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The aftermath of the test and bombing Hiroshima


Witnessing the test explosion
Edward Teller Scientist
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We decided - it was a very obvious decision - we were not quite certain whether our somewhat difficult design would be... would work, we better test it. And the test was scheduled for the middle of July. I was invited to look at the test, not with the group that was closest and was operating the actual atomic bomb on the top of a tower. I was with another group of sort of senior people. I say senior - I was of course not yet 40 years of age - and there we were on the early morning of the 16th July 1945, looking at a spot where something was going to happen. We were instructed to lie down with our backs to the bomb, not look at it. I did not obey. I did lie down, but looked straight at the point, but we were also given welding glasses to shut out too much light. I used those and had an extra pair of dark glasses and I was among those who... who expected a big yield - I put suntan lotion on my face. And the shot was canceled. It rained out. Then we waited and a little time before the sun went up, it was still quite dark, the rain had stopped, we go ahead. Countdown worked fine up to minus 30 seconds, then whatever went wrong, our group no longer got the countdown. There was half a minute to go. It was an infinity. It was clear that the shot did not work - and then it did, just on time. Thirty seconds was too long to wait and I very distinctly remember my first impression. I looked straight at it. It was a weak point of light that spread and started to rise and my first feeling was of disappointment- is that all? Then I remembered all the nice absorbers I had in front of my eye. I did not take them off, I tipped the welding glasses and looked down on the sand next to me and you know, if in a dark room, you lift the curtain and the full daylight is streaming in, that was what I saw and then I was impressed. By and by, in a matter of quite a few seconds the light faded and we saw the fire ball rising, dissipating. We didn't talk much. I am sure that all of us, the two dozen of us on that spot were thinking: soon this will be used and at that time it will not be an experiment.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 4 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008