How I made a nuclear bomb and other stories

日期:2019-03-01 03:17:07 作者:淳于巽畔 阅读:

By KURT KLEINER RECORDING the memories of the old and wise is usually associated with keeping alive some of the day-to-day traditions of a bygone age. But in the US, historians are turning their attentions from ex-slaves and cowboys to nuclear scientists. The country’s high-technology defence laboratories hope to maintain the nation’s nuclear advantage by compiling an oral history from “old-time” bomb makers. Recent cuts in the US nuclear weapons programme and the current test ban mean that engineers and designers who have been building and testing weapons for forty years are now retiring or moving on, says Keith Johnstone, who heads the Knowledge Preservation Project at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. The history project assumes that bomb building is as much a craft as a science. Like other craftsmen, the “weaponeers” learnt their skills under the supervision of experienced master craftsmen. And although the US Department of Energy (DOE), which funds the national laboratories, has vast libraries of information, much of it is inaccessible. “A lot of it is in cardboard boxes stored in the sides of mountains,” says Johnstone. His team hopes to glean information stored in the heads of weapons builders, some of which may not have been written down. “We thought it would be useful to try to get a feel for what it was like to build nuclear weapons thirty to forty years ago,” says Johnstone. The ageing experts are being grouped into panels and interviewed for hours on camera. Johnstone wants to cram as much as possible on tape before the bomb makers become untraceable or die. Meanwhile, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, William Bookless is building up a larger archive of written and recorded material that draws on information from all the energy department’s laboratories, as well as Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment. Bookless aims eventually to make this information available on CD-ROM. One of the justifications for the oral history project is that it will ensure that the US has the information it needs to maintain and eventually decommission nuclear weapons. Also, if a future government decides to build more nuclear weapons, the expertise will exist to start up the assembly line. “We need to be able to bring the engineers, designers and production people up to speed quickly and reliably,” says Johnstone. Another impetus for the project came from the realisation that when Iraq set up its nuclear programme it chose to use outdated technology in order to avoid the gaze of agencies that monitor trade in nuclear equipment, says Johnstone. As a result,