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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Harold Agnew - The Man Who Helped End WWII

Here's an interesting photo I found!

It's Harold Agnew carrying the plutonium core of the Nagasaki Fat Man bomb, 1945.

You can tell that no one really understood just what the atomic bombs was going to do, just by the fact that Agnew is carrying it like it's his lunch bag.

Shorts? Where the heck is the hazmat suit? Oh yeah... 1945.

And he's smiling?

Well... Agnew was no stranger to the atomic research and bombs.

He was a member of Enrico Fermi’s research team at the University of Chicago in 1942, where he saw the very first sustained nuclear chain reaction. of Chicago Pile-1.

Later, between 1943-45, Agnew worked in the Experimental Physics Division at Los Alamos.

When the Trinity test was on, he was flying out to Tinian Island in the Pacific as part of Project Alberta. Project Alberta was the test group who would assemble the atomic bomb.

He was also aboard a B-29 bomber called The Great Artiste, as it flew with the B-29 bomber Enola Gay carrying the atomic bomb for the Hiroshima attack (along with Necessary Evil as the camera plane, Full House performing weather reconnaissance, and the Jabit III, also doing weather reconnaissance.

Agnew's (and the rest of the crew) measured the size of the bomb's shock wave in an effort to determine the power of the atomic bomb.

He also filmed the explosion with a movie camera.

As for the core he carried for the Fat Man atomic/nuclear bomb destined for Nagasaki? The plutonium core - the box he is so leisurely carrying in the photo weighed a scant 6.2 kilograms (14 pounds).

Of that plutonium core, only about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) would undergo nuclear fission, of which one gram (1/30th of an ounce) was converted into the explosive force that was equal to 21,000 tons of TNT which exploded over the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

So what would have happened if Agnew tripped and dropped the plutonium core in the box?

Nothing.
 
The box was made of magnesium, which would dissipate heat and not reflect neutrons, and would simply have bounced had it been dropped.

How do we know that? They tested it, of course.

Considering scientists didn't know as much about nuclear power and bombs in 1945 as they do in 2016, I have to admit that was pretty ballsy of them to have tested the box's integrity.

Heck, while atomic tests in the ground were destructive, there were still concerns about what the bomb would do when it exploded in the air (like it did above Hiroshima)... such as would it set the atmosphere on fire. Considering no one expected the black rain that fell, it beats me how they could even test a dropped plutonium core with any level of confidence.

So... did carrying around the plutonium core in the safe magnesium box cause any long-term health concerns for Mr. Agnew?

Nope.

Harold Melvin Agnew was born on March 28, 1921 (so he was 24-years-old in the photo) and died on September 29, 2013, at the ripe old age of 92, although he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a common-type of leukemia, that is essentially a cancer of the white blood cells.

Still... 92-years-old... what dangers from exposure to nuclear radiation?

Agnew, after his stint carrying plutonium cores around tiny islands in the Pacific that I would bet no one reading this could find on a map without using a digital search, worked on the Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in 1954.

He became head of the Weapon Nuclear Engineering Division in 1964, served as a Democratic New Mexico State Senator from 1955 to 1961, and was the Scientific Adviser to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) from 1961 to 1964. Holy crap.

He was director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970 to 1979, when he resigned to become President and Chief Executive Officer of General Atomics.

In 2005, Agnew is quoted as saying: "About three-quarters of the U.S. nuclear arsenal was designed under my tutelage at Los Alamos. That is my legacy."

I prefer to think his legacy is his nonchalant manner of carrying a nuclear weapon that would kill about 70,000 people of Nagasaki... but that was war.

That photo above shows Agnew happily posing for a photo with the device that essentially ended WWII, saving more lives than what were ultimately lost at Nagasaki. If you haven't read up on some of the other WWI articles I have presented here in the past, please note that Japan at that time was in a "death before dishonor" mode, where it would have fought to the last man, woman and/or child in the likelihood of a Allied incursion in on its shores.  

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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