What Is the Nuclear ‘Button’ and Where Did It Come From?

What Is the Nuclear ‘Button’ and Where Did It Come From?

Since John F. Kennedy, every president has had an officer that follows him around with the so-called “nuclear football,” a briefcase that can be used to launch a nuclear attack (it got its nickname from a nuclear war plan called “dropkick”). This is something the president would do not with a button but with his personal nuclear codes, which he also must carry on him at all times.

It’s a pretty big decision to place in the hands of one person, and an executive power that Congress has challenged under President Donald Trump’s administration. So far, no president has ever actually used the football—but still, why does the decision about starting nuclear war come down to the discretion of just one person?

Interestingly, the only president in history to approve a nuclear attack—Harry S. Truman—wasn’t actually very involved in the decision. Although he knew an attack was planned, military officials executed it on their own. Truman was on a ship when the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. He didn’t hear about the actual bombing until roughly 16 hours later, after he’d already spent some time relaxing on deck while a band played.

Alex Wellerstein, a professor of science and technology studies at Stevens Institute of Technology, says Truman might not have known about the August 9 bombing of Nagasaki in advance. “I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that he realized that they had two bombs ready to use so quickly,” says Wellerstein, who runs a blog about nuclear security. “He certainly wasn’t given any heads up about the second attack.”

Yet that soon changed. The day after the Nagasaki bombing, the military told Truman that they could have another bomb ready within a week. Faced with a possible third bombing, Truman immediately asserted control over the situation, declaring that more bombs could not be used without presidential approval. He also curtailed the military’s access to these new and frightening weapons.

The next president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, started moving things in the other direction by expanding the military’s access to nuclear weapons. But right after, President Kennedy once again reduced this access. It was something his administration had started to do before the Cuban Missile Crisis, but became much more concerned about afterwards.

“One of the things they take away from the crisis is … what if one of these young airman had thought he saw Cubans coming over the horizon and started attacking?” Wellerstein says. “You could’ve had nuclear war by accident, which sounds even more terrible than nuclear war on purpose.” There was also the fear that some rogue official could start a nuclear war all by themselves—a concept explored in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.

By the end of his administration, Kennedy was being tailed by a man carrying an early version of the nuclear football that contained a list of phone numbers to call and a series of attack plans for him to pick. It’s not clear when the public found out about this, but as early as 1965, The Baltimore Sun was calling it a “football” with nuclear capabilities. That same article described how the man who carried the football for Kennedy even followed him to the hospital after the president was shot.

Throughout the Cold War, presidents carried the football with them in case the Soviet Union launched a surprise attack. Because the U.S. would only have minutes to respond, it seemed reasonable to have the president travel around with it. Wellerstein says that Nixon’s excessive drinking and increasingly erratic behavior at the end of his term is one instance in which an administration questioned its commander-in-chief’s ability to handle the football. Yet the concern around Trump is, quite simply, unprecedented.

In February 2017, many were disturbed when a guest at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort posted a picture of himself on Facebook standing next to the officer who was carrying the briefcase that allows the president to launch nuclear weapons at any time. Yet experts said this was not as dangerous as the fact that, on the same weekend, Trump held a dinnertime meeting about North Korea’s nuclear threat on the resort’s open-air terrace.

The idea that the president had to approve nuclear attacks, says Wellerstein, was never actually put into law. Over time, presidential directives established a protocol for launching nuclear weapons that generally assumed the president had sole authority to launch them. During Trump’s first year, one prominent Republican speculated about whether Trump’s team would ever tackle him to prevent him from using the football.

But generally, it is assumed that if the president uses his codes to authorize a nuclear strike, it will go through unquestioned. That is, after all, how the system was designed to work in the first place.


Peach Bottom Nuclear Generating Station

Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, a nuclear power plant, is located 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Harrisburg in Peach Bottom Township, York County, Pennsylvania, on the Susquehanna River three miles north of the Maryland border.

The Philadelphia Electric Company (later shortened first to PECO Energy and later to just PECO) became one of the pioneers in the commercial nuclear industry when it ordered Peach Bottom 1 in 1958. The U.S.'s first nuclear power plant (the Shippingport Reactor) had gone on line a year earlier. Peach Bottom Unit 1 was an experimental helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor. It operated from 1966 to 1974. The other two units, General Electric boiling water reactors, placed on-line in 1974, are still in operation on the 620-acre (2.5 km 2 ) site. Both Units 2 and 3, originally rated at 3,514 megawatts thermal (MWth), equivalent to about 1,180 megawatts of electricity (MWe) each, were uprated to 4,016 megawatts thermal (MWth), equivalent to about 1,382 megawatts net of electricity (MWe) each in 2018. Their licenses were until 2033 (Unit 2) and 2034 (Unit 3), but were extended by 20 years to 2053 and 2054 (respectively) in 2020. [2]

Peach Bottom is operated by Exelon and is jointly owned by Exelon (50%) and Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) Power LLC (50%).

Peach Bottom was one of the plants analyzed in the NUREG-1150 safety analysis study.


Advantages and Challenges of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy protects air quality by producing massive amounts of carbon-free electricity. It powers communities in 28 U.S. states and contributes to many non-electric applications, ranging from the medical field to space exploration.

The Office of Nuclear Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) focuses its research primarily on maintaining the existing fleet of reactors, developing new advanced reactor technologies, and improving the nuclear fuel cycle to increase the sustainability of our energy supply and strengthen the U.S. economy.

Below are some of the main advantages of nuclear energy and the challenges currently facing the industry today.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy

Clean Energy Source

Nuclear is the largest source of clean power in the United States. It generates nearly 800 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year and produces more than half of the nation’s emissions-free electricity. This avoids more than 470 million metric tons of carbon each year, which is the equivalent of removing 100 million cars off of the road.

The thermal energy from nuclear reactors may also be used to decarbonize other energy-intensive sectors such as transportation – the largest contributor to carbon pollution.

Most Reliable Energy Source

Nuclear power plants run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are designed to operate for longer stretches and refuel every 1.5 – 2 years. In 2019, nuclear plants operated at full power more than 92% of the time, making it the most reliable energy source on the grid today.

Creates Jobs

The nuclear industry supports nearly half a million jobs in the United States and contributes an estimated $60 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product each year. U.S. nuclear plants can employ up to 700 workers with salaries that are 30% higher than the local average. They also contribute billions of dollars annually to local economies through federal and state tax revenues.

Supports National Security

A strong civilian nuclear sector is essential to U.S. national security and energy diplomacy. The United States must maintain its global leadership in this arena to influence the peaceful use of nuclear technologies. The U.S. government works with countries in this capacity to build relationships and develop new opportunities for the nation’s nuclear technologies.

Challenges of Nuclear Energy

Public Awareness

Commercial nuclear power is sometimes viewed by the general public as a dangerous or unstable process. This perception is often based on three global nuclear accidents, its false association with nuclear weapons, and how it is portrayed on popular television shows and films.

DOE and its national labs are working with industry to develop new reactors and fuels that will increase the overall performance of these technologies and reduce the amount of nuclear waste that is produced.

DOE also works to provide accurate, fact-based information about nuclear energy through its social media and STEM outreach efforts to educate the public on the benefits of nuclear energy.

Used Fuel Transportation, Storage and Disposal

Many people view used fuel as a growing problem and are apprehensive about its transportation, storage, and disposal. DOE is responsible for the eventual disposal and associated transport of all commercial used fuel, which is currently securely stored at 76 reactor or storage sites in 34 states. For the foreseeable future, this fuel can safely remain at these facilities until a permanent disposal solution is determined by Congress.

DOE is currently evaluating nuclear power plant sites and nearby transportation infrastructure to support the eventual transport of used fuel away from these sites. It is also developing new, specially designed railcars to support large-scale transport of used fuel in the future.

Constructing New Power Plants

Building a nuclear power plant can be discouraging for stakeholders. Conventional reactor designs are considered multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects. High capital costs, licensing and regulation approvals, coupled with long lead times and construction delays, have also deterred public interest.

Microreactor (left) - Small Modular Reactor (right)

DOE is rebuilding its nuclear workforce by supporting the construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia. The units are the first new reactors to begin construction in the United States in more than 30 years. The expansion project will support up to 9,000 workers at peak construction and create 800 permanent jobs at the facility when the new units begin operation in 2021 and 2022.

DOE is also supporting the development of smaller reactor designs, such as microreactors and small modular reactors, that will offer even more flexibility in size and power capacity to the customer. These factory-built systems are expected to dramatically reduce construction timelines and will make nuclear more affordable to build and operate.

High Operating Costs

Challenging market conditions have left the nuclear industry struggling to compete. Strict regulations on maintenance, staffing levels, operator training, and plant inspections have become a financial burden for the industry.

DOE’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) program is working to overcome these economic challenges by modernizing plant systems to reduce operation and maintenance costs, while improving performance. In addition to its materials research that supports the long-term operation of the nation’s fleet of reactors, the program is also looking to diversify plant products through non-electric applications such as water desalination and hydrogen production.

To further improve operating costs. DOE is also working with industry to develop new fuels and cladding known as accident tolerant fuels. These new fuels could increase plant performance, allowing for longer response times and will produce less waste. Accident tolerant fuels could gain widespread use by 2025.


5 Fast Facts About Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy has been quietly powering America with clean, carbon-free electricity for the last 60 years.

It may not be the first thing you think of when you heat or cool your home, but maybe that’s the point.

It’s been so reliable that we sometimes take it for granted.

Did you know about a fifth of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear power each year?

If not, then it’s about time you get to know nuclear.

Here are five fast facts to get you up to speed:

1. NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS PRODUCED 790 BILLION KILOWATT HOURS OF ELECTRICITY IN 2019

The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. It generated 790 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020, surpassing coal in annual electricity generation for the first time ever. Commercial nuclear power plants have supplied around 20% of the nation’s electricity each year since 1990.

2. NUCLEAR POWER PROVIDES 52% OF AMERICA’S CLEAN ENERGY

Nuclear energy provided 52% of America’s carbon-free electricity in 2020, making it the largest domestic source of clean energy.

Nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases while generating electricity.

They produce power by boiling water to create steam that spins a turbine. The water is heated by a process called fission, which makes heat by splitting apart uranium atoms inside a nuclear reactor core.

3. NUCLEAR ENERGY IS THE MOST RELIABLE ENERGY SOURCE IN AMERICA

Nuclear power plants operated at full capacity more than 92% of the time in 2020—making it the most reliable energy source in America. That’s about 1.5 to 2 times more reliable as natural gas (57%) and coal (40%) plants, and roughly 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind (35%) and solar (25%) plants.

Nuclear power plants are designed to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because they require less maintenance and can operate for longer stretches before refueling (typically every 1.5 or 2 years).

4. NUCLEAR HELPS POWER 28 U.S. STATES

There are currently 94 commercial reactors helping to power homes and businesses in 28 U.S. states. Illinois has 11 reactors—the most of any state—and joins South Carolina and New Hampshire in receiving more than 50% of its power from nuclear.

5. NUCLEAR FUEL IS EXTREMELY DENSE

Because of this, the amount of used nuclear fuel is not as big as you think.


'One hell of a big bang'

Paul Tibbets: Hey, you've got to correct that. I'm only 87. You said 89.

ST: I know. See, I'm 90. So I got you beat by three years. Now we've had a nice lunch, you and I and your companion. I noticed as we sat in that restaurant, people passed by. They didn't know who you were. But once upon a time, you flew a plane called the Enola Gay over the city of Hiroshima, in Japan, on a Sunday morning - August 6 1945 - and a bomb fell. It was the atomic bomb, the first ever. And that particular moment changed the whole world around. You were the pilot of that plane.

PT: Yes, I was the pilot.

ST: And the Enola Gay was named after.

PT: My mother. She was Enola Gay Haggard before she married my dad, and my dad never supported me with the flying - he hated airplanes and motorcycles. When I told them I was going to leave college and go fly planes in the army air corps, my dad said, "Well, I've sent you through school, bought you automobiles, given you money to run around with the girls, but from here on, you're on your own. If you want to go kill yourself, go ahead, I don't give a damn." Then Mom just quietly said, "Paul, if you want to go fly airplanes, you're going to be all right." And that was that.

PT: Well, that was Miami, Florida. My dad had been in the real estate business down there for years, and at that time he was retired. And I was going to school at Gainesville, Florida, but I had to leave after two years and go to Cincinnati because Florida had no medical school.

ST: You were thinking of being a doctor?

PT: I didn't think that, my father thought it. He said, "You're going to be a doctor," and I just nodded my head and that was it. And I started out that way but about a year before, I was able to get into an airplane, fly it - I soloed - and I knew then that I had to go fly airplanes.

ST: Now by 1944 you were a pilot - a test pilot on the programme to develop the B-29 bomber. When did you get word that you had a special assignment?

PT: One day [in September 1944] I'm running a test on a B-29, I land, a man meets me. He says he just got a call from General Uzal Ent [commander of the second air force] at Colorado Springs, he wants me in his office the next morning at nine o'clock. He said, "Bring your clothing - your B4 bag - because you're not coming back." Well, I didn't know what it was and didn't pay any attention to it - it was just another assignment.

I got to Colorado Springs the next morning perfectly on time. A man named Lansdale met me, walked me to General Ent's office and closed the door behind me. With him was a man wearing a blue suit, a US Navy captain - that was William Parsons, who flew with me to Hiroshima - and Dr Norman Ramsey, Columbia University professor in nuclear physics. And Norman said: "OK, we've got what we call the Manhattan Project. What we're doing is trying to develop an atomic bomb. We've gotten to the point now where we can't go much further till we have airplanes to work with."

He gave me an explanation which probably lasted 45, 50 minutes, and they left. General Ent looked at me and said, "The other day, General Arnold [commander general of the army air corps] offered me three names." Both of the others were full colonels I was lieutenant-colonel. He said that when General Arnold asked which of them could do this atomic weapons deal, he replied without hesitation, "Paul Tibbets is the man to do it." I said, "Well, thank you, sir." Then he laid out what was going on and it was up to me now to put together an organisation and train them to drop atomic weapons on both Europe and the Pacific - Tokyo.

ST: Interesting that they would have dropped it on Europe as well. We didn't know that.

PT: My edict was as clear as could be. Drop simultaneously in Europe and the Pacific because of the secrecy problem - you couldn't drop it in one part of the world without dropping it in the other. And so he said, "I don't know what to tell you, but I know you happen to have B-29s to start with. I've got a squadron in training in Nebraska - they have the best record so far of anybody we've got. I want you to go visit them, look at them, talk to them, do whatever you want. If they don't suit you, we'll get you some more." He said: "There's nobody could tell you what you have to do because nobody knows. If we can do anything to help you, ask me." I said thank you very much. He said, "Paul, be careful how you treat this responsibility, because if you're successful you'll probably be called a hero. And if you're unsuccessful, you might wind up in prison."

ST: Did you know the power of an atomic bomb? Were you told about that?

PT: No, I didn't know anything at that time. But I knew how to put an organisation together. He said, "Go take a look at the bases, and call me back and tell me which one you want." I wanted to get back to Grand Island Nebraska, that's where my wife and two kids were, where my laundry was done and all that stuff. But I thought, "Well, I'll go to Wendover [army airfield, in Utah] first and see what they've got." As I came in over the hills I saw it was a beautiful spot. It had been a final staging place for units that were going through combat crew training, and the guys ahead of me were the last P-47 fighter outfit. This lieutenant-colonel in charge said, "We've just been advised to stop here and I don't know what you want to do. but if it has anything to do with this base it's the most perfect base I've ever been on. You've got full machine shops, everybody's qualified, they know what they want to do. It's a good place."

ST: And now you chose your own crew.

PT: Well, I had mentally done it before that. I knew right away I was going to get Tom Ferebee [the Enola Gay's bombardier] and Theodore "Dutch" van Kirk [navigator] and Wyatt Duzenbury [flight engineer].

ST: Guys you had flown with in Europe?

ST: And now you're training. And you're also talking to physicists like Robert Oppenheimer [senior scientist on the Manhattan project].

PT: I think I went to Los Alamos [the Manhattan project HQ] three times, and each time I got to see Dr Oppenheimer working in his own environment. Later, thinking about it, here's a young man, a brilliant person. And he's a chain smoker and he drinks cocktails. And he hates fat men. And General Leslie Groves [the general in charge of the Manhattan project], he's a fat man, and he hates people who smoke and drink. The two of them are the first, original odd couple.

ST: They had a feud, Groves and Oppenheimer?

PT: Yeah, but neither one of them showed it. Each one of them had a job to do.

ST: Did Oppenheimer tell you about the destructive nature of the bomb?

ST: How did you know about that?

PT: From Dr Ramsey. He said the only thing we can tell you about it is, it's going to explode with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT. I'd never seen 1lb of TNT blow up. I'd never heard of anybody who'd seen 100lbs of TNT blow up. All I felt was that this was gonna be one hell of a big bang.

ST: Twenty thousand tons - that's equivalent to how many planes full of bombs?

PT: Well, I think the two bombs that we used [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki] had more power than all the bombs the air force had used during the war on Europe.

ST: So Ramsey told you about the possibilities.

PT: Even though it was still theory, whatever those guys told me, that's what happened. So I was ready to say I wanted to go to war, but I wanted to ask Oppenheimer how to get away from the bomb after we dropped it. I told him that when we had dropped bombs in Europe and North Africa, we'd flown straight ahead after dropping them - which is also the trajectory of the bomb. But what should we do this time? He said, "You can't fly straight ahead because you'd be right over the top when it blows up and nobody would ever know you were there." He said I had to turn tangent to the expanding shockwave. I said, "Well, I've had some trigonometry, some physics. What is tangency in this case?" He said it was 159 degrees in either direction. "Turn 159 degrees as fast as you can and you'll be able to put yourself the greatest distance from where the bomb exploded."

ST: How many seconds did you have to make that turn?

PT: I had dropped enough practice bombs to realise that the charges would blow around 1,500ft in the air, so I would have 40 to 42 seconds to turn 159 degrees. I went back to Wendover as quick as I could and took the airplane up. I got myself to 25,000ft, and I practised turning, steeper, steeper, steeper and I got it where I could pull it round in 40 seconds. The tail was shaking dramatically and I was afraid of it breaking off, but I didn't quit. That was my goal. And I practised and practised until, without even thinking about it, I could do it in between 40 and 42, all the time. So, when that day came.

ST: You got the go-ahead on August 5.

PT: Yeah. We were in Tinian [the US island base in the Pacific] at the time we got the OK. They had sent this Norwegian to the weather station out on Guam [the US's westernmost territory] and I had a copy of his report. We said that, based on his forecast, the sixth day of August would be the best day that we could get over Honshu [the island on which Hiroshima stands]. So we did everything that had to be done to get the crews ready to go: airplane loaded, crews briefed, all of the things checked that you have to check before you can fly over enemy territory.

General Groves had a brigadier-general who was connected back to Washington DC by a special teletype machine. He stayed close to that thing all the time, notifying people back there, all by code, that we were preparing these airplanes to go any time after midnight on the sixth. And that's the way it worked out. We were ready to go at about four o'clock in the afternoon on the fifth and we got word from the president that we were free to go: "Use 'em as you wish." They give you a time you're supposed to drop your bomb on target and that was 9.15 in the morning , but that was Tinian time, one hour later than Japanese time. I told Dutch, "You figure it out what time we have to start after midnight to be over the target at 9am."

ST: That'd be Sunday morning.

PT: Well, we got going down the runway at right about 2.15am and we took off, we met our rendezvous guys, we made our flight up to what we call the initial point, that would be a geographic position that you could not mistake. Well, of course we had the best one in the world with the rivers and bridges and that big shrine. There was no mistaking what it was.

ST: So you had to have the right navigator to get it on the button.

PT: The airplane has a bomb sight connected to the autopilot and the bombardier puts figures in there for where he wants to be when he drops the weapon, and that's transmitted to the airplane. We always took into account what would happen if we had a failure and the bomb bay doors didn't open: we had a manual release put in each airplane so it was right down by the bombardier and he could pull on that. And the guys in the airplanes that followed us to drop the instruments needed to know when it was going to go. We were told not to use the radio, but, hell, I had to. I told them I would say, "One minute out," "Thirty seconds out," "Twenty seconds" and "Ten" and then I'd count, "Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four seconds", which would give them a time to drop their cargo. They knew what was going on because they knew where we were. And that's exactly the way it worked, it was absolutely perfect.

After we got the airplanes in formation I crawled into the tunnel and went back to tell the men, I said, "You know what we're doing today?" They said, "Well, yeah, we're going on a bombing mission." I said, "Yeah, we're going on a bombing mission, but it's a little bit special." My tailgunner, Bob Caron, was pretty alert. He said, "Colonel, we wouldn't be playing with atoms today, would we?" I said, "Bob, you've got it just exactly right." So I went back up in the front end and I told the navigator, bombardier, flight engineer, in turn. I said, "OK, this is an atom bomb we're dropping." They listened intently but I didn't see any change in their faces or anything else. Those guys were no idiots. We'd been fiddling round with the most peculiar-shaped things we'd ever seen.

So we're coming down. We get to that point where I say "one second" and by the time I'd got that second out of my mouth the airplane had lurched, because 10,000lbs had come out of the front. I'm in this turn now, tight as I can get it, that helps me hold my altitude and helps me hold my airspeed and everything else all the way round. When I level out, the nose is a little bit high and as I look up there the whole sky is lit up in the prettiest blues and pinks I've ever seen in my life. It was just great.

I tell people I tasted it. "Well," they say, "what do you mean?" When I was a child, if you had a cavity in your tooth the dentist put some mixture of some cotton or whatever it was and lead into your teeth and pounded them in with a hammer. I learned that if I had a spoon of ice-cream and touched one of those teeth I got this electrolysis and I got the taste of lead out of it. And I knew right away what it was.

OK, we're all going. We had been briefed to stay off the radios: "Don't say a damn word, what we do is we make this turn, we're going to get out of here as fast as we can." I want to get out over the sea of Japan because I know they can't find me over there. With that done we're home free. Then Tom Ferebee has to fill out his bombardier's report and Dutch, the navigator, has to fill out a log. Tom is working on his log and says, "Dutch, what time were we over the target?" And Dutch says, "Nine-fifteen plus 15 seconds." Ferebee says: "What lousy navigating. Fifteen seconds off!"

ST: Did you hear an explosion?

PT: Oh yeah. The shockwave was coming up at us after we turned. And the tailgunner said, "Here it comes." About the time he said that, we got this kick in the ass. I had accelerometers installed in all airplanes to record the magnitude of the bomb. It hit us with two and a half G. Next day, when we got figures from the scientists on what they had learned from all the things, they said, "When that bomb exploded, your airplane was 10 and half miles away from it."

ST: Did you see that mushroom cloud?

PT: You see all kinds of mushroom clouds, but they were made with different types of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb did not make a mushroom. It was what I call a stringer. It just came up. It was black as hell, and it had light and colours and white in it and grey colour in it and the top was like a folded-up Christmas tree.

ST: Do you have any idea what happened down below?

PT: Pandemonium! I think it's best stated by one of the historians, who said: "In one micro-second, the city of Hiroshima didn't exist."

ST: You came back, and you visited President Truman.

PT: We're talking 1948 now. I'm back in the Pentagon and I get notice from the chief of staff, Carl Spaatz, the first chief of staff of the air force. When we got to General Spaatz's office, General Doolittle was there, and a colonel named Dave Shillen. Spaatz said, "Gentlemen, I just got word from the president he wants us to go over to his office immediately." On the way over, Doolittle and Spaatz were doing some talking I wasn't saying very much. When we got out of the car we were escorted right quick to the Oval Office. There was a black man there who always took care of Truman's needs and he said, "General Spaatz, will you please be facing the desk?" And now, facing the desk, Spaatz is on the right, Doolittle and Shillen. Of course, militarily speaking, that's the correct order: because Spaatz is senior, Doolittle has to sit to his left.

Then I was taken by this man and put in the chair that was right beside the president's desk, beside his left hand. Anyway, we got a cup of coffee and we got most of it consumed when Truman walked in and everybody stood on their feet. He said, "Sit down, please," and he had a big smile on his face and he said, "General Spaatz, I want to congratulate you on being first chief of the air force," because it was no longer the air corps. Spaatz said, "Thank you, sir, it's a great honour and I appreciate it." And he said to Doolittle: "That was a magnificent thing you pulled flying off of that carrier," and Doolittle said, "All in a day's work, Mr President." And he looked at Dave Shillen and said, "Colonel Shillen, I want to congratulate you on having the foresight to recognise the potential in aerial refuelling. We're gonna need it bad some day." And he said thank you very much.

Then he looked at me for 10 seconds and he didn't say anything. And when he finally did, he said, "What do you think?" I said, "Mr President, I think I did what I was told." He slapped his hand on the table and said: "You're damn right you did, and I'm the guy who sent you. If anybody gives you a hard time about it, refer them to me."

ST: Anybody ever give you a hard time?

PT: Nobody gave me a hard time.

ST: Do you ever have any second thoughts about the bomb?

PT: Second thoughts? No. Studs, look. Number one, I got into the air corps to defend the United States to the best of my ability. That's what I believe in and that's what I work for. Number two, I'd had so much experience with airplanes. I'd had jobs where there was no particular direction about how you do it and then of course I put this thing together with my own thoughts on how it should be because when I got the directive I was to be self-supporting at all times.

On the way to the target I was thinking: I can't think of any mistakes I've made. Maybe I did make a mistake: maybe I was too damned assured. At 29 years of age I was so shot in the ass with confidence I didn't think there was anything I couldn't do. Of course, that applied to airplanes and people. So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to kill a lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't have to invade [Japan].

ST: Why did they drop the second one, the Bockscar [bomb] on Nagasaki?

PT: Unknown to anybody else - I knew it, but nobody else knew - there was a third one. See, the first bomb went off and they didn't hear anything out of the Japanese for two or three days. The second bomb was dropped and again they were silent for another couple of days. Then I got a phone call from General Curtis LeMay [chief of staff of the strategic air forces in the Pacific]. He said, "You got another one of those damn things?" I said, "Yessir." He said, "Where is it?" I said, "Over in Utah." He said, "Get it out here. You and your crew are going to fly it." I said, "Yessir." I sent word back and the crew loaded it on an airplane and we headed back to bring it right on out to Trinian and when they got it to California debarkation point, the war was over.

ST: What did General LeMay have in mind with the third one?

ST: One big question. Since September 11, what are your thoughts? People talk about nukes, the hydrogen bomb.

PT: Let's put it this way. I don't know any more about these terrorists than you do, I know nothing. When they bombed the Trade Centre I couldn't believe what was going on. We've fought many enemies at different times. But we knew who they were and where they were. These people, we don't know who they are or where they are. That's the point that bothers me. Because they're gonna strike again, I'll put money on it. And it's going to be damned dramatic. But they're gonna do it in their own sweet time. We've got to get into a position where we can kill the bastards. None of this business of taking them to court, the hell with that. I wouldn't waste five seconds on them.

ST: What about the bomb? Einstein said the world has changed since the atom was split.

PT: That's right. It has changed.

ST: And Oppenheimer knew that.

PT: Oppenheimer is dead. He did something for the world and people don't understand. And it is a free world.

ST: One last thing, when you hear people say, "Let's nuke 'em," "Let's nuke these people," what do you think?

PT: Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: "You've killed so many civilians." That's their tough luck for being there.

ST: By the way, I forgot to say Enola Gay was originally called number 82. How did your mother feel about having her name on it?

PT: Well, I can only tell you what my dad said. My mother never changed her expression very much about anything, whether it was serious or light, but when she'd get tickled, her stomach would jiggle. My dad said to me that when the telephone in Miami rang, my mother was quiet first. Then, when it was announced on the radio, he said: "You should have seen the old gal's belly jiggle on that one."


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One map that shows every nuclear explosion in history

North Korea flexed its nuclear muscle in January, detonating its fourth successful bomb and unleashing a 5.1 magnitude earthquake.

In the face of crippling international sanctions, Kim-Jong Il warned of "pre-emptive attacks" and said that the pariah nation was preparing nuclear weapons "so as to be fired any moment."

But North Korea is only the latest nation to have developed nuclear weapons technology. This interactive map, created by Esri UK, shows all 2624 successful nuclear detonations since the USA developed atomic weapons technology during the Second World War:

The first successful nuclear detonation in history was the Trinity test, carried out by the United States Army in July 1945.

Describing the sight of the 20-kiloton explosion, nuclear scientist Dr Robert Oppenheimer said: "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered a line from Hindu scripture. 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds'."

In August 1945, the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Including later deaths from radiation sickness, the bombs were responsible for killing nearly a quarter of a million people, all but 20,000 of whom were civilians.

This is despite the fact that only 1.7 per cent of the material in the Hiroshima bomb actually detonated. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings remain the only wartime uses of nuclear weapons, but across the years that followed then successful nuclear tests proliferated across the globe.

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In 1949, the USSR surprised Western intelligence services by detonating a Hiroshima-sized bomb some four years earlier than anticipated.

Britain followed suit with a similarly-sized detonation in Australian waters in 1952, while in 1960 France chose the Algerian desert to explode a device three times as powerful as the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

The most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested was the Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton behemoth detonated by the Soviet Union in 1961. The resultant five-mile wide fireball was visible from 600 miles away, and the mushroom cloud reached seven times higher than the peak of Mount Everest. The bomb was up to 1,500 times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The largest nuclear weapon tested by the USA was the Castle Bravo bomb, which exploded with nearly three times the force predicted by US physicists. The resultant fallout drifted onto inhabited atolls nearby, causing radiation sickness and congenital birth defects.

A crew member on a nearby Japanese vessel also died of radiation-related infection, provoking an international outcry and inspiring the movie Godzilla.

Throughout the following decades, China, India and Pakistan all successfully detonated nuclear devices, while it is further alleged that Israel and South Africa may have tested nuclear weapons in secret. Having withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, North Korea first detonated a small nuclear device in 2006.


Biden’s ‘mental state’

BizPacReview connected Democrats sending the letter to Biden’s “mental state,” saying that it came as “concerns increase” about the president’s mental status. Its headline reads "House Dems urge Biden to give up sole control of nuclear codes as mental status concerns brew."

Kirk disputed that the report linked the two, though, saying that the writer segued "into several paragraphs describing, again, how outside observers continue to show concern over the president's mental status."

"The reporter speculated that the letter could be linked to a decline in mental acuity," she wrote in an email to USA TODAY.

The post on the website pointed to observations from Hannity and Grant Stinchfield, a host on the conservative outlet Newsmax TV.

“The president’s mental state was a topic of discussion in mostly conservative media circles for months ahead of the 2020 elections, while left-leaning outlets mostly avoided the subject,” according to the post.

Trump supporters claimed during the campaign that Biden was suffering from dementia, but fact checks debunked those claims.

The National Institute of Aging notes that a medical assessment for dementia includes medical history, physical exam and neurological tests along with brain scans and other tests. But no such information about those tests of Biden exists in the public record.

The president also has been public about a lifelong struggle with a stutter that sometimes affects his speech patterns.

Democrats who signed the letter also made no mention of Biden’s mental state and instead raised concerns about an institutional problem with giving power to launch a nuclear attack to one person, now Biden.

President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual event with the Munich Security Conference in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)


Moseley’s X-ray studies

Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, a young English physicist killed in World War I, confirmed that the positive charge on the nucleus revealed more about the fundamental structure of the atom than Mendeleyev’s atomic mass. Moseley studied the spectral lines emitted by heavy elements in the X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum. He built on the work done by several other British physicists—Charles Glover Barkla, who had studied X-rays produced by the impact of electrons on metal plates, and William Bragg and his son Lawrence, who had developed a precise method of using crystals to reflect X-rays and measure their wavelength by diffraction. Moseley applied their method systematically to measure the spectra of X-rays produced by many elements.

Moseley found that each element radiates X-rays of a different and characteristic wavelength. The wavelength and frequency vary in a regular pattern according to the charge on the nucleus. He called this charge the atomic number. In his first experiments, conducted in 1913, Moseley used what was called the K series of X-rays to study the elements up to zinc. The following year he extended this work using another series of X-rays, the L series. Moseley was conducting his research at the same time that Danish theoretical physicist Niels Bohr was developing his quantum shell model of the atom. The two conferred and shared data as their work progressed, and Moseley framed his equation in terms of Bohr’s theory by identifying the K series of X-rays with the most-bound shell in Bohr’s theory, the N = 1 shell, and identifying the L series of X-rays with the next shell, N = 2.

Moseley presented formulas for the X-ray frequencies that were closely related to Bohr’s formulas for the spectral lines in a hydrogen atom. Moseley showed that the frequency of a line in the X-ray spectrum is proportional to the square of the charge on the nucleus. The constant of proportionality depends on whether the X-ray is in the K or L series. This is the same relationship that Bohr used in his formula applied to the Lyman and Balmer series of spectral lines. The regularity of the differences in X-ray frequencies allowed Moseley to order the elements by atomic number from aluminum to gold. He observed that, in some cases, the order by atomic weights was incorrect. For example, cobalt has a larger atomic mass than nickel, but Moseley found that it has atomic number 27 while nickel has 28. When Mendeleyev constructed the periodic table, he based his system on the atomic masses of the elements and had to put cobalt and nickel out of order to make the chemical properties fit better. In a few places where Moseley found more than one integer between elements, he predicted correctly that a new element would be discovered. Because there is just one element for each atomic number, scientists could be confident for the first time of the completeness of the periodic table no unexpected new elements would be discovered.


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