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Third Sunday Zoom Meeting

  • 07/19/2020
  • 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
  • Zoom Meeting

"Moral Implications of the Manhattan Project"

This talk will be given by RET member, Bob Compton

In 1938 two German scientists had discovered that the fission of uranium
into two nuclei whose masses were less than that of uranium.  They relayed
this information to Lise Meitner, a Jewish refuge in Denmark, who
immediately realized that the missing mass went into an enormous energy
through E = MC^2.  This message was relayed to America and a famous letter
was drafted by a few immigrant scientists and signed by Einstein alerting
president Roosevelt.  The Manhattan project began as a race to beat the
Germans to build an atomic bomb. On July 16, 1945 a plutonium bomb was
successfully tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico. Shortly after
Germany surrendered to the allied forces in Europe.  The US and Japan were
continuing the war in the Pacific.  A uranium bomb(Little Boy) was dropped
on Hiroshima on August 6 and three days later a plutonium bomb(Fat Boy)
was dropped on Nagasaki.  Japan surrendered on August 15 to end the

The decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was a matter of some moral
concern at the time and over the years.  We are all aware of a letter
started by Szilard and signed by many scientists at the University of
Chicago expressing alternatives to dropping the bomb. This letter was
halted by Oppenheimer, Compton and others. In about 1962 Hal Schweinler, a
colleague of mine, who was at ORNL in 1945 showed me a letter signed by
him and ~20 other Oak Ridge scientists including Alvin Weinberg asking
Truman to consider alternatives to dropping the weapons on Japan.  I asked
D. Ray Smith, Oak Ridge historian, about this letter and he came up with
two such letters.  General Groves and the military at OR nixed these two
letters arguing that they were security issues.  A similar situation
occurred in Los Alamos.  The military was in charge! The atomic bombs were
rated in kilo tons (Little boy and Fat Boy were ~ 15 kilotons).  We now
have Hydrogen bombs rated in Megatons (The Soviet Union tested one at 50
Megaton).  Many countries now have A-bombs and a few have H-Bombs.  North
Korea claims to have produced an H-bomb.  The H-bombs are more powerful
and are lighter, capable of sitting on the nose cone of an intercontinental missile.

This talk will open the floor concerning the past and future use of nuclear weapons.

Time: Jul 19, 2020 10:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Information about Bob:

The Compton family came to Oak Ridge in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project.  After graduating from ORHS in 1956, Bob received degrees in Physics from Berea College (BS, 1960), Univ. of Florida (MS, 1962) and Univ. of Tennessee (PhD, 1965).  He was a Sr. Corporate Fellow at ORNL from 1965 to 1995 and was a Professor of Physics and Chemistry at UT from 1995 to 2016.  He is a Fellow of the AAAS, APS and OSA and has received the Beams Award from the APS and the Meggers Award from the OSA.  He was a visiting scientist in Amsterdam, Paris, and Denmark and was an Erskine Fellow at the Univ. of Christchurch in New Zealand.  Along with John Stockdale he formed Comstock, Inc. a small scientific instrument company in 1978 which was sold to VTI in 2016.

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