Category Archives: Nuclear Arms & Arms Control

Deadline – Espionage or Innocent Coincidence?

The March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine contained a short story by Cleve Cartmill entitled, Deadline, that may, or may not have revealed secrets related to the Manhattan Project. This short story was edited by MIT-educated John W. Campbell Jr.

ASF_March 1944 cover                             Source: Astounding Science Fiction

Cleve Cartmill’s notoriety after the publication of Deadline is described in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (

“He is best remembered in the field for one famous (but untypical) story, “Deadline” (March 1944 Astounding),which described the atomic bomb a year before it was dropped: in this near-future fable, the evil Sixa (i.e., Axis) forces are prevented from dropping the Bomb, and the Seilla (Allies) decline to do so, justly fearing its dread potential. US Security subsequently descended on Astounding, but was persuaded (truthfully) by John W.Campbell Jr that Cartmill had used for his research only material available in public libraries. Cartmill’s prediction made sf fans enormously proud, and the story was made a prime exhibit in the arguments about prediction in sf.”

I’ve been unable to find an online source for the full-text of Deadline, but here’s a sample of the March 1944 text:

“U-235 has been separated in quantity sufficient for preliminary atomic-power research and the like. They get it out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now have quantities measured in pounds….But they have not brought it together, or any major portion of it. Because they are not at all sure that, once started, it would stop before all of it had been consumed….They could end the war overnight with controlled U-235 bombs……So far, they haven’t worked out any way to control the explosion.”

The status of the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons infrastructure at the time that Deadline was published in March 1944 is outlined below.

  • The initial criticality at the world’s first nuclear reactor, the CP-1 pile in Chicago, occurred on 2 December 1942.
  • The initial criticality at the world’s second nuclear reactor, the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge (also known as the Clinton pile and the X-10-pile), and the first reactor designed for continuous operation, occurred 4 November 1943. X-10 produced its first plutonium in early 1944.
  • The initial criticality of the first large-scale production reactor, Hanford B, occurred in September 1944. This was followed by Hanford D in December 1944, and Hanford F in February 1945.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale thermal diffusion plant (S-50 at Oak Ridge) began in January 1945, delivering 0.8 – 1.4% enriched uranium initially to the Y-12 calutrons, and later to the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale gaseous diffusion plant (K-25 at Oak Ridge) began operation in February 1945, delivering uranium enriched up to about 23% to the Y-12 calutrons
  • The Y-12 calutrons began operation in February 1945 with feed from S-50, and later from K-25. The calutrons provided uranium at the enrichment needed for the first atomic bombs.
  • The Trinity nuclear test occurred on 16 July 1945
  • The Little Boy uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945
  • The Fat Man plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945

You can read more about of Deadline, including reaction at Los Alamos to this short story, on Wikipedia at the following link:

You also can download, “The Astounding Investigation: The Manhattan Project’s Confrontation With Science Fiction,” by Albert Berger at the following link:

This investigation report, prepared by Astounding Science Fiction, identifies a number of sci-fi stories from 1934 to 1944 that included references to atomic weapons in their story lines, so Deadline was not the first to do so. Regarding the source of the technical information used in Deadline, the investigation report notes:

“However, when questioned as to the source of the technical material in “Deadline,” the references to U-235 separation, and to bomb and fuse design, Cartmill ‘explained that he took the major portion of it directly from letters sent to him by John Campbell…and a minor portion of it from his own general knowledge.’”

While Deadline may have angered many Manhattan Project Military Intelligence senior security officers, neither Cartmill nor Campbell were ever charged with a crime. The investigation noted that stories like Deadline could cause unwanted public speculation about actual classified projects. In addition, such stories might help people working in compartmented classified programs to get a better understanding of the broader context of their work.

I don’t think there was any espionage involved, but, for its time, Deadline provided very interesting insights into a fictional nuclear weapons project. What do you think?

Update on North Korea’s Sinpo (Gorae) Submarine and KN-11 SLBM

In the presentation files from my 5 August 2015 talk, 60 Years of Marine Nuclear Power, I noted that, while North Korea has a program to develop nuclear-armed submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), it appears that their current focus is on installing these missiles on conventionally-powered submarines. The particular conventional missile-launching submarines (SSBs) identified were a refurbished Russian-designed Golf II-class SSB and a new, small indigenous SSB provisionally named Sinpo, for the shipyard where it was observed, or Gorae. Both the refurbished Golf II and the new Sinpo (Gorae) have missile tubes in the sail and are capable of launching missiles while submerged. You will find my presentation files on the Lyncean website under the Past Meetings tab. The direct link to the file containing information on the North Korean program is listed below:

On 24 August 2016, North Korea launched a KN-11 ballistic missile from a submerged launcher, likely a submarine. The KN-11 missile flew 500 km (310 miles) downrange from the launch point into the Sea of Japan.

KN-11 launchSource: An undated photo from North Korean Central News Agency, “underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile”

Range of the missile actually may be considerably greater because it appears to have been launched on a “lofted trajectory” that achieved a much higher apogee than normally would be associated with a maximum range ballistic flight. A similar higher-than-normal apogee was observed in the 21 July 2016 flight test of North Korea’s BM25 Musudan land-based, mobile, intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which flew 402 km (250 miles) downrange, but reached an apogee of 1,400 km (870 miles). The extra energy required for the KN-11 and Musudan to reach an unusually high apogee would translate directly into greater downrange distance on a maximum range ballistic flight.

You can see a summary of North Korea’s KN-11 test program on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

For the best analysis of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB and the KN-11 SLBM, I refer you to H. I. Sutton’s Covert Shores website at the following link:

Sinpo_Gorae SSB_SuttonSource: H. I. Sutton Covert Shores

Sutton comments on the small size of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB:

“It seems that she is built to the requirement of being the smallest possible boat to carry an NK-11……This reinforces the view that she is only a test boat with limited operational capability at most.”

While North Korea’s SSBs and SLBMs are works in progress, I think we are seeing substantial evidence that significant progress is being made on the submarine and the delivery vehicle. A big unknown is the development status of an operational nuclear warhead for the NK-11 missile. On 6 January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. It has been reported that the yield from this test was in the 10-kiloton range. For comparison, the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons. You can find a summary of North Korea’s nuclear tests on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

In the 29 Aug – 11 Sep 2016 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association is quoted as saying:

“North Korea’s accelerated pace of ballistic missile testing is definitely worrisome,” Kimball says. “They have not necessarily perfected some of these systems to the point where they are effective military systems. That said, if nothing is done to halt further ballistic missile testing, they’re going to eventually – and I mean within a few years – develop a rudimentary long-range capability to deliver a nuclear warhead.”

For quite some time, there has been speculation of technical collaboration between Iran and North Korea on development of long-range missiles, and perhaps nuclear weapons. North Korea’s credibility as a technology partner has been enhanced by their January 2016 successful nuclear test and the more recent tests of the KN-11 and BM25 delivery vehicles.

The Doomsday Clock, the Iraq War and the War Scare of 1983

The Doomsday Clock

On 26 January 2016, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced that the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight in spite of recent progress with the Iran nuclear agreement and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21).

Three minutes to midnight

The Science and Security Board gave the following rationale:

“Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately.”

You can read their complete announcement at the following link:

Also on this website, you will find a detailed chronology of the changes in the Doomsday Clock since its inception in 1947. The following link will take you directly to this timeline:

From the beginning, the Doomsday Clock has been a measure of the perceived risk to civilization of nuclear annihilation. In 2007, the Science and Security Board added climate change because of its perceived significant risk to civilization.

Another view of the Doomsday Clock timeline is available in Wikipedia at the following link:

Here you will find the following timeline chart and a compact tabulation of the changes over the years.


The Iraq War

On 25 January 2016, Stephen Colbert interviewed former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, focusing on the Iraq War and the state of knowledge leading up to the decision to go to war. Donald Rumsfeld had previously addressed the state of U.S. intelligence on Iraq in terms of “known knowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we have adequate intelligence), “known unknowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we do not have adequate, or any, intelligence), and “unknown unknowns” (i.e., things we don’t even know we should be concerned about). Stephen Colbert then asked about “unknown knowns”, which he defined as, “things we know, but choose not to let other people know.” The implication was that our leaders in the military and the Executive Branch had important information that they knew had a bearing on the decision to go to war with Iraq, but this information was unknown to other stakeholders in that decision; namely, most members of Congress and the American people. Then the U.S. went to war with Iraq on 20 March 2003. The Doomsday Clock remained at 7 minutes before midnight, even though the U.S. had just saved the world from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

You can view Stephen Colbert’s interview with Donald Rumsfeld at the following link:

The War Scare of 1983

I need to expand on Donald Rumsfeld’s and Stephen Colbert’s categories for the state of U.S. intelligence by adding the following: “unknown, should have known better.” I define this as a serious, but avoidable, blunder known only at the highest levels and withheld from the public.

As an example of an “unknown, should have known better,” I present the “War Scare of 1983”. Remember that? I’d be quite surprised if you were even remotely aware of it when it occurred.

NATO forces conducted regular military exercises intended to improve their ability to execute war plans designed to counter a Soviet invasion of Europe. It now appears that only a few high-ranking people in the West knew that some of the Soviet leadership had misinterpreted NATO exercises conducted in the fall of 1983 as a prelude to an actual attack.

To set the stage, note in the timeline chart above that the Doomsday Clock had been reset from 7 minutes to 4 minutes before midnight in early 1981. This was a time of generally heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Perhaps as a consequence, the Soviets appear to have overreacted when they shot down Korean Airlines flight 007 in August 1983 after it strayed into Russian airspace near Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. Some believe that Soviet air defense forces had mistaken this civilian flight for a USAF RC-135 surveillance aircraft that previously had flown a similar route.

In the fall of 1983, the annual NATO exercise was known as Autumn Forge 83, consisting of at least six exercises. The final exercise, Able Archer 83, was a nuclear command and control exercise intended to simulate an escalating conflict with the Soviet Union leading to the simulated use of nuclear weapons by NATO. Overall, Autumn Forge 83 was a larger exercise than those conducted in previous years and Able Archer 83 was using new nuclear weapons command and control procedures.

In a 21 May 2013 article posted on The National Security Archives website entitled, The 1983 War Scare: “The Last Paroxysm” of the Cold War Part II”, Nate Jones includes the following diagram from an unclassified 9 September 1983 briefing showing the large scale of the Autumn Forge 83 exercise.

Autumn Forge Map

You can read the complete article at the following link:

A declassified After Action Report issued by the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Seventh Air Division Headquarters on 1 December 1983 addressed the NATO activities conducted as part of Able Archer 83, but presented no information on Soviet reactions during or following the exercise. This After Action Report is available at the following link:

I first became aware of the significance of Able Archer 83 via John Prados’ article, “The War Scare of 1983,” in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Spring 1997 (Vol. 9, Issue 3).

In a 2007 article entitled, “A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare,” author Benjamin Fischer attributed the following statement to Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who defected to the UK in 1985:

“In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert–and might even have begun the countdown to war…. The world did not quite reach the edge of the nuclear abyss during Operation RYAN. But during ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close–certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.”

You can read the complete article in the CIA online library at the following link:

A Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled, “Implications of Recent Soviet Military – Political Activities,” dated 18 May 1984 and declassified in 2010, provides insights into the Soviet reactions to Able Archer 83. You can read / download this redacted document at the following link:

A much more readable overview is available in the 21 May 2013 article entitled, “The Able Archer 83 War Scare: ‘NATO requested initial limited use of nuclear weapons,’” by Nate Jones, in which he states that:

“According to a declassified National Security Agency history…. the ‘period 1982-1984 marked the most dangerous Soviet-American confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis.’ The secret history recounts that ‘Cold War hysteria reached its peak’ in the autumn of 1983 with a NATO nuclear-release exercise named Able Archer 83, which…. caused ‘Soviet air units in Germany and Poland [to assume] high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces.’”

You can read the complete article posted on The National Security Archives website at the following link:

On 24 October 2015, David E. Hoffman, writing for The Washington Post, reported that:

“A nuclear weapons command exercise by NATO in November 1983 prompted fear in the leadership of the Soviet Union that the maneuvers were a cover for a nuclear surprise attack by the United States, triggering a series of unparalleled Soviet military responses…”

The Kremlin, uncertain about U.S. intentions, ordered a series of military measures that appeared to be actual preparations for war. A recently declassified 1990 assessment entitled, “The Soviet ‘War Scare,’” by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded:

“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger…”

The Washington Post obtained a copy of this formerly highly classified (Top Secret – Cover Word – Code Word) assessment, which you can read / download (with modest redactions) at the following link:

Obviously, we all survived the War Scare of 1983. Maybe it was better for the public not to know. The Doomsday Clock was adjusted in January 1984 to three minutes before midnight, but not because of Able Archer 83. You can read the rationale for the clock setting on the editorial page in the January 1984 edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which you will find at the following link:

If the Science and Security Board had known the details that have surfaced in the past several years about Able Archer 83, I suspect the clock might have been a tick or two closer to midnight for a brief time.

The Doomsday Clock currently is set at three minutes to midnight.



Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future

Proliferation of nuclear technology has been the subject of many studies for more than a half century.   The latest assessment is provided in the subject document, “Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future,” by Henry D. Sokolsky, published in 2015 by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC).

Underestimated book cover  Source: NPEC

The author describes the scope of this document as follows:

“First, it reviews the key popular views on nuclear proliferation. Second, it considers how much worse matters might get if states continue with relatively loose nuclear constraints on civilian and military nuclear activities. Finally, it offers several policy recommendations.”

 In this report, Henry Sokolsky shows how simple life was in 1962:

1962 nuclear relationships Source: NPEC

By 2001, the relationships had become more complex, as shown by the author in the following figure:

2001 nuclear relationships Source: NPEC

The author also shows how relationships are becoming more complex as nuclear weapons technology has proliferated to North Korea (DPRK) and potentially will proliferate to other nations aspiring to become nuclear powers.

You can download this document for free from the NPEC website at the following link:

With 181 footnotes interspersed with the text, it is not easy reading, but I think you will find that it is worth your time.

Forty years ago, in 1975 (and updated in 1976), a similar assessment was presented in a report entitled, “Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd?,” by Albert Wohlstetter and a team from Pan Heuristics, a division of Science Applications, Inc. [SAI, later Science Applications Internal Corporation (SAIC)]. This report was prepared for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and was intended to define the then current trends in the spread of nuclear technology and analyze the political, economic and military problems that these trends posed for U.S. and international policy makers.

You can download this report from the NPEC website at following link:

The “Nuclear Armed Crowd” report has extensive data tables and charts that are particularly interesting in hindsight. This report was written before the first nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, but these nations were assessed as proliferation risks in this report. Notably absent in this report is North Korea (DPRK), which used a clandestine nuclear program to develop it’s indigenous (but likely with the help of other nations) nuclear weapons capability.

These two reports are not bedtime reading. You will not sleep better after having read them. However, I think the 40 years between these two reports will provide you with valuable insights to the great difficulties of controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology.

Status Report on Global Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) was founded in January 2006 as an independent group of arms-control and nonproliferation experts from both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states. The mission of the IPFM is to analyze the technical basis for practical and achievable policy initiatives to secure, consolidate, and reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. The home page for IPFM is at the following link:

On the IPFM home page, you will find the following summary information:

 As of January 2013, the global stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is estimated to be about 1390 tonnes. The global stockpile of separated plutonium is about 490 tonnes, of which about 260 tonnes is the material in civilian custody.

IPFM 2013 fissile material inventory crop

Numbers for weapon plutonium for the United States and United Kingdom are based on official data. Most numbers for civilian plutonium are based on declarations submitted to IAEA and reflect the status as of December 31, 2011. Other numbers are non-governmental estimates, often with large uncertainties. HEU amounts are 90% enriched HEU equivalent (with the exception of the number for non-nuclear weapon states). The totals are rounded. See individual country entries for details.

In the above table, a “tonne” is a metric ton, or 2,204.62 pounds. One tonne = 1.10231 (short) tons.

IPFM provides regular assessments of the global nuclear weapon and fissile material stockpiles. Their most recent report, Global Fissile Material Report 2015, was presented at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations on 8 May 2015.

IPFM 2015 Report Cover  Source: IPFM

You can download a copy of the 8 May 2015 IPFM presentation at the following link:

This definitely makes interesting reading.

70th Anniversary of the First Detonation of a Nuclear Explosive Device at the Trinity Site Near Alamogordo, NM

On 16 July 1945, the Manhattan Project team successfully detonated the “The Gadget”, which was an implosion-type plutonium fission device similar in design to the Fat Man bomb detonated less than a month later over Nagasaki, Japan.

Various measurements were made to determine the yield of “The Gadget”. The best estimates are that the total yield of the test device was 21 kT, with 15 kT coming from plutonium fission and 6 kT coming from fast fissions in the natural uranium tamper. You can read more on the yield estimates at the following link:

You also can read more details on the Trinity site and the test in a fact sheet prepared by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which you will find at the following link:

Today, the Trinity Site is part of the White Sands Missile Range. This site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and is marked by the Trinity Site Obelisk National Historical Landmark. Currently the site is open to visitors only on two days of the year, the first Saturday in April and October. No reservations are required. Check the White Sands Missile Range website for the latest information:

You can read an account of a 2006 visit to Trinity Site at the following link:

Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark  Source:

Together, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, and Nagasaki, on 9 August 1945, are credited with bringing an end to World War II. Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945 and formally signed the surrender documents on 2 September 1945.

The Trinity test and the nuclear bombing of Japan also marked the start of a nuclear arms race, initially between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but soon followed by other nations wishing to be nuclear powers: U.K, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The history of the worldwide nuclear weapons stockpiles and related arms control treaties is presented well in the following graphic from the Wall Street Journal. I’m hoping that Iran doesn’t show up as a new yellow dot on a future edition of that chart.

WSJ History of Nucelar Arms Control_e Source: Wall Street Journal

History of the DOE National Laboratories

Many at SAIC worked at or for one or more DOE national laboratories at some point in their careers.   The following link to the DOE Office of Scientific & Technical Information (OSTI) web site provides links to other web sites with historical information on the various national labs.

For example, on this OSTI web page, you can select the Idaho National Laboratory link, and a pop-up menu will display the available documents.  If you select, “Proving the Principle: A History of the Idaho Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, 1949 – 1999,” this will take you to an INL web site that includes a 25 chapter history + a 2000 – 2010 addendum, all organized for chapter-by-chapter web access.

I hope you find some something of interest via the OSTI website.

A Time-lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion From 1945 to 1998

Nuclear testing animated timelineHere’s a mesmerizing 14+ minute video created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto with a time-lapse map (single screenshot above) showing all of the nuclear explosions between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the “Trinity” test and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in  1998. Close your eyes for a moment and it sounds like you’re in a gambling casino near the digital slot machines.