Inside eerie abandoned Oppenheimer lab at Los Almos where 1st nuke was built & scientists feared they'd destroyed world | The Sun
TUCKED away deep in the New Mexico desert, a team of scientists developed the world's most devastating weapon away from prying eyes.
Led by the notorious J Robert Oppenheimer, the first-ever nuclear bomb was created at Los Alamos – able to wipe out the entire globe.
Los Alamos – a self-contained town, with wives, children and a church – was the home of the top-secret Project Y, part of the wider hush-hush Manhattan Project.
There, fearing Germany was two years ahead in the nuclear arms race, experts worked relentlessly to build a plutonium-based atomic bomb.
And in just 27 months, the US accomplished the unthinkable and detonated the first-ever nuke weapons in a test code-named Trinity.
Fast forward almost six decades, eerie reminders of the atomic bomb's birth remain.
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Los Alamos is still an active lab – but the sites used by the Manhattan Project are strictly off-limits to the public.
Most of the original infrastructure was torn down after the war, having been constructed hastily and at pace.
One of the most key buildings still remains – V-Site – where the first nuclear explosive device was assembled ahead of the Trinity test.
The explosion will forever be noted in history books as the first-ever detonation of a nuclear weapon and has been now recreated in star-studded movie Oppenheimer by British director Christopher Nolan.
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Sitting in a bunker 20 miles away from the test site in the New Mexico desert on July 16 1945, Oppenheimer – depicted by Cillian Murphy in the blockbuster movie – watched on with bated breath as the countdown ticked away.
The best case scenario would see the 25-kiloton blast send a mushroom cloud seven miles into the sky, as calculated by his team of experts.
The worst result would set off a chain reaction that would destroy the whole planet.
But the explosion was deemed a success and a bomb named Little Boy was used on the city of Hiroshima just three weeks later – killing hundreds of thousands.
Despite the significance of the work being done, the highly explosive sphere for the Trinity bomb was assembled in the humble wooden and asbestos-shingled buildings at V-Site.
Scientists worked around the clock on the weapon – also known as Gadget – surrounded by tall pines, with access heavily restricted before the bomb was eventually ferried to the test site.
Another part of the site that remains is Gun Site, which acted as a safe haven for the experts to watch the tests using a periscope.
Two types of atomic bombs were ultimately developed
The chilling Little Boy bomb was a gun-type design that fired a mass of uranium at another to spark a chain reaction.
Scientists used the Gun Site bunker to plan ballistic tests before watching them using a built-in periscope tower remotely from under the ground.
The second type of bomb developed was a complex implosion-type design centred around plutonium.
Assembly work for this type of bomb – nicknamed Fat Man – started at V-Site in 1944.
The following year, it was dropped on Nagasaki three days after Little Boy caused huge destruction in Hiroshima.
The US military argued that the operation saved lives by shortening the war.
But away from the assembly sites sits Pond Cabin, a modest-looking ranch building that had a much darker use.
Situated in the canyon miles away from the main research centre, physicist Emilio Segrè adopted the cabin as his office – making it the place for groundbreaking plutonium research and radiation testing.
Segrè, who died in 1989 aged 84, previously said: "At this time I acquired a small laboratory for measuring spontaneous fission, the like of which I have never seen before or since.
"It was a log cabin that had been occupied by a ranger and it was located in a secluded valley a few miles from Los Alamos.
"It could be reached only by a jeep trail that passed through fields of purple and yellow asters and a canyon whose walls were marked with Indian carvings."
One of the final parts of the site that remains to this day is the Slotin Building.
The unassuming white building complete with blue doors was named after Canadian physicist Louis Slotin.
He conducted dangerous criticality testing with uranium and later plutonium cores – earning himself the nickname of Chief Armorer of the United States.
Slotin would fearlessly experiment with the possibility of nuclear chain reactions – known as "tickling the dragon's tail" after physicist Richard Feynman compared the tests to "tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon".
The building was named after Slotin after he was exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and died just days later.
He was slowly bringing together two halves of a berrylium-coated sphere around a plutonium core when the screwdriver separating them slipped.
The room filled with a bright blue light and Slotin rushed to use his own body to shield his colleagues.
He was rushed to hospital but died days later after slipping into a coma.
Los Alamos was shrouded in secrecy for years and resulted in the creation of a terrifying nuke weapon able to doom the whole world.
Oppenheimer was driven by a desire to make sure Adolf Hitler did not get hold of nuclear weapons first.
But real dilemma came when Hitler took his own life in April 1945, which was followed by Germany’s surrender a month later.
Some of Oppenheimer’s team felt there was no longer a need to develop a weapon of mass destruction, however the new US President, Harry S Truman, disagreed.
He wanted to use the atomic bomb on Japan, which was still at war with the Allies in the Pacific.
Having initially celebrated the success of his creation, Oppenheimer started to feel guilty about the horrific impact of these weapons on innocent civilians.
Survivors reported seeing charred bodies, ripped flesh and skin imprinted with the stripes from clothing.
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When Oppenheimer – who died aged 62 in 1967 – met with Truman in the White House, he said: “Mr President, I feel I have blood on my hands.”
That angered Truman who later described him as a “cry-baby scientist”.
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