Historical Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy

By Stephen E. Atkins | Go to book overview
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Japanese Atomic Bomb Program

The Japanese atomic bomb program never had the resources or the personnel to be successful, but Japanese authorities did seriously consider building an atomic bomb during World War II. After the Japanese military had surveyed potential uranium deposits, a Japanese atomic bomb program was given a tentative go-ahead in October 1940. Yoshio Nishina, a leading physicist and director of its Physical and Chemical Research Institute, was placed in charge of the program. He had studied with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and had a reputation for his theoretical work on the Compton effect. He had already built a small cyclotron at his Tokyo Laboratory and was working on constructing a larger cyclotron in 1940. His institute had 110 researchers including Japan's most promising physicists. In 1940 the institute had four distinct research groups: the cyclotron atomic nucleus group, the cosmic ray group, the theoretical group, and a radiation group. In April 1941, the Imperial Army Air Force authorized full-scale research for an atomic bomb. Soon after the Army Air Force's initiative, the Imperial Navy also decided in the spring of 1942 to commit itself to nuclear power, but this time for ship propulsion. They were interested enough in a possible atomic bomb, however, to form a Navy Committee to study its possibility. Nishina was elected chair, but he was far too busy conducting his experiments to participate actively. Rumors surfaced in Japan in August of 1942 that the United States was about to begin building an atomic bomb. This news stimulated the members of the committee to give a go-ahead on research. Nishina asked Tadashi Takeuchi to assist him in the production of an atomic bomb. In a meeting in March 1943, it became apparent that with recent military defeats that Japan needed help now in the form of more aircraft and radar. While an atomic bomb was possible, it might take Japan as long as 10 years to

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