Historical Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy

By Stephen E. Atkins | Go to book overview

I

Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.See National Reactor Testing Station

Implosion

The most carefully guarded secret in the U.S. atomic bomb program at Los Alamos was the principle of implosion used to detonate the fission device known as the Fat Man. Implosion is a way to trigger the plutonium core into an overcritical mass by directing blast waves inwardly. The theory of implosion was first advanced by Seth Neddermeyer, a physicist at Los Alamos who had formerly worked at the Bureau of Standards and was a former student of J. Robert Oppenheimer at Caltech. Hans Bethe and John von Neumann made calculations that proved implosion would work and provide a better detonation device, but it required incredible precision. Neddermeyer's idea was rebuffed at first because it was too complicated, but he was given the responsibility to study the problem. Implosion as a method was soon resurrected after it was found that the gun method would not work with plutonium. Emilio Segre conducted an experiment on plutonium and found PU-240 emitted alpha particles on its own. Trace amounts of isotope PU-240 in the fuel made it too unstable for the use of the gun method, because it might cause a premature detonation. At one point the lack of a workable triggering device threatened the success of a plutonium bomb. A special division was formed at the Los Alamos Laboratory to work out the problem. Still plagued by problems of design, a special Cowpuncher Committee was formed in March 1945 to take over the implosion problem. The engineering problem was to make the entire plutonium core go overcritical at the same time, and the solution was to use a series of lenses to produce the necessary implosion wave. Once this hypothetical solution had

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Historical Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • A 1
  • B 40
  • C 69
  • D 107
  • E 114
  • F 124
  • G 143
  • H 155
  • I 169
  • J 183
  • K 193
  • L 201
  • M 223
  • N 240
  • O 267
  • P 276
  • Q 296
  • R 299
  • S 318
  • T 357
  • U 380
  • V 391
  • W 397
  • Y 406
  • Z 408
  • Chronology of Atomic Energy 411
  • Selected Bibliography 427
  • Index 445
  • About the Author 492
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