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.