The Trinity test and its legacy

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Nuclear tests

The first man-made nuclear explosion ( 1 ) was the Trinity test in the Alamogordo desert in New Mexico on 16 July 1945 5:30 MWT .


See the videoclips Trinty1.mp4 Trinty2.mp4 Trinty3.mp4
and on YouTube: Trinity Shot - 1945 (Shows preparation of the bomb and detonation) Trinity Explosion complete takes (compilation) TRINITY - THE FIRST ATOMIC BOMB TEST (with interviews)

50-10-1-gram.jpg During the explosion equivalent to 20 million kg TNT not 50 or 10 gram, but less than one gram of matter was converted to energy in according to the equation E=mc².


Desert sand was sucked up in the mushroom cloud mixed with fission products and molten to form a crust with a diameter of 600 meter.
This glassy radioactive mass is called 'Trinitite', in Dutch 'Trinitiet'. Analogous to 'Granite' and 'Graniet' ( 2 ).

I bought this specimen on the international mineralfair in Rijswijk where you can also buy meteorites, like these from the Campo del Cielo in Argentinia.

After 68 years Trinitite is still radioactive.

The the ionizing radiation is more intense than the cosmic radiation background radiation, discovered by Victor Franz Hess in 1913, but much less than than the radiation from the radium in the dial of my grandfather's wristwatch.

Hessballon-texted.jpg horloge.jpg radium.jpg

This can be shown with a Geiger-Müller counter.

Watch this video .


Schoepite-Curite-Uraninite-214948.jpg Before the use of uranium Factsheet for nuclear fission was known, demand was very low. Uraniumcompounds were mainly used to colour glass and ceramics.
In 1939 worldconsumption was ≈ 100 ton with a price to match: 0.83 $/pound.
Exploration for uranium ore was very limited and 80% came from the Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga. In 1939 this mine was closed because extraction of the strategically important metals copper and tungsten was considered more important.
The Manhattan Project required about 6600 ton uraniumoxide or 5595 ton pure uranium (Helmreich p. 47).
The first consignment came in september 1942 from 1200 tons high-grade (hand-picked!) ( 3 ) Congolese uranium ore that happened to be stored in Staten Island, New York. Some 60 tons uraniumoxide were bought from Canada and more followed.

Currently the worldconsumption is ≈ 70000 ton/yr mainly used in nuclear reactors. For non-nuclear application depleted uranium is used, because that emits less radiation and is widely available as wasteprocuct of the nuclear industry. Most of these applications take advantage of the high specific density of uranium of 18.7 g/cm³.


uraniumglass-incandescent-light.jpg uraniumglass-UV-light.jpg
Uraniumglass under incandescent light
Uraniumglass under ultraviolet light

The use of uraniumcompounds to colour glass was already known in antiquity. Around 1900 uraniumglass was very fashionable for its eerie green fluorescence under ultraviolet light (black light).
The glass contains around 2% uranium and its radioactivity is harmless. However safety measures must be taken during its production. The use of uranium in the glass industry predates the discovery of radioactivty. Initially the risks of handling (powdered) uranium were underestimated.

Uranium enrichment

gfmr11-fig-ultracentrifuge.jpg Natural uranium consists of 99.7% U238 and 0.3% U235. Uranium has to be enriched in U235 to be useful for a nuclear reactor or bomb.
There is of course no chemical way to enrich uranium. The Manhattan Project relied on Calutrons and Gas-diffusion both are very energy inefficient and have a low yield. Now enrichment is done with specially designed utracentrifuges .

Uranium fission

gfmr11-fig-fission.jpg Otto Frisch gives a graphic account of the discovery of uranium fission by Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in his memoirs READ HERE .


Einstein-Roosevelt-letterhead.jpg In his 2 April 1939 letter to president Franklin D. Roosevelt Albert Einstein wrote only about uranium ore.

Both the Trinity test as the bomb that was dropped near Nagaski (pronounciation) on 9 augustus 1945 were nuclear implosion bombs with 6.4 kilogram plutonium Factsheet .

gfmr11-fig-thermonuclear.jpg Plutonium was used in almost all of the over 2000 nuclear test-explosions that were performed in the twentieth century, also in the thermonuclear bombs (H-bomb) which are a thousand times more powerful than the first devices ⇝ .

Plutonium is found in nature only in trace amounts. As an artificial element it was discovered by Glenn Seaborg in 1941 PDF .

gfmr11-fig-plutoniumproduction.jpg It is produced in a nuclear reactor from uranium-239 and has to be separated from the reaction products by chemical means.
Pu-239 is radioactive with a of 24360 years. It is extremely poisonous. An inhaled dust particle of 0.6 µgram can cause lungcancer.
Another isotope of plutonium, Pu-238, with t½ of 86 years can not be used for nuclear explosions. It was used as (heat) energy source in the Pioneer-10, 11 and other spacecrafts.

Research on the chemical properties of plutonium were done when micrograms wre available.
In March 1944 the first gram of plutonium metal was produced in the USA and its physical properties could be determined for the first time.


Read an excerpt form Berstein's Plutonium HERE .
The current worldinventory of Pu-239 is ≈ 2 million kilogram, 2500 ton, of which 155 ton in nuclear warheads.

Hanford-Pu-production.jpg 1000px-US_and_USSR_nuclear_stockpiles.jpg separated_civil_pu-fig1.jpg

To cite the International Atomic Energy Agengy:
IAEA Bulletin
The dual challenge is that plutonium is a valuable energy source and a matter of global concern because of its potential health hazards and possible use for the production of nuclear weapons.

Background information


Nuclear testing     Trinity tower     Trinity colour     Tokyo     Atomic model     Elements     Abundances     Isotopes     Half-life     Radiation doses     Rutherford and Geiger     Uranium fission
Worldwide_nuclear_testing.jpg Trinity_tower.jpg Trinity-colour.jpg Tokyo_1945-3-10-1-texted.jpg Atom_diagram-texted.jpg Periodic_table__polyatomic_.jpg 2000px-Isotopentabelle_Segre-flipped.jpg Isotopes_and_half-life.jpg radiation.jpg geiger-rutherford-texted.jpg Hahnmeitnerstrassmann.jpg

Dead trees

cover-Fetter-Vorm.jpg • Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, Trinity, A graphic history of the first atomic bomb, ©2012.
     ISBN 978-0-8090-9468-4 (also available as paperback).
     This work will appeal to young people by its format and is fit for secundary schools (English, History, Physics).
     See inside ⇝
• K.T. Bainbridge, Los Alamos report LA-6300-H "Trinity".
     The official report on the preparation and evaluation of the Trinity test written in 1946, declassified in 1976.
• Jeremy Bernstein, Plutonium, A history of the world's most dangerous element, ©2007.
     ISBN 978-0-309-10296-4
     The title says it all.
• Kate Brown, Plutopia, Nuclear families, atomic cities and the great soviet and american plutonium disasters, ©2013.
     ISBN 978-0-19-985576-6
     A very interesting personal account with many disclosures.
• Robert Jungk, Brighter than a thousand suns, The moral and political history of the atomic sientists, ©1958.
     "Heller als tausend Sonnen" Albert Scherz Verlag Bern, ©1956.
     The classical book on the Manhattan Project and its moral dilemmas.
• Horst Wohlfarth, 40 Jahre Kernspaltung, eine Einführung in die Originalliteratur, ©1979.
     ISBN 3-534-08206-0 Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellshaft, Darmstadt.
     With an account of the first experimental nuclear reactor by Enrico Fermi .
• Jonathan E. Helmreich, Gathering Rare Ores, The Diplomacy of Uranium Acquisiton 1943-1954, ©1986.
     ISBN 0-691-04738-3
• Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents, Living with High-Risk Technologies, ©1999.
     ISBN 0-691-00412-9

Download here

• Kernenergiewet (Dutch law on nuclear energy) PDF
• LND, Inc. 712 End Window-Alpha-Beta-Gamma Detector PDF
• Nelson Eby1 et al., Trinitite--the atomic rock PDF
• Obituary Harold Melvin Agnew, physicist and Manhattan Project veteran (1921-2013) (© Macmillan Publishers Ltd.) PDF
• Regeling vervoer over de spoorweg van gevaarlijke stoffen (Dutch law on transport of dangerous substances by rail) PDF
• The capitulation of Japan in augustus 1945 was not caused by the nuclear bombs.
   Dutch newspaper article iGeen effect atoombom op Japan (© NRCHandelsblad) PDF
• The first nuclear reactor, the production of plutonium and its chemical extraction, Glenn T. Seaborg PDF
• Trinitite Spectrum with 25% HPGe and with LEPS PDF
• Walter R. Kane et al., Determining the age and history of nuclear materials. PDF
• Trinity, K.T. Bainbridge, Los Alamos report LA-6300-H PDF
• Atomic Energy for Military Purposes by Henry DeWolf Smith, Princeton University 1945,
   The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb under the Auspices of the US Government, 1940-1945 PDF
• The early days of the Canadian and British atomic energy projects, Sir John Cockcroft PDF
• Reducing plutonium amounts in reactors, IAEA 2006 PDF
• International Atomic Energy Agency: Personal Reflections, a Fortieth Anniversary Publication. 1997 PDF
• History of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the First Forty Years. 1997 PDF
• Health Physics Survey of Trinity Site, Los Alamos report LA-3719, 1967 PDF
• Trinitite - the Atomic Rock, N. Eby et al., 2010 PDF
• Radioactivity in Trinitite - a review and new measurements, Pittauerová et al., 2010 PDF
• Plutonium Mountain, Inside the 17-year mission to secure a dangerous legacy of Soviet nuclear testing,
   E. Harrell & D.E. Hoffman, 2013 PDF
• The Human Plutonium Injection Experiments W. Moss and R. Eckhardt, 1995 PDF
• US Patent 2,161,985 Process of producing radio-active elements, Leo Szilard, 1939 PDF
• Global Fissile Material Report 2011
   Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production, PDF
• Expand nuclear forensics, Cooment by Klaus Mayer, 2013 (© Macmillan Publishers Ltd.) PDF
• Separated Civil Plutonium Inventories: Current Status and Future Directions, D. Albright and K. Kramer, 2005 PDF
• Nuclear war: The threat that never went away, D. Butler, 2008 (© Macmillan Publishers Ltd.) PDF

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Becquerel's discovery of spontaneous radioactivity is a famous example of serendipity, of how chance favors the prepared mind. There followed a period of intense research into radioactivity, including the discovery of additional radioactive elements thorium, polonium and radium, the latter two by Becquerel's doctoral student Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie.
In 1911 Rutherford theorized that atoms have their charge concentrated in a very small nucleus, through his discovery and interpretation of scattering of alpha radiation by gold foil.
Uitgebreide engelstalige wikipedia pagina.
The Manhattan Project began modestly in 1939, but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US$2 billion (about $26 billion in 2014 dollars). Over 90% of the cost was for building factories and producing the fissionable materials, with less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.

White Sands Missile Range

Trinity (nuclear test)

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Operation Crossroads
Operation Crossroads was a series of two nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in mid-1946. They were the first nuclear weapon tests since Trinity in July 1945, and the first detonations of nuclear devices since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Castle Bravo

Tsar bomba
Tsar Bomba is the nickname for the AN602 hydrogen bomb, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated.
The claim that you can see the curvature of the earth on the accompaning photo implausible.

Other relevant URLs
In 2005, the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert. This website was created for students, educators, and the general public to provide an easy to use collection of resources to better understand that milestone of human history.

Nature 6 March 2014, US seeks waste-research revival
US seeks waste-research revival.

Historical dates

gfmr11-fig-nuclear-weapons.jpg     - 1896 discovery of radioactivity of uranium by Henri Becquerel.
    - 1911 discovery of the atomic nucleus by Rutherford, Geiger and Marsden.
    - 1911-1913 discovery of Cosmic Rays by Victor Franz Hess.
    - 1938 discovery of nuclear fission by Lise Meitner en Otto Hahn.
    - 2 augustus 1939 Albert Einstein signs his letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
    - 2 december 1942 first chainreaction in an experimental nuclear reactor involving a large number of people led by Enrico Fermi.
    - 24 maart 1944 first gram of plutonium metal reducted by Ted Magel.
    - 16 juli 1945 5:30 MWT Trinity test as part of the Manhattan Project.
    - 6 augustus 1945 8:15 Nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima (pronounciation) , 64 kg U235, 16 kiloton. See diagram ⇑
    - 9 augustus 1945 11:02 Nuclear bomb dropped near Nagaski (pronounciation) , 6,4 kg Pu239, 20 kiloton. See diagram ⇑
    - 1 maart 1954 Bikini test (15 Megaton H-bomb, codename Castle Bravo).
    - 30 october 1961 11:32 (Moscow time) AN602, Nova Zembla (58 Megaton H-bomb, Tsar bomba).
    - 26 april 1986 Tsjernobyl diaster (reason to buy a Geiger-Müller counter).

(1) Artificial in contrast to natural nuclear explosions like supernovæ which are a phenomenon of a different order .
Return to reference 1
(2) Shown here is green trinitite, red trinitite contains copper and plutonium from the actual bomb.
Return to reference 2
(3) Uranium ore was also hand-picked at the Butugychag or Бутугычаг mine were the life expectancy of the miners was a couple of months.
Return to reference 3
Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional linkedin_icon.gif Text and macro-photos © Harm J. Schoonhoven 2016-08-29 18:16
Illustrations are taken from unless stated ontherwise.
First presented as 'Levende Doos van Pandora' during the centenary celbration of Gewina in Museum Boerhaave , Leiden on November 30, 2013.