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Looking Back: At Trinity, the First Nuclear Bomb Test - 1945
At Trinity, the First Nuclear Bomb Test
William L. Laurence at Trinity
July 16, 1945
Observing the "great burst of flame" that gave birth to the age of nuclear weapons:
"With the flash came a delayed roll of thunder heard, just as the flash was seen, for hundreds of miles. The roar echoed and reverberated from the distant hills and the Sierra Oscuro range nearby, sounding as though it came from some supramundane source as well as from the bowels of the earth. The hills said yes and mountains chimed in yes. It was as if the earth had spoken and the suddenly iridescent clouds and sky had joined in one affirmative anwwer. Atomic energy - yes. It was fascinating and terrifying, uplifting and crushing, ominous, devastating, full of great promise and great foreboding."
The blast of the first atomic bomb occurred at dawn on July 16, 1945 in what is now called Trinity, New Mexico.
At that time the area was a vast desert. It had been named "Jornada del Muerto" for deaths it had brought Conquistadors who'd arrived centuries earlier looking for gold.
The first atomic bomb test, triggered by the Los Alamos scientists led by Robert Oppenheimer, left a 800 meter diameter deep crater with a "glistening encrustation of blue-green glass". The scientists huddled the night before in the distance in a bunker had been wagering whether the nuclear explosion would 'catch the atmosphere on fire'. It didn't and those who gambled it would, lost.
After recording what had happened that day, the military quickly covered over the crater with desert sand 'for security reasons', burying the remnants of the molten blue-green crystalized debris that would later be given the name -- "Trinitite".
The official line of the US Army was an "ammunition dump" had exploded. The news agencies duly reported the lit up sky at the break of day as an "accident".
The flash seen in the distance by some in Albuquerque was noted in the news -- then forgotten until the Hiroshima blast on August 6, 1945.
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At Trinity / Trinitite
- Posted by GreenPolicy Siterunner / SJS
- August 7, 2015 at 8:42pm
- Trinitite - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/trinitite
SJS / Siterunner:
As I look back at the Nuclear Era, and writing about nuclear risks since my teen-age years and debating nuclear proliferation in high school debates in California. Congressman George Brown was a source of much information as we began a three-decade long working relationship that spanned from nuclear and Vietnam war risks to big science and the beginnings of the environmental movement. Later, the beginning of an international Green party in Germany began serious political work at forefront of the Cold War nuclear chasm, and my work grew to include peacetime campaign platform work with Gov. Jerry Brown, who is nowon the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative / NTI. Later, I went on to the drafting of the founding US Green Party platform, with anti-nuclear weapons peace planks, and establishing StrategicDemands.com / A New Strategic Vision.
My father in World War 2 was a bomber pilot trained to fly "secret missions."
He spoke to me, on rare occasions, about his training and B-17/29 "special" assignments near war's end.
One day and one story stands out in my memory. Posterity tells me to share his story as my dad has passed away.
War secrets have long faded into history. Marfa/Roswell/Ardmore/Clovis/Alamogordo -- B-17s to B-29s -- missions to the Pacific...
It was in July 1945. At that time my lieutenant father was based in New Mexico at Clovis Army Air Field flying training missions. He was scheduled, as I look today at his yellowing papers with orders in his air force trunk, to transfer to Alamogordo on July 23rd. Curiously, I see a number of destinations on his orders are blank. I'm remembering how he told me that he knew and his crew knew, in their own way, about the first test of a nuclear weapon. They knew it had happened not far from their base and on July 17th newspapers in New Mexico had reported that a "munitions storage depot" had exploded. This was the official line to explain the bright flash in the sky at dawn, 5:30 AM on July 16th, south of Albuquerque.
The initial testing of the first nuclear weapon was at Trinity https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(nuclear_test) in a barren area of New Mexico known as Jornada del Muerto ("Journey of the Dead Man"). The desolation made it the choice of the Army and scientists who had secretly developed the bomb at the isolated nuclear physics laboratory at Los Alamos.
The B-17 crew that flew that week from Clovis decided (in a departure from the official planned flight path) to veer "off course" and to take a look at the area where the bomb went off... not a good decision, but in those days many of the pilots and crews were strong willed to put it mildly. This crew chose to go where they thought the site of the blast was... They scanned the horizon and in the distance they saw a bright glistening spot in the desert.
They flew over it. He told me it was both frightening and beautiful. It was a crater scattering radiating beams of light up.
The crater from the blast shocked them into silence he remembered. The sand had turned liquid then fused and fallen back to earth. The crater was coated with a 'glass' that would be called "Trinitite".
They flew on without talking, he said. The power of the weapon all too evident. No more fly-boys on a run.
Now they knew what their bomber group, their B-29s, and their special runs with unusual maneuvers were being equipped to do. The military covered over the crater and evidence of the blast.
Then they heard the news, August 6th and 9th, 1945, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Today it's August 2015, seventy years on and I remember how my father told me of his relief there were to be no more atomic bombs and hopefully no more wars with nuclear weapons.
He had trained as a warrior with nuclear weapons. He said it had gone too far. He was, we were, fortunate to not suffer the consequences as others have, even as a sword of a Damocles or worse continues to hang over our heads as a result.
Generations in the future have to deal with the potential consequences of the nuclear age.
The words of the head of the atomic weapons project for the U.S. continue to echo…
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The Lessons of Hiroshima: Not to be Forgotten
The New Nuclear Arms Race: Beyond Proliferation, Insanity
Visit GreenPolicy360's associate Strategic Demands for more on nuclear issues and escalating existential threats