Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Nuclear Archives



It’s obsolete, it’s defunct, and it hasn’t been touched in nine years. But it’s still worth looking at. It’s the Nuclear Weapons Archive, last updated in 2007 after a rocky ride around various sponsoring non-profits and hosting sites, and it’s full of interesting nuclear documents, like this short British run-down on what it will take to make His Majesty’s first nuke, as of 1947. (The link is to a .pdf).

Another, similarly defunct site that was a parallel and cooperative site with the Nuclear Weapons Archive was the Trinity Atomic Web Site, which appears to have assumed ambient temperature in 2005, but exists in a sort of undead (and un-updated) state.

But if you really want to understand the technical factors involved in the production of the first A-Bombs, factors that are often glossed over by highly verbal but innumerate and scientifically weak writers, you need to buy one book: Atom Bombs by John Coster-Mullen.

Coster-Mullen is not a professional historian or archivist, but you would never know that from his book. (He is actually — we are not making this up! — a truck driver). Through sheer determination and hard work, he mastered the subject and wrote the definitive work on it (with equally definitive documentation and illustrations). If you go to the Amazon link, and select all buying options, the seller coster60 is the author himself.

8 thoughts on “Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Nuclear Archives

  1. Bert

    Re: The Nuclear Weapons FAQ

    Carey Sublet is still above the sod, and may be found occasionally on the radio chemistry sub forum of a science site I help moderate- look for member careysub…

    Carey has communicated his intent to eventually update the nuclear weapons archive/FAQ, which was left untouched due to lack of time and various personal issues.

    Your gentle readers may also find this sub forum of interest…

    A sample of the amateur FOOM! related chemistry projects there…

  2. Ti

    Nice. Growing up here in Colorado, I have friends and acquaintances that worked at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Couldn’t (and didn’t) talk about their work. Anyway in Eric Schlosser’s book – Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion Of Safety, he dissects different nuclear weapons involved in incidents and how some were much safer that others. Of the competing labs, the book seems to point out that that the safest weapons were of the Sandia Lab design (built in good ol Colorado at Rocky Flats) as opposed to the Livermore designed weapons.

  3. Scipio Americanus

    Ti, be aware that Schlosser’s work, especially Command and Control, is very tendentious and often misleading in ways that I perceive to be intentional. He is… not well respected in the defense and especially the nuclear weapons communities, and not because he’s “exposed their secrets!” or some-such. Of course, as is often the case with nuclear weapons, misleading or confused information can go unchallenged for decades because anyone with the knowledge to challenge it is gagged by classification.

  4. John Spears

    Scipio etc al., would love to know your recommendations on good books on this topic. The Richard Rhodes books started out very good IMO (the Making of the Atomic Bomb) and ended up unreadable, politically biased treatises on nothing much of worth.

    1. Haxo Angmark

      Gregg Herken’s THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BOMB: THE TANGLED LIVES OF ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, ERNEST LAWRENCE, AND EDWARD TELLER (NY, 2002) is an excellent book. And here’s an item I discovered recently in a little anthology called READER’S DIGEST WAR STORIES: DARING FIRST-HAND ACCOUNTS OF WW II (NY, 2012): Herbert Anderson, “The Day the Atomic Age Was Born”, pp. 104-109, describing his role in the first controlled atomic pile chain-reaction @ U. Chicago, 2 December, 1942. They actually had no idea whether they were going to blow up the entire city or not, but went ahead anyway. Fortunately, the control rods worked

  5. Scipio Americanus

    Hognose’s Coster-Mullen suggestion is spot on, for one. Are you more interested in the technical side (engineering, design, construction, physics), the tactical side (means of employment, systems and platforms) or the strategic side? Each is an interesting field in its own right. Sadly the tactical side of things is not well treated in any one book, but that’s partly because the tactics have changed so markedly with the development of auxiliary technologies of guidance and delivery.

    1. John Spears

      Spot on with the disection: hit me with a fave or two of each or any. I know I’m not the only one who’d appreciate it.

      1. Ti

        Colorado is certainly part of the WMD “hub”. Handling WMD components, geographic placement, skilled workforce all that stuff. Because of my proximity to the plant and industry that surrounds nuclear WMD’s, I’m fascinated with the production of the “gadjet”. Accident’s, spills, cover ups, they’re all here to study. Mother’s Day 1969 – the largest, most costly industrial accident in United States history up to that time. What was it? A plutonium fire was blazing out of control exactly 6.8 air miles from where I was having mother’s day dinner with my family. I was 8 years old. I recommend tours of any DOE facility that has a tour. Nevada Test Site and Idaho Nat’l Engr Lab had tours pre 9/11. I had to apply months before those tours to pass the background check. INEL’s visitor’s center is interesting and anyone can go in there, but to get into the “chem plant” you need to be cleared first. The National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque , New Mexico is also great from a technology and delivery development point of view. NTS tour starts out in N Las Vegas, then you get on bus and drive for hours to the entrance to the site. We went out on the sight and basically visited the test areas. We’ve all seen the stock footage of the building disintegrating before your eyes and then BAM! – you’re actually in a tour bus on the very ground where the camera was pointed!
        Rhodes spoke very briefly in Dark Sun about the deuterium supplied for the Mike Shot(1st thermo -nuke) was concentrated in Boulder, CO at the Dept of Commerce Nat’l Bureau of Stds Lab (now NIST). Good info at Rocky Flats Cold War Museum – You want to get an idea of what went on behind closed doors at an atomic bomb factory check it out.
        Lastly, when the FBI raided that plant(Rocky Flats) in 1989 and they shut down production, there was 14 tons of Plutonium work in progress in the facility. From completed parts all the way down to waste Pu recycled back into production stream. We don’t need gold backing the US Dollar, we have plutonium metal backing the US Dollar. Go look at a Trident sub or a Minuteman 3 silo or a B-52 with it’s ALCM launcher racks filled up.

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