How Did the Demon Core Kill Its Victims?

How Did the Demon Core Kill Its Victims?
How Did the Demon Core Kill Its Victims? - Re-enactment of the 1946 crash. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The “devil core” was ready and waiting to be dropped on the bewildered Japan, which suffered a new disaster as a result of the bloodiest attacks ever witnessed on 13 August 1945. A week ago, "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" had exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. These were the names given to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As a result of the first and only nuclear bombs used in the war, as many as 200.000 people died; If events had turned out differently, a third deadly attack would have followed in their dreadful footsteps.

After Nagasaki showed that Hiroshima was not an anomaly, Japan promptly capitulated on August 15, with Emperor Hirohito's taped speech acknowledging the Allies' demands.

It turned out to be the first time the Japanese people heard the voice of one of their emperors, but for researchers at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, also known as Project Y, the event was far more important. This event implied that the 6,2 kg sphere of purified plutonium and gallium, the functional core of the third atomic bomb they were developing, would no longer be necessary for the war effort.
Had the war continued as it had for nearly five years, this plutonium core would have been placed in a second Fat Man assembly and exploded over another unprepared Japanese city just four days later.

As it turned out, fate gave these individuals a reprieve, and Los Alamos Lab officials would be held at the facility for further testing. These tests gave the bomb its current name, which would later be nicknamed the "devil core".

Two days after the demon core's delayed bombing attempt and less than a week after Japan's surrender, the first setback occurred. The demon core trapped in Los Alamos may not have been able to start this quest, but it still managed to get a deadly chance.

After the point at which the plutonium becomes supercritical, the nuclear chain reaction begins. As a result, lethal radiation is released. Scientists at Los Alamos were aware of the risks involved.

Scientists working on the Manhattan Project, of which Los Alamos Laboratory is also a part, used sophisticated mathematical and statistical techniques to determine how far to go before this harmful reaction occurs.

They've even developed a colloquial name for high-risk trials that hints at the dangers of what they're doing. They called it "stepping on the dragon's tail" because if they had the misfortune of waking the angry animal, they could end badly.

Harry Daghlian, a physicist at Los Alamos, experienced just that.

On the evening of August 21, 1945, Daghlian violated safety procedures by returning to the lab after dinner and tickling the dragon's tail alone, with no other scientists (just a security guard).

By surrounding the plutonium sphere with tungsten carbide bricks, Daghlian tried to reflect back the neutrons emitted by the core and bring it closer to criticality.

Daghlian built these reflective barriers that surround the core brick by brick until the neutron tracer warned him that more of it would cause the plutonium to become supercritical.

He tried to remove one of the bricks but accidentally dropped it on the sphere. This caused supercriticality, a blue glow, and a heat wave. Daghlian instantly reached out and took the brick out, feeling a tingling in his hand as he did so. Unfortunately, he was long past that point.

He had absorbed a lethal dose of radiation in one second. After weeks of nausea and pain, he finally fell into a coma as a result of his burned, radioactive hand.

He passed away just 25 days after the tragedy. The security guard on duty also received a non-lethal dose of radiation.

However, the demon core was not yet complete.

Safety measures were reviewed after Daghlian's death, but the adjustments were not sufficient to prevent such an accident from occurring the following year.

In a related criticality experiment, Daghlian's colleague, physicist Louis Slotin, was lowering a beryllium dome over the core on May 21, 1946.

The beryllium dome, like the tungsten carbide bricks before it, reflected neutrons back into the core, causing it to approach criticality. The slot acted as a vital valve, carefully maintaining a small gap between the dome or tamper and the core with the aid of a screwdriver, allowing enough neutrons to escape.

The dome fell and the screwdriver slipped, briefly surrounding the demon core with a bubble of beryllium that reflected back too many neutrons.

Raemer Schreiber, another scientist in the room, heard the dome fall and turned to look. As the demon core became supercritical for the second time in a year, he felt heat and saw a blue light.

Schreiber later noted in a report that "the blue glow was clearly visible in the room, even though it was brightly lit from windows and possibly overhead lights."

“The entire duration of the flash could not exceed a few tenths of a second. Slotin quickly closed the tamper part in response.”

Although Slotin quickly realized his fatal mistake, the damage was already done.

He and seven others in the room, including a photographer and a security guard, were exposed to a burst of radiation, but only Slotin was given a higher lethal dose than that given to Daghlian.

After experiencing nausea and vomiting, he initially seemed to recover in the hospital, but within days began to lose weight, experience abdominal discomfort, and show signs of mental confusion.

In a press release at the time, Los Alamos described her condition as "three-dimensional sunburn."

He disappeared nine days after the screwdriver accident.

There were only a few months between two deadly tragedies that brought about significant changes in Los Alamos.

The new protocols put an end to "hands-on" criticality testing, allowing scientists to manipulate radioactive nuclei hundreds of meters away with remote control technology. The plutonium core would also now be referred to as the "devil core".

But after all that had happened, the nuclear weapon's time had expired.

Plans to use the core in Operation Crossroads, the first post-war nuclear explosion demonstrations to begin on Bikini Atoll a month later, were abandoned due to the Slotin accident and the consequent increase in radiation levels in the core.

Instead, plutonium was melted back into the US nuclear arsenal and reused for new cores as needed. The second and final explosion of the demon core has been thwarted.

While the deaths of the two scientists are incomparable to the unimaginable atrocities that would occur if the core were used in a third nuclear attack on Japan, it's easy to understand why scientists have given the demon core this superstitious nickname.

There are also strange features that complete the plot of the story.

Just as Slotin and Daghlian died in the same hospital room and both incidents occurred on Tuesday, the 21st, rather than in accidents using the same plutonium core.

Of course, these are just coincidence. There was nothing demonic in the demon core. If there is evil, it is not in the heart, but in the rush of people to create these terrible weapons.

And what is terrifying is how in the mid-20th century scientists failed to protect themselves from the great dangers they experimented with, despite their full understanding of the serious threats in their environment. This is in addition to the terrible effects of radiation poisoning.

According to Schreiber, Slotin's initial statements after the screwdriver incident were frank and resigned.

At the hospital, he had comforted his dying friend Daghlian, so he was prepared for what would happen next.

That's it, he said, and finished his words.

This article was originally published in 2018.



Günceleme: 29/12/2022 16:57

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