The atomic-bomb core that escaped World War II

Before two deadly nuclear mishaps, scientists used to risk “tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon.”

By Julian G. West for The Atlantic

In 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, the physicist Louis Slotin stood in front of a low table at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, concentrating intensely on the object in front of him. His left thumb was hooked into a hole on the top of a heavy beryllium dome, fingers bracing the side as he carefully cantilevered it on its leftmost edge. In his right hand he held a flathead screwdriver, its head wedged under the right edge of the dome to keep it from closing completely. Through the gap on the right side you could just barely catch a metallic gleam, a glimpse of the 14-pound plutonium sphere that was slated to become one of the United States’ next nuclear weapons.




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