scientists initially left and went back to academia – most took up teaching positions. The US Military was quite pleased with their new weapons and began to consiring mass-production and delivery of these weapons. They considered planes to be best for that, which led to more and heavier bombers being built. The Russians felt they needed an atomic bomb as well, so they pretty much dropped anything and everything (the country required massive reconstruction and social-economic stimulus after the Nazi’s wiped out some 20 million Russians) and spent huge resources on developing their own atomic bomb. They succeeded quite rapidly. The US didn’t think the Russians would build their own bomb that quickly, they figured the country would be too broken, too poor to get such a massive project off the ground.

At the end of his tour in Los Alamos, Edward Teller came up with the Hydrogen bomb. He figured he could increase the explosive power by creating a “fusion” device. (An atomic bomb is a fission device, it splits an atom). Fusing atoms however is what powers the sun so that means a shitload more power. Around that time, 1947-1948, there are already scientific papers floating around on how to build such a thing. Various people in various countries were tinkering with the idea. So the US calls the Los Alamos gang back in so they can begin to develop the Hydrogen Bomb – a thermonuclear bomb – the most destructive weapon the world has ever seen.

I found the documentary a week ago. It’s not the best quality, it seems converted from VHS but it’s very watchable. I am particularly struck by Enrico Fermi. He comes off as a seriously confused (conflicted?) man. At first he helped build the atomic bomb because otherwise the Nazi’s would build it. He then found out the Nazi’s were nowhere near a bomb, but felt they should continue, for science’s sake. After the Trinity-test Fermi got cold feet. He didn’t want the thing to be dropped on Japan. Perhaps we should detonate it somewhere close to Japan, as a warning so they can see what we can do? Or perhaps drop it on Japan, only after we warn them and show some footage to the world? After the bomb was dropped he felt the bomb should “never” be used again. Never, ever. He also went on the record to object to the development of the thermonuclear bomb. Such an awesome weapon must never be developed. When the US asked the Los Alamos gang back in however? Fermi came along to work on the development of the thermonuclear bomb, “to prove it couldn’t be built”.

He was kinda wrong about that.