Sunday, April 24, 2011

The New Phoenix Program; Human Radiation Studies Part I

Human Radiation Studies:

In December 1939 as Europe was posed on the brink of war, two German radio chemists split the uranium atom in their berlin laboratory. They confided the results to Lise Meitner and Otto Fritsch who calsulated the released energy at 200 million electron volts for one atom. The significance of the event was understood immediately in scientific communities in all nations. Virtually unlimited energy could be produced in a controlled reaction and an uncontrolled reaction would yield an explosive of incredible power. The University of California at Berkeley was where plutonium 238 half life 86 years and plutonium 239 half life 24,000 years were first created. Seaborg, Segre and McMillan used cyclotrons to produce one microgram of plutonium. After months of work their product could be detected but was too small to be seen. Plutonium was described as a crazy metal, Small amounts spontaneously combust in air so it must be handled in an invornment free of oxygen. Depending on the chemical form it might be blue, green, pruple, yellow, red, brown or pink. Seaborg said "under some conditions it might be brittle like glass or soft like lead. It will disintegrate at room temprature, undergoing five pahse changes between room temprature and the melting point. It is friendishly toxic, even in small amounts." Robley Evans who studied women exposed on the job to radium wrote that as little as two micrograms, two millionths of a gram, was fatal. Ernest Lawrence told government officials that plutonium 239 "could be used to make a super bomb." It was 1941 and the United States would be in the war in a matter of months.Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and Arthur Compton were instrumental in persuading FDR to study the feasibility of building a nclear bomb. The manhattan Project was the secret effort to build the atomic bomb. It was a gamble that represented several billion dollars and a
significant percentage of the war time budget. The Oak Ridge plant in Tennessee was 56,000 acres devoted to making uranium-235 and the Hanford Washington site made plutonium. These facilities had taken the bench scale process and increased it a billion fold. General Leslie Groves was tapped to head the massvive project. He appointed Robert Oppenheimer to be in charge of the design, construction, and testing of the weapon. Los Alamos, New Mexico was chosen as the site of the facility to build and test such a weapon.
Quantum Physics was a science that had been invented by the twenty year olds and the staff Oppenheimer assembled for the Manhattan Project reflected that. The bomb might not work and if the high explosive failed to ignite the fission reaction $2.5 billion dollars (1945) worth of plutonium would be scattered across the Jiminez Mountains. Jumbo was the largest fabricated object ever built, designed to contain the plutonium if ignition failed. At dawn on july 16, 1945 the Trinity site witnessed the detonation of the device code named Gadget. The remaining two devices, named Little Boy and Fat Man, were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
on august 6 and 9th killing approximately 200,000 people. WWII terror bombing of civilians began with the London Blitz nilling 30,000 people and culminated in the firebombing of Dresden germany and Tokyo. Napalm was used in 1,000 plane raids that incinerated approximately 200,000 people. The atomic bomb did not add to the scale of mass murder of civilian populations, but it certainly made it more efficient. Many of the scientists declared publicly that the U.S possessed only a few years head start before another nation followed suit. Many of the scientists and some generals advocated international control and the eventual banning of
nuclear weapons.Those that tried to hesad off a nuclear arms race in the end failed as events and personalities took on a momentum of their own. Edward teller advocated the super-heavy, the Hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer objected to the development of the Hydrogen bomb and stated that these were
genocidal weapons. He was promptly replaced. Teller assumed the scientific leadership of the weapons program and remained influential for the entire Cold War. The largest Hydrogen bomb ever tested by the U.S was around 40 megatons, 4,000 times more powerful than the 10 kiloton Hiroshima bomb. The nuclear arms race that followed has resulted in the doctrine of MAD, mutually assured destruction. If either the U.S or USSR launch any or all of their half of the 20,000 nuclear weapons they have aimed at each other, then they can rest assured that they too would be completely destroyed in a retaliatory strike. The nuclear arms race consumed much of the wealth of the U.S leaving the civilian population living in very real fear that the world could end in a matter of minutes.

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