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Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb

by Richard Rhodes

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1,0331216,449 (4.03)13
Here, for the first time, in a brilliant, panoramic portrait by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, is the definitive, often shocking story of the politics and the science behind the development of the hydrogen bomb and the birth of the Cold War. Based on secret files in the United States and the former Soviet Union, this monumental work of history discloses how and why the United States decided to create the bomb that would dominate world politics for more than forty years.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I finally abandoned this after 200 pages. I NEVER do that, but I'm too old now to waste my life on things I'm not interested in. At least for the 200 pages I read there was precious little about the making of the hydrogen bomb and skimming the rest gave little hope. If you were interested in the espionage behind the atomic programs you might like this book, however I found the narrative so dull I simply could not ever connect with it; who stole this, who met whom on what day, simply tedious. For what it is worth it is exhaustively (literally) researched and footnoted. It is fairly politically biased as well.

My copy is a signed first edition and it was a gift so it just goes back on the shelf not in the bin. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
The New Testament to the Old Testament. And like the New Testament it is much shorter and easier to read as you get all the basic science out of the way.

An amazing delve into years post second World War and how the Russians came to their first nuclear bomb and the development of the thermonuclear bomb and critical events around this time.

Fascinating and amazing, really highly recommended. ( )
  gullevek | Dec 15, 2020 |
While parts of this were very interesting, it was overall much weaker than the first book. I think what I liked most about the first book was Rhodes's description of the science and engineering that went into building the atomic bomb. There is some of that here, but significantly less. There is much more about Soviet spying---material which is somewhat dated and, to me, pedestrian. Rhodes also tries to quickly go over the history of US policy on nuclear weapons, but it is too brief and has been covered better elsewhere.

> A nuclear reactor generates far more neutrons than a cyclotron. That higher neutron flux had transmuted more of the uranium in the reactor to Pu240. The spontaneous fission rate of reactor-produced Pu239, with its greater admixture of Pu240, turned out to be five times greater than that of cyclotron-produced plutonium, unacceptably high for gun assembly. Even at the highest attainable muzzle velocities, a plutonium bullet would melt before it had time to mate with a target assembly. By July 1944, when Fuchs talked to Chadwick, Los Alamos had decided that the plutonium gun would have to be scrapped.

> If the information that plutonium bred in a natural-uranium reactor could be a shortcut to the bomb was the first Anglo-American breakthrough that the Soviet espionage network delivered to Soviet scientists, the information that implosion was superior to gun assembly was the second. But whether this information came from Alan Nunn May or from some other source, as yet unknown, the declassified Soviet record does not reveal. It almost certainly did not come from Klaus Fuchs

> Serber remembers, "on Edward Teller's blackboard at Los Alamos I once saw a list of weapons—ideas for weapons—with their abilities and properties displayed. For the last one on the list, the largest, the method of delivery was listed as ‘Backyard.' Since that particular design would probably kill everyone on earth, there was no use carting it elsewhere."

> the British were preparing secretly to build their own atomic bomb, and what Fuchs knew was valuable to them. He thus became a vector for nuclear proliferation to England as well as the Soviet Union. "He is the only physicist I know who truly changed history," Hans Bethe comments

> The three production reactors at Hanford had sickened with what came to be called "Wigner's disease" (after the Hungarian-born theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner, who designed the reactors and predicted the effect): graphite bombarded intensely with neutrons stored the acquired energy by rearranging its crystal lattices, which caused it to swell and occlude the reactor fuel-element channels

> Arkadi Admovich Brish, personally repaired it. Brish, twenty-nine in 1946, "blond, with gray eyes nearly the color of steel" in Zukerman's recollection, later the director of a leading institute, was a man so vigorous that the Sarovians cooked up a unit of productive activity—the Brish—in his honor and measured their own contributions comparatively in milli- and micro-Brishes.

> Theoretically, lithium in a bomb would pick up neutrons from D + D reactions or from fission and make tritium in situ; the T would then react with D, releasing energy and making more neutrons, which would repeat the cycle. The advantage of using lithium in a thermonuclear device would be at least twofold: it would generate tritium at hand, reducing or eliminating the need for incorporating expensive reactor-bred tritium into the design; and it was a solid at room temperature and did not require maintaining within a bomb at several hundred degrees below zero (with all the elaborate bottling and insulating that would entail) as liquid deuterium did. But lithium deuteride had the serious disadvantage that its Z was three times that of deuterium; it radiated at nine times the rate of the hydrogen isotopes and therefore appeared to be far more difficult to ignite

> San Francisco was another favorite target; SAC once faux-bombed it more than six hundred times in one month

> Mao at that time was planning an invasion of Taiwan, for which he had a promise of Soviet support. (Truman had announced on January 5 that the US would not intervene in Taiwan, a point Mao had taken to heart.) If Mao expressed fear that the US would defend South Korea, he would have to admit the possibility that the US would also defend Taiwan, in which case the Soviets would certainly back away from their promise. Rather than take that risk, Mao tepidly endorsed Kim's adventure. … Dogged by delays, Mao was forced to put his Taiwan invasion on hold—permanently, as it turned out. If there had not been a Korean war in the summer of 1950 there might well have been a Chinese war between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

> Chemical explosives were inadequate on two grounds: they blew material into the thermonuclear fuel that would probably quench the thermonuclear burn entirely, and they could not generate sufficient compression to make a useful difference in the thermonuclear reaction rates. Ulam's "iterative scheme," says Mark, "changed all that."

> How original were Ulam's and Teller's ideas? Who should receive more credit for the breakthrough? Opinion among knowledgeable participants and observers ranges far and wide. Bethe assessed the Teller-Ulam invention of staging and compression most generously … What Ulam did was not a thermonuclear device. It was a general idea. What Teller did was convert that into something which was a sketch of a Super that would work. Teller sketched out a super bomb. Ulam simply presented a fairly general idea in dealing with that topic. I think Teller has slighted Ulam, but I think also Teller does deserve fifty-one percent of the credit. Ulam discounted the originality of the invention late in life, but by then Teller had worked for years to deny his colleague's contribution … It's true that Ulam thought that you could use … hydrodynamic shock. That's certainly there too. It doesn't move as rapidly as radiation does. It's harder to control and direct. So if you were trying to exercise Ulam's idea of using hydrodynamic shock you'd find, by God, radiation gets there first. Teller then is supposed to have proposed that it would be better to use radiation than to rely on [material shock]. Well, he was right, it was simpler, but you couldn't have avoided it. Had you sat down to design the thing, asking, now, what's the material shock doing, where is it, how fast does it move? You'd say, dear God, the radiation is going faster, it's there, so let's concentrate on that. So it was hardly an important circumstance that Teller thought of radiation whereas Ulam thought of … material [shock].

> Teller added a crucial additional stage to the Teller-Ulam configuration: a second fission component positioned within the thermonuclear second stage to increase the efficiency of thermonuclear burning. … Teller realized that a subcritical stick of U235 or plutonium, positioned where the sparkplug would form at the center axis of the deuterium cylinder, would be compressed to supercriticality by the leading edge of the imploding shock wave. This second fission explosion would then push outward against the implosion that was pushing inward; with careful design, the main implosion and the sparkplug explosion might be made to come to equilibrium, stabilizing in a hot, highly compressed critical layer that would advance outward through the deuterium fuel mass and burn it much more efficiently and completely than could an unboosted sparkplug alone. Teller called this design "an equilibrium thermonuclear gadget" in a report he signed on April 4, 1951; he claimed it in the report's subtitle as "a new thermonuclear device."

> the Teller-Ulam invention—staging, implosive fuel compression before ignition and a fission-boosted sparkplug—as its ingenious principal mechanism.

> The disadvantage of pure deuterium was that it would have to be maintained below its boiling point of 23.5 degrees Kelvin 2 to remain liquid; that meant the test device would have to incorporate sophisticated insulation and a cryogenic cooling system. … Holloway's team soon settled on liquid deuterium despite its engineering challenges, Carson Mark reports, primarily because it would give the cleanest physics

> More than 75 percent of Mike's yield, about eight megatons, came from the fission of the big U238 pusher around the secondary; in that sense it was less a thermonuclear than a big, dirty fission bomb. Fission-fusion-fission, the staging arrangement came to be called. If Los Alamos had devised a way to burn unlimited quantities of thermonuclear fuel, it had also devised a way to burn unlimited quantities of cheap ordinary uranium.

> The hydrogen bomb … would be a most important event in worldwide policy. And that scoundrel Beria allowed himself to make this decision outside of the Central Committee. Evidently Beria had been confident enough of his ascent to power to assume that he would command sole authority by the time the thermonuclear design was ready to be tested, in August 1953.

> It was expected to yield about five megatons, but the group at Los Alamos that had measured lithium fusion cross sections had used a technique that missed an important fusion reaction in lithium7, the other 60 percent of the Shrimp lithium fuel component. "They really didn't know," Harold Agnew explains, "that with lithium7 there was an n, 2n reaction [i.e., one neutron entering a lithium nucleus knocked two neutrons out]. They missed it entirely. That's why Shrimp went like gangbusters." Bravo exploded with a yield of fifteen megatons, the largest-yield thermonuclear device the US ever tested

> You know, he [Oppenheimer] is one of the most amazing men that the country has ever produced in his ability to influence people. It is just astounding the influence that he has upon a group. It is an amazing thing. His domination of the General Advisory Committee was so complete that he always carried the majority with him, and I don't think any views came out of that Committee that weren't essentially his views. … Many of our boys [at Berkeley] came back from [wartime Los Alamos] pacifists. I judged that was due very largely to his influence

> Oak Ridge and Hanford doubled in size. Two vast gaseous-diffusion plants came on line, drawing more power than the Tennessee Valley Authority and Hoover, Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams could have delivered in concert; by 1957, the AEC consumed 6.7 percent of total US electrical power. … Building the new production complexes required more than 11 percent of annual US nickel production, 34 percent of stainless steel, 33 percent of hydrofluoric acid. From $1.4 billion in 1947, AEC capital investment increased to almost $9 billion by 1955, exceeding the capital investment of General Motors, Bethlehem and US Steel, Alcoa, DuPont and Goodyear combined

> SAC had reconnaissance aircraft flying secret missions over the Soviet Union twenty-four hours a day, he explained. "If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I'm going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground." Sprague was shocked. "But General," he countered, "that's not national policy." Sprague remembered LeMay responding, "I don't care. It's my policy. That's what I'm going to do." Wiesner says LeMay responded, "It's my job to make it possible for the President to change his policy"—a less insubordinate answer, but only barely

> More dangerous by far than all these incidents was Curtis LeMay's overconfident and belligerent advice to President Kennedy, whom he believed to be a coward. Knowing that the US and the USSR were approaching mutual deterrence and that SAC was therefore a wasting asset, LeMay pushed Kennedy to up the ante, bomb Cuba and take out the missile sites. … When the President questioned what the response of the Russians might be, General LeMay assured him that there would be no reaction. President Kennedy was skeptical. … contrary to CIA estimates, the Soviet forces in Cuba during the missile crisis possessed twenty nuclear warheads for medium-range R-12 ballistic missiles that could be targeted on US cities as far north as Washington, DC, as well as nine tactical nuclear missiles which the Soviet field commanders in Cuba were delegated authority to use—the only time such authority was ever delegated by the Soviet leadership.

> it was Edward Teller, not Robert Oppenheimer, who had delayed the development of the hydrogen bomb. He did so by defining that device from the beginning as a mechanism for achieving megaton-range yields. His characteristic grandiosity blinded him to the more modest possibilities of his Alarm Clock, which was inherently physically feasible and practical at high-kiloton yields ( )
  breic | Jul 27, 2020 |
I really enjoyed this book. I didn't learn too much more about the bomb itself, since I had read something on the atomic bomb before, but I did learn pretty much about the Soviet Spy program and how far it extended.

This book starts out with the atomic bomb and builds up the backstory of the spies for the Soviets. It switches between the two pretty easily, the book follows a chronological series of events, so you aren't completely lost. While it did have a lot of info on the H-Bomb itself, most of the book is devoted to the stories of the people involved in creating it; Teller, Oppenheimer, Fermi, a lot of names are mentioned. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Just finished reading. Cover to cover. Excellent. Covers all the twist and turns leading up to the detonation of the first true thermonuclear device - the Mike shot. The big takeaway : the nuclear arms race didn't just bankrupt the USSR, it fatally weakened the US as well. ( )
  clarkland | Jul 5, 2016 |
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Fundamentally, and in the long run, the problem which is posed by the release of atomic energy is a problem of the ability of the human race to govern itself without war: A Report of a Panel of Consultants on Disarmament of the Secretary of State, January 1953
For Arthur L. Singer, Jr.
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Early in January 1939, nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War, a letter from Paris alerted physicists in the Soviet Union to the startling news that German radiochemists had discovered a fundamental new nuclear reaction.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Here, for the first time, in a brilliant, panoramic portrait by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, is the definitive, often shocking story of the politics and the science behind the development of the hydrogen bomb and the birth of the Cold War. Based on secret files in the United States and the former Soviet Union, this monumental work of history discloses how and why the United States decided to create the bomb that would dominate world politics for more than forty years.

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