author Richard Rhodes received a Pulitzer Prize for "The Making of the Atomic
Bomb" in which he described the previously top-secret inner workings of the
bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
divulged â through his own personal research â what had been America's biggest secrets about the
bombs, which were called Little
Boy and Fat Man. In
fact, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death on charges they had leaked atomic
bomb secrets to Soviet agents.
But by his
own admission, Rhodes has been topped by truck driver John Coster-Mullen
of Waukesha, WI, who has built a highly accurate replica
of the atomic bomb through an amazing piece of engineering research. His
replica of a bomb casing is on display at
the Wendover Airfield
Museum in Utah. The precise inner workings of the bomb
are disclosed in a self-printed book
that Coster-Mullen sells on Amazon.com for $49.95.
Sunday of El Paso, TX, says of Coster-Mullen's book, "Quite simply, there is NO
better source of information on the technical details of the world's first two
nuclear weapons ... Coster-Mullen describes the design, configuration, materials
and assembly procedures of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" to an
unprecedented level of detail."
shocked that Coster-Mullen would undertake such a task. Lawrence S. Wittner, a history professor, says,
"The reality is that Coster-Mullen informs us about minutiae-the technical
features of the original atomic bomb-rather than about far larger and more
meaningful issues, such as why the Bomb was used, what it did to the people of
Japan, and how its development and use triggered the nuclear arms race since
fails to understand that engineers take great interest in understanding how
complicated machinery works, even if it is 64 years old and had been used for
extremely destructive purposes. What's also interesting about Coster-Mullen is
that he is not an engineer. In fact, he doesn't even have a college degree.
Coster-Mullen says he was originally inspired by a high school teacher who had
worked on the Manhattan Project. He had hoped to study physics in college but was
derailed into a 30-year career as a commercial photographer. After that he
began driving trucks and, he says, "About 15 years ago I reintroduced myself to the (Manhattan) project,
thinking I would build small replicas of the bombs." He and his son traveled to
museums displaying bomb casings, taking measurements and photographs.
weapon casings were revealed to the public, anybody familiar with physics over
the past few decades would be familiar with what the basic design features would be,"
says Coster-Mullen. "In the case of the Fat Man, it was an implosion design and
for Little Boy it was what was called a gun-assembly weapon."
contacted officials at Los Alamos before Sept.
11, 2001, when they were much freer with the release of declassified documents.
Then he interviewed original participants in the Manhattan Project. "I also had
access to a lot of photographs," he says. "I started applying proportional
measuring to these photographs, and I was able to derive specific dimensional
of Coster-Mullen's work is in the details. For example, he obtained a piece of
a tungsten-carbide tamper used in test bombs from a Los
Alamos engineer who had saved the piece as a memento. The tamper
had a key role in the Little Man bomb and its exact dimensions were not
was used as a neutron deflector, boosting the critical masses in the uranium
core. Its density was also crucial in
holding the core together to further boost the power of the explosion.
to an article
published in the New Yorker, the tamper fragment was half an inch wide, an inch
long and two inches deep. Coster-Mullen got access to sophisticated industrial
measuring equipment and determined the original diameter of the
tungsten-carbide cylinder was 13.1513 inches. According to another source, the tamper cylinder
weighed about 680 lbs.
cases, one person would have saved one thing, and then I'd find out three years
later that someone else had a piece of the very same object," says
Coster-Mullen. "And then when interviewing people, they would fill in the
developed after Little Boy and Fat Man became far more sophisticated.
who worked on the first atomic bombs, particularly Little Boy, saw themselves
as blacksmiths," says Coster-Mullen. "They constructed Little Boy literally
with soldering guns, monkey wrenches and sledgehammers."
This cross section shows the major mechanical components, including a tungsten-carbide tamper, used in the Little Boy atomic bomb.
Listen to a podcast with
John Coster-Mullen on the Engineering behind the First Atomic Bombs