Cruel Bombs

- The press of a button, creating a chain reaction, potentially ending hundreds of thousands life. During the Cold War, the inhabitants of Earth were under constant threat of a full-scale nuclear war. One little mistake, or wrongful decision, could have changed the world were used to, forever. This website chronicles development and the history, up until current day, of the atomic bomb. Just scroll down to begin.

Operation Cue, 1955 US test intended to test how various types of buldings would hold up ín a nuclear blast.

In the beginning...

The nuclear era started in 1933, when the European physicist, Enrico Fermi (picture), concieved the idéa of nuclear chain reaction, and later that year, togheter with Leó Szilárd, they patened the idéa of a nuclear ractor.

In 1938, two German scientist was able to split a uranium atom with neutron, thus creating nuclear fission, releasing the energy equivalent of 2.5 neutrons.

Enrico Fermi

What is nuclear fission?

1. A neutron is shot at a uranium-235 nucleus, which absorbes it.

2. The absorbtion turns the uranium-235 nucleus briefly into an unstable uranium-236 nucleus.

3. The uranium-236 nucleus splits into fast-moving lighter elements, releasing great amounts of energy.

Excerpts from the Einstein–Szilárd letter:

"...that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power..."

"This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed."

- Worried by the developments in wartime Germany, Szilárd wrote, in August of 1939, a letter to the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed by Albert Einstein, in which he warned of the danger that Germany might develop atomic bombs.

The letter also encouraged the US to initiate its own nuclear program.

Which it later would...


Plutonium production reactor. Plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the first nuclear bomb.

Los Alamos

The project's principal research and design laboratory. Building site for the first nuclear weapons.

Oak Ridge

Uranium enrichment plant and HQ. At most, 82,000 were employed at this facility.

Starting modest, the Manhattan Project would grow to employ more than 130 000 people, with research and development at more than 30 sites across the UK, Canada, and the United States.

At the end of 1945, the project would have cost the equivalent  to $24.5 billion. Over 90% of the costs was for constructing plants and produce the material needed to create the weapons.

July 16, 1945

- About 400 km southeast of Los Alamos



On July 16, 1945, the US would conduct the Worlds first ever detonation of a nuclear weapon at a testing ground in New Mexico. The test was codenamed “Trinity”.

The bomb, similar to the ones who would later be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, named “The Gadget”, weight around 4500 kg, and was suspended in the top of a 30 meter high tower, were it would be detonated.

The explosion sequence was initiated by exploding several small detonations simultaneously, creating an inward pressure on the core, increasing its density resulting in a supercritical condition and a nuclear explosion.

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

- Robert Oppenheimer, chief scientist for the Manhattan Project, after the Trinity detonation.

The Trinity explosion, just 16 ms after detonation.

Even though the Second World War in Europe had ended, the war continued in the east. After an American offensive against major Japan cities, the US together with the UK and China, called on Japan to surrender. With no response from Japan, President Harry Truman, approved the use of atomic weapon on Japanese targets.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, three B-29s took of from the Mariana Islands, some 2300 km from mainland Japan, and the mission's primary target was the city of Hiroshima.

One plane, the "Enola Gay" , was carrying "Little Boy" , a four ton nuclear bomb. The other two were assigned to observe and photograph.

At 08:15, the "Little Boy" was dropped over Hiroshima. It would fell for 43 seconds, before the detonation sequence would begin, causing it to detonate at a height of 600 meters.

Hiroshima, as viewed from the "Enola Gay" , just minutes after the detonation.

It's unknown of many people perished in Hiroshima, but estimations are ranging between 70 000 and 80 000, or about 30% of its population.

With no signs of any Japanese surrender, US proceeded with dropping a second bomb.

On August 9, a near identical mission to the August 6 one, with "Fat Man" in its loads, took flight.

The orginal target was the city of Kokura, but clouds made it impossible to get a visual target and release the bomb.

Running low on fuel, they chose their secondary target, Nagasaki. And at 11:01, "Fat Man" was dropped.

The mushroom cloud, as viewed from the city of Koyagi-jima, about 10 km from the detonation, minutes after the bomb were dropped.

It's estimated that between 60 000 and 80 000 perished in Nagasaki, making total toll of human loss to over 150 000.

On August 15, the Emperor of Japan, announced the country’s surrender.

Rising doubt

Operations Crossroads, 1946, the first underwater nuclear explosion.

After the atomic bombings of Japan, the US started developing a weapon with a much greater yield than those dropped on Japan, a so called hydrogen bomb or thermonuclear weapon.

This idea was greatly opposed by many of the scientist who worked on the original bomb at Los Alamos. The idea of opposing was both technical and moral; they thought that it could only be used as a weapon of genocide.

Albert Einstein, who originally supported the development, became one of its strongest resistors.

“I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth - rocks!”

- Albert Einstein, 1948

With the ongoing Cold War, the promoters of the development says it would be inevitable in order to protect US citizens, when the Soviet Union was likely themselves to develop its own weapon.

But in response to the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949, President Harry Truman, gave the green light to the development of a thermonuclear weapon.

The new arms race

Ivy Mike, October 31, 1952.

The development of the new weapon were put into highest gear, and by the end of 1952, the US would conduct “Operation Ivy”, the first tests with a thermonuclear weapon.

The first, called “Mike”, was over 600 times more powerful than the bomb released over Hiroshima.

The Soviets, not be outdone, starting designing its own thermonuclear weapon, and within a half year, they would have constructed and detonated, its very own thermonuclear weapon.

Castle Bravo, March 1, 1954.

Castle Romeo, March 27, 1954.

In 1954 the US would detonate the Castle Bravo, the first practical thermonuclear weapon at the Bikini Atoll, Marshall Island in the Pacific Ocean. With a yield of 15 megaton, it far exceeded its designed yield of 6 megatons.

Poor weather conditions caused a cloud of nuclear fallout to drift. Over 200 natives of the Marshall Islands were exposed to significant amount of radiation. Also the crew of a nearby Japanese fishing boat, returned suffering radiation sickness and skin burns. The dangers of nuclear fallout now became aware to the public eye.

Hammer and sickle

Enemy in the east

It wasn't just US who was interested in weapons of mass destruction. Already during the early developments in Los Alamos in the early 1940's, information was leaking to the Soviet Union.

This came as a surprise for the US when Soviet detonated its first nuclear weapon in August, 1949. That was four years earlier than anyone in the US expected.

As already mentioned, this was the incident that convinced President Harry Truman do develop thermonuclear weapons, which also was the Soviets goal. Soviet would reach this goal in just four year, and by late 1955 it would have catched up to US, when it tested it first deployable thermonuclear weapon.

In the early 1960's, the tone between the two supergiants was escalating, and during the 1960 United Nations General Assembly, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, told the US “We’ll show you!”. And by October of 1961 the warning would materialize...

"Tsar Bomba"

On October 30, a modified Soviet bomber took off from the Kola Peninsula, with a 27 000 kg bomb in its cargo. It would detonate at 11:32 over Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Sea.

The yield of the “Tsar Bomba” was estimated to be between 50 and 58 megaton, or 3.5 times more powerful than the largest weapon ever tested by the US (Castle Bravo, 15 mt), or compared to the bomb dropped over Hiroshima, roughly 3100 times more powerful.

The “Tsar” was originally designed to have yield of 100 megaton, but concerns of fallout and the release plane being knocked out of the sky by the shockwave, made the Soviet scientists to reduce its yield.

The TNT used would be equivalent to a cube of TNT 312 meters on each side, approximately the height of the Eiffel Tower.

The “Tsar” didn't do anything to release tension between the two superpowers, but soon, and with the Cuban missile crisis, the potential apocalyptic consequences of full out war with thermonuclear weapons. In 1963, the US and Soviet agreed to no longer test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. Underground testing was still allowed.

John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruchchev in Vienna, May, 1961.

“Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.“

- John F. Kennedy, UN speech, 1961

Going global

It wasn't just the superpowers that was interested in the power of nuclear weapons. As of early 2014, eight countries had conducted tests known of nuclear weapons.

Timeline of first nuclear test

It's also widely believed that Israel have tested, and is in possession of nuclear weapons. It is believed that Israel and South Africa conducted a test in the Indian Ocean in September of 1979, but this remains highly disputed today.

Combined, the eight countries have conducted over 2000 known nuclear explosions. The majority, over 1000, has been conducted by the US. Their last test was conducted in September of 1992.

The Soviet Union has made over 700 test, France just over 200, China and the UK about 50, India and Pakistan around ten, and North Korea have made three known tests.

1940's - 7 tests

1950's - 291 tests

1960's - 703 tests

1970's - 553 tests

1980's - 437 tests

1990's - 60 tests

2000 - present - 3 tests

3. Great Britain - October 3, 1952

"Hurricane" - 25 kt

4. France - February 13, 1960

"Gerboise Bleue" - 70 kt

5. China - October 16, 1964

"596" - 22 kt

6. India - May 18, 1974

"Smiling Buddha" - 12 kt

7. Pakistan - May 28, 1998

"Chagai-I" - 40 kt

8. North Korea - October 09, 2006

Unknown name - ~1 kt

At its peak in in 1985, there were a total of 68 000 active weapons, but continuous disarmament and treaties has brought that number down to just over 4 000, about 90% of which are in either US and Russian possession.

Despite tens of thousands of nuclear weapon, until this day, nuclear weapons have only been used twice against a civilian population, both times by the US over Japan, killing over 150,000 people, and effectively ending the Second World War.