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Nuclear Testing 1950s

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The Race for Arms

The idea of a weapon that could produce global annihilation was born during the Second World War; with this information in tow, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into the nuclear arms race, developing the first atomic bombs. In order to perfect these weapons of mass destruction, both countries needed to test their products to look for flaws in the general blue prints of the weapons. Seeing the success with the atomic bomb, the United States started developing a more destructive bomb, the hydrogen bomb, believed to be 1000 times stronger than the atomic bomb. In January of 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced the United States’ intention to build a hydrogen bomb because of the fear that the Soviet Union’s advancements in nuclear weapons were a possible threat to the United States and the rest of the world.

It was not until July 13, 1942, during World War II, that the United States began the Manhattan Project to begin developing an atomic bomb. By December 2, a Manhattan Project team, lead by physicist Enrico Fermi, produced the first artificial fission reaction at the University of Chicago. Even after World War II ended and President Roosevelt died, the research for developing an atomic bomb continued. Three years later, the Manhattan Project achieved it’s goal of developing a true atomic weapon. The so-called nuclear arms race in between the United States and the Soviet Union was a competition for supremacy in nuclear weapons during the Cold War. During the Cold War, in addition to the American and Soviet nuclear stockpiles, other countries also developed nuclear weapons, though none engaged in warhead production on the same size as the two superpowers.

The first nuclear test took place in New Mexico on July 16, 1945 under the supervision of Robert J. Oppenheimer. This test was intended to prove the actuality of a radical implosion weapon design that had been developed at Los Alamos during the previous year. This design, embodied in the test device called Gadget, involved a new technology that could not be adequately evaluated without a full-scale test. Less than a month later, the United States dropped two nuclear weapons of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. When President Truman heard word of the successful bombing in Hiroshima he exclaimed, “This is the greatest day in history!” The United States conducted six nuclear tests before the Soviet Union developed their first atomic bomb. Neither country had very many nuclear weapons to spare at first, and this made testing relatively infrequent. However, by the 1950s the United States had established a dedicated test site on its own territory on the Nevada Test Site, and were also using a site in the Marshall Islands for extensive nuclear testing.

The Soviet weapons program began in 1943, during World War II, under the control of physicist Igor Vasilievich Kurchatov. The program was initiated by information composed by Soviet intelligence about the fast growing Manhattan Project in the U.S. Immediately after the end of the war against Japan, the Soviet weapons program moved into high gear. Lavrenti Beria was then appointed to lead the whole project, with Kurchatov remaining as scientific director. The first Soviet Union nuclear test, code named "First Lightning", detonated a plutonium bomb on August 29, 1949. The focus of the Soviet nuclear program at this point was to set off an atomic blast as soon as possible, no matter the cost. At Beria’ s insistence, this device was an exact copy of the United States’ Gadget/Fat Man design. The first Soviet breakthrough with a thermonuclear bomb came sometime in late 1953; it is based on hydrodynamic compression opposed to radiation implosion.

After these advancements in the nuclear arms race, more and more tests were being conducted in both the United States and the Soviet Union. President Truman ordered the Atomic Energy Commission to begin developing the hydrogen bomb. Once Truman announced this, 12 leading U.S. physicists opposed the development of a thermonuclear bomb. Robert J. Oppenheimer, one of the physicists, opposed the construction of a more powerful hydrogen bomb. When President Truman at last approved it, Oppenheimer did not argue, but his primary reluctance and the political environment turned against him. In 1953, at the height of U.S. anticommunist feeling, Oppenheimer was accused of having communist sympathies, and had his security clearance taken away.

The Soviet Union plotted to use their nuclear weapons for attacks against the United States. Almost as soon as the United States began the Manhattan Project, the Soviets also began researching the possibility of nuclear



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