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"Nuclear Archaeology" Inspires Replica of Hiroshima's Little Boy 298

Posted by timothy
from the sobering-and-more dept.
James Cho writes "Through a decade of painstaking reverse engineering, trucker John Coster-Mullen built the first accurate replica of the Hiroshima bomb. His work yielded a new history of the first nukes, 'Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man,' with historian Robert Norris saying, 'Nothing else in the Manhattan Project literature comes close.' Philip Morrison, one of the physicists who helped invent the bomb, deemed it 'a remarkable job.'"
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"Nuclear Archaeology" Inspires Replica of Hiroshima's Little Boy

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  • How soon until... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:26PM (#26600125) Homepage

    How soon until homeland security shows up accusing him of terrorism?

  • by philspear (1142299) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:30PM (#26600159)

    If he's built a WORKING replica, I would hope VERY soon!

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:40PM (#26600251)

    FR1ST PEDANTIC POST

    The guy went through declassified government documents to gather all the information he could find (including design information), and went from there. I don't think this is anything like reverse engineering.

    If he "reverse engineered" the bomb, wouldn't it mean he put the design together based on blast data from known explosions of this particular device?

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:44PM (#26600281)

    While many people may exclaim that this information is 'dangerous' to be released in the public domain let me remind you of a few small details.

    1) ANY high-school/college student should be able to tell you what the critical mass of U235/238 is.
    2) Most handymen should be able to make atleast ONE method of creating a critical mass pile.
    3) It takes a GOVERNMENT to build multiple copies and revisions and tests to make it bigger/better.

    This information does not mean "the terrorists can now make a bomb!" This changes NOTHING that hasn't been known for 50+ years. I would rather live in a society that does not suffer a knee-jerk reaction everytime something unusual is expressed. If anybody knows if this place exists, let me know; I'll start packing.

  • by sidb (530400) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:48PM (#26600319) Homepage
    A working replica would be dangerous and surely illegal. It would not be terrorism unless he used it deliberately to terrorize a group of people. Just because something is bad doesn't make it terrorism.
  • by pjt48108 (321212) <pjt48108NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:56PM (#26600401) Homepage

    This is yet another example of things which, eight years ago, might have seemed merely odd, rather than somewhat unsettling.

    How quaint the 20th Century already seems.

  • by Tacvek (948259) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:00PM (#26600443) Journal

    The simple facts are that he (a truck driver!) is collecting detailed information about some of the worlds least efficient nuclear bomb designs. Bombs with the same amount of equal quality fissile material can be made far more powerful. No terrorist orginaization would want to create such wasteful bombs, so the information he is publishing is not very dangerous at all. Besides, a lot of the difficulty in making even an inefficient nuclear bomb at all obtaining the weapons grade fissile material.

    Now his material is extremely accurate, coming from both logical analysis which has found inaccuracies in some published records. (Some records include masses of components that imply absurd material densities, so those measurements get discarded), measurements of the actual shell casings, and leaked information from those who actually built those bombs. Most of those people are customers of his book, and have publicly stated that very very few of his details remain inaccurate.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:06PM (#26600499)

    A working replica would be dangerous and surely illegal.

    If I had a working replica of a nuclear bomb in my basement, I don't think I would give a rat's ass about whether it was dangerous or illegal.

    If I did have a nuclear bomb, I would not have a problem.

    Some other folks would have a problem.

  • by NouberNou (1105915) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:16PM (#26600579)

    No terrorist orginaization would want to create such wasteful bombs, so the information he is publishing is not very dangerous at all.

    You seriously think that a terrorist organization would NOT take any sort of nuclear weapon?

    Little Boy and Fat Man were in the 13-20 kiloton range. More than enough to kill a few hundred thousand people in a dense urban target like New York or LA or any other major American city!

  • by sphealey (2855) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:24PM (#26600631)

    One thing to keep in mind when you read statement such as "Destroy R. Worlds, former Director of Bomb Design at Los Alamos, said of Joe Amateur's work 'That's very well-done'" is this: reading between the lines of many interviews, articles, and books about and by former weaponeers they give out a lot of misleading, and/or misdirecting, information about how _exactly_ devices are built. They talk openly about the general principles and their scientific and political implications, but when the discussion/interview/chapter turns to the actual details of design, well, the replies turn a bit fuzzy or clever. I suspect that either by explicit training or shared values they give away very little and much of what they say would deliberately lead anyone following down the wrong path.

    sPh

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:31PM (#26600701)

    If he wants to defend his property from double-glazing salesman, he should have every right to make use of the second amendment and protect his property!

    I think maybe nuclear weapons are not the best way to protect your property.

  • by dd1968 (1174479) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @04:00PM (#26600953)
    From the article: "Actually, he said, nothing about the bomb is secret. He smiled and added, 'The secret of the atomic bomb is how easy they are to make.'"
  • by khallow (566160) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @04:03PM (#26600989)

    No terrorist orginaization would want to create such wasteful bombs

    Article said it required about eight times critical mass. That's not bad for something you don't need to test first. Besides the design was good enough for the US to make first. Keep in mind that if you are committed to the terrorist act of blowing up an innocent city with a fission bomb, then you've divorced yourself from usual considerations of efficiency.

  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @04:07PM (#26601031) Homepage

    that's just the way our society has come to think. in most people's minds (including many regular citizens) the masses are simply too stupid, selfish, immoral, and irrational to be treated as mature & rational adults and allowed to govern themselves. therefore they must be ruled over by others who are more trustworthy and level-headed, which coincidentally are the rich & powerful. and following this kind of thinking, information that can potentially be used for evil must necessarily be suppressed and hidden from the public at all costs.

    but the knowledge that allows one to make nuclear weapons is the same knowledge that allows one to develop nuclear power plants. the only way you can suppress "dangerous" knowledge in this case is by suppressing nuclear research and forbidding anyone from teaching/studying nuclear physics. so unless we want to become a totalitarian state that promotes ignorance, a different approach must be found.

    rather than throwing people in jail (or threatening to) for possessing "dangerous information," and trying to keep the public in the dark, it would be easier and more desirable just to create an enlightened society where people have no reason to blow each other or themselves up. this isn't something that can be achieved through force or coercion. granted, it's not something that will produce results over night, but it makes much more sense than our current approach.

    similarly, changes in our foreign policy and ending the exploitation of other nations (for our own commercial interests) would do far more to increase our nation's security than any amount of military intervention and killing more innocent civilians. rather than abusing our position as the world's only superpower to ignore diplomacy and take whatever we want by force, we could simply be a better global citizen. then we wouldn't have to have a conniption fit every time a developing country builds a nuclear power plant.

  • by Superdarion (1286310) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @04:10PM (#26601051)
    Right, because it's a well known scientific fact that those who actually make a bomb are totally immune to the bomb's effects.

    Besides, having explosives is not illegal just because you could use them for therrorism, but because accidents happen; accidents which might not only harm yourself (being stupid enough to have a bomb with you, whatever happens, you had it coming), but those around you as well. More so with something as powerful as a nuke.
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday January 25, 2009 @05:36PM (#26601799) Homepage Journal

    insert lame joke about all of us being really, really lucky that Germany didn't have any nukes during WW2.

    I'm not sure that's a joke.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday January 25, 2009 @05:38PM (#26601817) Homepage Journal

    with war torn, terrorist lead countries on the verge of being able to design model and acquire materials for even small nuclear weapons I am not sure that is a good idea.

    Yeah, I don't like Israel or Pakistan having the bomb, either.

  • Besides, having explosives is not illegal just because you could use them for therrorism, but because accidents happen; accidents which might not only harm yourself (being stupid enough to have a bomb with you, whatever happens, you had it coming), but those around you as well. More so with something as powerful as a nuke.

    Awesome idea. I propose we start off by banning the following unsafe items that could harm you and possibly others: smoking, alcohol, cars, and electricity.

  • by shmlco (594907) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @11:56PM (#26604373) Homepage

    "That's pretty much why I didn't care too much whether Saddam (or anyone in that area) had the bomb."

    Yeah. So he could only take out a LOCAL city containing a few million people, start a major war, and potentially devastate a region. Big deal.

    "How's he gonna send it over? FedEx?"

    Noticed the increased security around the ports recently? That comment's closer than you think...

  • by epine (68316) on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:30AM (#26604527)

    I've read a lot on this subject over the years, but not much recently, and what I recall best at this point is the portions I decided to believe at the time from the accounts I found most compelling.

    I'm inclined toward accounts based on the premise that America and Russia had an agreement (what blend of official/unofficial I can't recall) that Russia would pressure the Japanese from the Kamchatka peninsula and that territorial control in the post-war world would be to some degree be established by how much territory in the region of Japan the Russians had managed to occupy at the point in time of formal Japanese surrender.

    To fully appreciate the political situation, you need to realize that the Americans were reading Purple. Purple never got as much press as Enigma because it was considered somewhat unsporting to crack a diplomatic code. The Americans had a sense that Japanese surrender was already in the works, but then the Japanese began to haggle among themselves about exactly how this would be done and how the internal post-surrender pecking order would unfold.

    Meanwhile the Russians are progressing far faster than the Americans wished. Japan had long understood that the American military economy was humming along at a fever pitch, and was pretty much impossible to mess with short of capturing Hawaii. The Japanese civil servants were long resigned to the outcome, while the royal crust was dithering.

    Also, don't forget that conventional Tokyo fire bombing destroyed 50% of the world's most densely inhabited city. The McNamara movie "Fog of War" has some good stuff on this. (Complicated man, that guy.) It's not as if Japan was lacking reasons to cease hostilities. Memo for next war: less wooden housing.

    I think one American perspective about the bomb was "hurry up and get on with the surrender, before we have to concede every square inch of east Asia to the rapidly advancing Russian borg".

    The other perspective is that they had spent 1/7'the of their entire wartime economy on this project, and along the way denied a lot of conventional armaments to their generals and enlisted troops. A lot of powerful people who hadn't been in on the Manhattan project were pissed about this. Really, they're going to spend a billion 1940 dollars on this program and then cancel the big demonstration, when you have no end of detractors within the ranks of power?

    Even with large contingents of Japanese officialdom resigned to surrender, there's always a risk that a survivalist faction rallies around some blood-thirsty cause about how much American blood will be spilled on the land invasion. Remember the Iwo Jima! The Americans will never be willing to pay this price in blood! No, actually, they'll turn entire cities, one by one, into glass ponds with a single bomb dropped from a single airplane. Sure takes the spit out of "dead to the last drop" jingoism.

    Turn the tables and imagine it was America on the brink of surrender, with California and New York conceding the inevitable, while Texas and Utah are piling on the guns and sand bags. How many Americans have bothered to conceptualize what surrender feels like? To my knowledge, the only military superpower to have transgressed upon American soil is Canada, which hardly gives a nation much practice in fearing the worst.

    Another factor I think is that the American physicists realized that making the bomb was not all difficult given the progression of technology, and decades instead of years for the program to unfold. Feynman has described that some of the computational challenges were dealt with by circulating punch card in fancy tabulating machines. There's more computational power available these days in a Palm Pilot. I'm sure guys as smart as Feynman concluded early on that this particular genie was not being coaxed back into the bottle, not even for a short decade-long snooze. It was going to be a post-nuclear world order, one way or another. Would the nuclear arms race have played out better without the deva

  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Monday January 26, 2009 @06:59AM (#26605991)

    From TFA
    "A circular steel plate was positioned inside the 17.0"-diameter tail cylinder at the front of the tail tube and another towards the rear of the tube," Coster-Mullen writes. "These allowed the tail to be slid over the 10.5"-diameter gun tube during assembly. The forward plate was positioned 26.5" in front of the aft plate and was welded to the front of the tail tube."

    Though the bookâ(TM)s specificity about dimensions, shapes, and materials was mind-numbing, the accumulation of detail was strangely seductive.

    Fucking liberal arts graduates.

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