Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

How the US’ Trinity Test led to the dawn of the atomic age?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Manhattan Project, WW2 and related stories

On this day, exactly 75 years ago, US scientists tested ‘Gadget’— the world’s first atomic bomb — in what was dubbed as the ‘Trinity Test’.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What is the Manhattan Project? Describe its consequences on the post-world war scenario.

The Trinity Test

  • The super bomb, nicknamed ‘Gadget’, was built by a team of scientists at a top-secret site in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
  • It was developed as part of the US-led Manhattan Project, which sought to build nuclear weapons to give the allied forces an edge over Germany, Japan and Italy in World War 2.
  • Very soon after the Trinity test, an identical nuclear bomb called ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of people.
  • Before it detonated, the scientists had placed bets on what could happen. Some believed that the bomb would be a dud and would fail to explode.

What was the Manhattan Project?

  • Germany initiated World War II by invading Poland.
  • A letter signed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein warned then-US President Franklin D Roosevelt of the potential threat posed by an atomic weapon being developed by Adolf Hitler.
  • Soon after, the US launched a secret atomic research undertaking, code-named the Manhattan Project, which sought to develop an atomic weapon to end the war.

Execution of the project

  • The Project remained a relatively small-scale initiative for the next two years.
  • It was only after the bombing of Pearl Harbour the project was officially kicked into gear.
  • By December 1942 facilities were established in remote locations across the US, as well as in Canada.
  • However, the superbomb was finally designed and conceptualized by a team of scientists at a top-secret laboratory in Los Alamos.
  • The Los Alamos team developed two types of bombs — one was uranium-based, which was later code-named ‘the Little Boy’ before it was dropped on Hiroshima; the other had a plutonium core.

Looping-in nuclear physicists

  • The project brought together some of the country’s leading atomic experts as well as exiled scientists and physicists from Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations.
  • The team at Los Alamos was headed by J Robert Oppenheimer, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Oppenheimer later came to be known as the “father of the atomic bomb”.
  • His team included famous Danish scientist Niels Bohr and Italian scientists Enrico Fermi.

What were the repercussions of the Trinity Test?

  • New Mexico residents were pointedly not warned before the test, to ensure that it was carried out secretly.
  • Data collected by the New Mexico health department, which showed the adverse impact of radiation caused by the detonation, was ignored for years after the test.
  • A sudden rise in infant mortality was reported in the months after the explosion. Several residents also complained that the number of cancer patients went up after the Trinity Test.
  • The dust outfall from the explosion was expected to have travelled nearly 100 miles from the test site, posing a serious threat to residents in the area.
  • Many families complained that their livestock suffered skin burns, bleeding and loss of hair.

Impact of bombing on Japan

  • The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are known to have killed well over 200,000 people — many of whom succumbed to radiation poisoning in the weeks after the blasts.
  • The uranium bomb in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroyed around 70 per cent of all buildings and caused around 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945.
  • The plutonium bomb explosion over Nagasaki, which took place three days later, killed 74,000 people that year, according to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW) data.
  • After seeing the destruction caused to the two Japanese cities, Oppenheimer publicly admitted that he regretted building a bomb that could cause an apocalypse.

Nuclearisation of the world thus began

  • Seventy-five years after the Trinity Test, as many as nine countries around the world are currently in possession of nuclear weapons.
  • These include the US, the UK, Russia, France, India, China, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
  • At least eight countries have detonated over 2,000 nuclear test explosions since 1945.
  • The most recent instance of nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India, were the series of five explosions done as part of the Pokhran-II tests in May 1998.
  • The first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, took place in May 1974.

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