History has witnessed the atomic bomb’s godlike potential to completely destroy first-hand, and there will be no threat the world will face that is greater than that of a total nuclear holocaust. The capability to annihilate an entire world – its people, its past, its progress – belongs solely to the atomic bomb. In view of their terrifying and awesome power, we have compiled a list of 18 lesser-known facts about atomic bombs that will astonish you.
1. Kokura, Japan was the original target of the atomic bomb that landed on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
Kokura got lucky. Really lucky. On August 9, 1945, the B-29 bomber left for Kokura, Japan’s largest still-standing arsenal city. On arriving at the location, the plane was obscured by clouds and turned south to Nagasaki instead. According to some theorists, Japan did this intentionally (by creating enormous condensation clouds to mask the city) as a smokescreen to deflect the bombers.(source)
2. In 1961, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever built by man was detonated at Sukhoy Nos Peninsula, Russia. It was called the Tsar Bomba and its shockwaves travelled the earth three times.
The Tsar Bomba was built in a mere 15 weeks. The mushroom cloud that formed was 168 times taller than the Empire State Building and its power output was equivalent to 1.4% of the Sun’s. The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 kilometers away. It was so powerful, in fact, that it broke windows in Norway and Finland.(source)
3. 10% of the electricity in the United States came from disassembled Russian nuclear warheads, until 2013.
By the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States shook hands on an agreement that would successfully get rid of the 500 tons of weapons-grade Uranium by providing 7 trillion kilowatts of energy to the country. The program was called Megatons to Megawatts, which lasted from 1993 to 2013.(source)
4. Japan’s capital city Tokyo did not realize that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima until three hours after it happened. Prior to the bombings, however, leaflets were dropped from the sky, warning the citizens to evacuate the cities if they wanted to save their lives.
In the days leading up to the bombings, the U.S. Air Force dropped over five million leaflets containing warnings about the bombing. The following message was also broadcast every fifteen minutes on the radio by an American controlled station.(source)
“These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people.”
5. A hydrogen bomb that was 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima was detonated in space by the U.S in 1962. The high-altitude nuclear test was codenamed Starfish Prime.
When the Starfish Prime exploded, it created “rainbow skies”. The electrons that were released entered the earth’s atmosphere and energized oxygen and nitrogen atoms, causing them to glow in different colours. The bomb was so powerful, in fact, that it artificially extended the Van Allen belts (comprising of protons and neutrons held together by magnetic fields) which could be seen from Hawaii all the way up to New Zealand.(source)
6. During the 1950’s, atomic bomb testings were a major tourist attraction in Las Vegas. Nuclear testing took place 80 kilometers from the main city, so civilians would throw all-night atomic bomb parties with the mushroom clouds as backdrop.
So much so that Las Vegas was unofficially nicknamed “Atomic City”. These “Dawn Bomb Parties”, as they were called, happened whenever a bomb was dropped. Partygoers would stop and take in the sight of the mushroom clouds that formed. A drink called the “Atomic Cocktail” was also created, and sometimes people would pack “Atomic lunchboxes” to take with them to the desert.(source)
7. During the Cold War, the U.S. actually considered dropping an atomic bomb on the moon to demonstrate its military superiority. The project was conceived in 1958 by the U.S. Air Force, and named A119, or “A Study of Lunar Research Flights”.
Legendary astrophysicist Carl Sagan was also said to be involved with Project A119. Leonard Reiffel, deputy director of NASA reportedly said in an interview that the plan was to launch a rocket that would detonate a small nuclear device on the moon’s surface. The project was later abandoned due to reports of Sagan disclosing details about the mission to a fellow academician. Another contributing reason was the danger that the mission could pose to earth if it failed and fear of contaminating the moon’s atmosphere with radioactive material.(source)
8. The U.S. used about 141 pounds of processed Uranium for Hiroshima’s bomb, which was all that was then in existence. Ultimately, only 0.7g of Uranium caused the explosion, as the bomb was blown apart before it reached the supercritical phase.
In essence, the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion was generated by matter weighing no heavier than a single paper clip (or a dollar bill).
Codenamed “Little Boy”, this a-bomb weighed 10,000 pounds and was ten feet long. The bomb’s final steps of assembly happened largely in the air and moments before it dropped, as they were worried that a nuclear accident could injure American officers and potentially destroy their airfield. (source)
9. CT body scans would expose you to the same amount of radiation as that experienced within a mile and a half of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
The radiation dose for one CT scan ranges from 1-10 millisieverts (the unit for annual background radiation from natural source). David J. Brenner of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University in New York says that there is no difference between the radiation people are exposed to during x-rays or full-body CT scans and the victims of the Hiroshima blast. He remarks,
“The biggest difference is that the atomic bomb survivors got whole-body radiation, whereas CT is very directed exposure.”
Hiroshima survivors that were a couple of miles away from ground zero received anywhere between 5-100 millisieverts of radiation.(source)
10. New Mexico has an atomic bomb museum, where the first atomic bomb was detonated. It remains open only for 12 hours in an entire year.
The museum is called Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb lit up the entire Jornada Del Muerto (translation: Dead Man’s Journey) desert at night. Admission is free, and open for two periods in a year, totalling to 12 hours. One slot is on the first Saturday of April and the other is on the first Saturday of October, both from 8 am to 2 pm. There are no guides and only a few photos hang from the steel mesh fence.(source)
11. Before dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. dropped 49 practice bombs on Japan that killed 400 people and injured 1,200.
They were called “Pumpkin Bombs”, and dropped on several Japanese cities in preparation for the actual bombings. From July 20th to August 14th of 1945, at least 30 cities were ravaged by these bombs, which were made nearly identical to the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.(source)
12. A 390-year old bonsai tree survived the Hiroshima bombing, a fact that remained unknown until 2001. It was planted in 1626 and now resides at the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington.
This bonsai tree was donated as a gift by a Japanese bonsai master Masaru Yamaki to the U.S. in 1976. It looked like any other bonsai, except it was not. When the man’s grandchildren visited the museum in 2001, they brought the incredible story of the tree with them. The bomb that killed thousands of people left the tree unscathed, as it was up against a wall.(source)
13. The bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th was named “Little Boy” and it was uranium-based. August 9th’s Nagasaki bomb was nicknamed “Fat Man”, and it was plutonium-based. “Little Boy” destroyed 5 square miles of Hiroshima while “Fat Man” annihilated 2.6.
Both names were created by Robert Serber, a student of Robert Oppenheimer (Father of the Atomic Bomb). They were named for the way the bombs were designed – “Fat Man” was round and fat, and the name was inspired by a character in The Maltese Falcon while “Little Boy” earned its name after another character in the same movie.(source)
14. In 1958, the United States lost a nuclear bomb somewhere on the coast of Georgia during transport. It was found by a couple of tourist divers in 2016, nearly 60 years later.
The vacationing Canadian couple found the thermonuclear weapon at the bottom of Wassaw Sound, a bay located on the shores of Georgia. Jason Sutter, one of the scuba-divers, said about the initial moments,
“When I dug it up a bit, I noticed that it was actually a lot bigger and that there was some writing on the side. When I saw the inscription saying that it was a Mk-15 nuclear bomb, I totally freaked out.”
A quick 911 call later, the lost 3.9 megaton bomb was located and carefully deactivated. The weapon was in great condition, although the task of defusing it took them hours of hard work.(source)
15. Kyoto was also considered as one of the locations for the second bomb that fell on Nagasaki, but Secretary of War Henry Stimson requested a change of location because he and his wife had spent their honeymoon there.
Before Japan smoke-screened Kokura from the bomber plane, Nagasaki was not even on the list of locations that were considered for the bombing. Stimson argued that Kyoto was a place of cultural importance and should be taken off the target board. He was so averse to the idea of destroying the city that he went directly to President Harry Truman and appealed to him. Eventually, the decision was made, and Kokura was chosen instead. Stimson’s colleague opined that his justifications for leaving Kyoto out of the mess were rather superficial, as his reasons were more personal than anything. Historians say that Stimson was a great admirer of Japanese culture; he visited Kyoto multiple times throughout the 1920s and even made it his honeymoon destination.(source)
16. A man named Tsutomi Yamaguchi survived both the blasts. After escaping Hiroshima’s bombing, he fled to his hometown Nagasaki, which was hit three days later.
Along with Yamaguchi, his workers Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato survived the two bombings. About 165 people survived the blast, including a kite maker who was only half a mile away from Nagasaki’s ground zero. The Japanese government recognized Yamaguchi as “nijyuu hibakusha” or “twice-bombed person” and awarded him the distinction in 2009 a year before his death at 92 years old.(source)
17. The plane that carried the bomb was called “Enola Gay”, and only 3 of 12 people knew what the mission to Hiroshima was really about. There were also cyanide pills on board for the officers to take if the mission was unsuccessful.
The twelve cyanide pills were kept in the plane’s cockpit, just in case the bombing mission were to become compromised. Mission commander General Paul Tibbets formally named the plane “Enola Gay” after his mother. He also said in a 2005 interview with Columbus Dispatch,
“It was going to be an emotional thing. We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible.”
Tibbets returned to the United States as a national hero who ended the war on Japan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Air Force commander Major General Carl Spaatz.(source)
18. In 1964, Japan erected the Flame of Peace in honour of the bombing victims. It continues to burn to this day and will only be extinguished when all the nuclear weapons in the world have been destroyed and the planet is threat-free from a nuclear holocaust.
This monument resides in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park, designed by Tange Kenzo, the then professor of Tokyo University and has become the ultimate symbol for anti-nuclear weapons. The pedestal was designed as two wrists pressed together with palms pointing to the sky to denote a prayer for a peaceful world. The following message is inscribed on it: “Let’s keep burning the fire until nuclear weapon is eliminated from the entire earth”.(source)