It is possibly the most lethal and most feared weapon in the world, and as proven in 1945, can prove to be a real statement of intent during wartime, whether it is used or not. The nuclear bomb is a WMD (weapon of mass destruction) that creates a nuclear fission (‘splitting the atom’) of high energy upon impact with its target, with even the smallest of these bombs often carrying the ability to wipe out entire cities, and creating a giant version of the iconic ‘mushroom cloud’. While modern-day usage of the nuclear bomb is buried under a legal minefield, and often used (and kept) by big nations only as a threat, who was it that first invented this killing machine, and why did they do it?
It may come as a surprise to many that did not know before that a key player in the development of this weapon was famed scientist Albert Einstein, and while it was unclear if he actually conceived the idea of a nuclear bomb, he (who had defected Nazi Germany to become a US citizen) and a group of fellow scientists wrote a letter to American President Roosevelt on 2 August 1939 (little over a month before World War II started), warning him of recent Nazi German developments of purifying ‘uranium-235’, sparking fears that they could be creating an weapon with the material.
In response to this during the war, the US government (working alongside allies the United Kingdom and Canada) commissioned a team of scientists (led by Columbia University’s Harold Urey, but not including Einstein, who wanted the allies to win the war, but did not believe in using such a powerful and dangerous weapon) to develop an atomic bomb for them (known as ‘The Manhattan Project’), which soon progressed into the more powerful nuclear bomb.
While the Nazis never bore the brunt of this creation, America’s main rivals during the war, Japan, did, with the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 (with nuclear bombs codenamed ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’, respectively), an event which went a long way towards forcing a Japanese surrender and ending the war, though debate over the ethics of deploying the bomb (and killing many innocent civilians in both cities) rages on even today around the world.
Following World War II, the USA, along with the now-defunct Soviet Union, were encouraged to come up with treaties to reduce the amount of testing done on these weapons, having witnessed the destruction they can cause. This didn’t stop tests completely, though, and the Soviets posted an still world record when they deployed the ‘Tsar’ for a test in 1961, with the device letting off an estimated 57 million tonnes of TNT (an explosive material) on an uninhabited island in north Russia, an explosion which has never been matched since. With numbers of public protests on the matter during the past few decades it is likely to remain that way, with the threat and presence of nuclear weaponry having decreased, and the two US attacks on Japan in 1945 remain the only instances of nuclear weapons being used in combat.
Today, 9 nations (USA, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Russia, and the UK) are known as owning nuclear bombs, and so far none of them have broken major international regulation (such as ‘WMD treaties’) with them, and avoid resorting to them at all cost in modern-day confrontations. It is easy to see why authorities such as the UN do not want such a weapon to be unleashed, though, as demonstrated by this video of a testing programme undertaken by the American military in 1955: