The big bomb

I’ve heard that in the making of the first nuclear bombs that the scientists created a large metal container in witch they had wanted to detonate one of their creations, but didn’t. Did this bomb container really exist and if it did what would have happened if they did use it for what it was made for?

I’ve never heard of the so-called bomb container, but if there was one, unless it was enourmously big, it would have been blown to bits with the rest of everything. Contrary to much popular belief, the physicists were quite aware of how much energy was going to be released, so the idea of them trying to contain it sounds a bit fishy to me.

I think you are refering to the Trinity test. This was the first atomic weapon test and took place on 12 July 1945. It used a sphere of plutonium surrounded by conventional high explosives. The high explosives were coordinated to explode so that the plutonium would uniformally contract. The hope was that when the plutonium reached a critical density the fission of atoms would become self sustaining and a nuclear chain reaction would occur.

The problem was that the plutonium had only recently been discovered and its fission behavior was not completely understood. The Manhattan Project director Robert Oppenheimer was concerned that the chain reaction would occur too early and that the yield would be significantly lower than expected. If this occurred he wanted to be able to capture the expensive and rare plutonium so it could be used again.

Oppenheimer ordered the construction of a 45 ton (from memory here, but I believe the figure is accurate) steel shell to surround the first A-bomb to trap the plutonium in the event of a fissle. After it was completed Oppenheimer realized that if the test was successful that shell would produce 45 tons of nuclear fallout. The shell was dismantled and the test proceeded without it.

As it happens, it was the right decision. The test was a success.

Boy, my response was full of errors, but I think I have it straightened out. First of all, the Trinity test was on 16 July 1945 not the 12th. Second, Oppenheimer and others were worried about the bomb “fizzling” not “fissling.” Third, the construction of the shell was ordered by General Leslie Groves and the thing weighed 214 tons. Here’s a site that describes the shell, nicknamed Jumbo.

There it says that improved calculations and an steadily increasing supply of plutonium convinced them not to use the thing. I fairly sure that the chance of producing massive amounts of radioactive fallout was also important in the decision them to not use Jumbo.