Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters

The Cleve Cartmill Affair

Science-fiction author Cleve Cartmill is best known for his short story "Deadline," which appeared in the March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story isn't famous because it's a good story. Cartmill himself described it as a "stinker." It's famous because it contained specific details about how to make an atomic bomb — details which Cartmill somehow knew over a year before the existence of the bomb had been revealed by the U.S. government.

When Military Intelligence learned about the story they freaked out, fearing a security breach, and launched an investigation. They questioned Cartmill, as well as Astounding editor John W. Campbell. But eventually they concluded that Cartmill had gained his info, as he insisted, from publicly available sources.

However, the rumor is that Military Intelligence bought up as many copies of that issue of the magazine as they could, to prevent its dissemination. Which makes that issue quite valuable. For instance, at Burnside Rare Books it's going for $400.

But if you simply want to read the issue (and Cartmill's story), you can do that at for free.

More info:, Wikipedia.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Apr 10, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, Science Fiction, 1940s

Radioactive Vending Machine Tokens

Sometimes vendors would like to sell relatively high-value items in vending machines. That is, merchandise worth more than a candy bar. Nowadays that's not a problem because there's technology that can scan paper currency or read credit cards, making larger transactions possible.

But back in the 1960s, vending machines relied on coins for payment, so selling high-value merchandise wasn't practical. Especially since the machines could only measure weight, shape, and size to determine if the coins were real — and these characteristics are easy to fake with low-value blanks.

The British printing company Thomas de la Rue devised a solution: radioactive vending machine tokens.

Its researchers realized it would be possible to create tokens made out of layers of radioactive materials such as uranium and carbon14. These tokens would emit unique radioactive signatures that could be measured by Geiger counters inside a vending machine. Such tokens wouldn't be easy to forge. The company patented this idea in 1967.

I'm not aware that any vending machines accepting radioactive tokens were ever put into to use.

I imagine they would have suffered from the same problem that plagued other efforts to put radiation to practical, everyday use — such as the radioactive golf balls we posted about a few months ago (the radiation made it possible to find the balls if lost). The radiation from one token (or golf ball) wasn't a health hazard, but if a bunch of them were stored together, then the radiation did become a problem.

Nashua Telegraph - Jan 11, 1967

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 08, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Inventions, Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1960s

Linda Lawson, Miss Cue

From her Wikipedia page:

On May 5, 1955, Lawson was dubbed "Miss Cue"[4][5] in reference to a series of nuclear tests conducted by the US military under "Operation Teapot," and publicized as "Operation Cue" in a short film distributed by the US Federal Civil Defense Administration. [6]

Posted By: Paul - Sun Feb 16, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Death, Government, Corporate Mascots, Icons and Spokesbeings, Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1950s

Nuke-Powered Commercial Shipping

As we know, this scheme detailed in NEW SCIENTIST never came to completion. But are there, or have there been, other, non-military nuke-powered surface vessels?

Yes, a few.

Posted By: Paul - Thu Feb 13, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Oceans and Maritime Pursuits, Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1950s

How to light a cigarette with an atomic bomb

From Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing by Richard Miller:

The day before the test, [atomic physicist Ted] Taylor rode the elevator to the top of the tower to view his device and to catch a glimpse of the equipment display scattered across the desert below. Nearby, a technician worked to clear a conduit pipe; a rat had somehow managed to wedge itself inside, threatening to ruin the shot. A break in even one circuit, regardless of how minor, would scuttle the detonation.

While Taylor was waiting, he managed to locate a concave, parabolic mirror. After determining the point at which the light would converge, he attached a small wire. The next day, June 1, 1952, he would conduct an experiment of his own.

At 3:50 on June 1, the troops in the trenches were told to kneel and lean against the side of the trench nearest the tower. Five minutes later Scorpion/George ignited with a force of 15 kilotons.

At the Control Point, Ted Taylor aimed his parabolic mirror at the intensely bright, fissioning mass. At the end of the wire he had attached a Pall Mall. In a second or so the concentrated, focused light from the weapon ignited the tip of the cigarette. He had made the world’s first atomic cigarette lighter.

It would have been better if Taylor had first radioed the control tower, "Hey, you guys got a light?" and they radioed back, "Sure." Then detonated the bomb.

A 1955 DoD film demonstrated the concept, without using an actual atomic bomb:

Posted By: Alex - Thu Oct 17, 2019 - Comments (4)
Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, Smoking and Tobacco, 1950s

Project Rulison

Sep. 10 was the 50th anniversary of Project Rulison, which was an underground nuclear test conducted in Rulison, Colorado. Its purpose was to determine if a nuclear bomb, detonated underground, could be used to release natural gas.

The answer was, not really, because the bomb will radiate the gas, making it unusable.

But what gave the test extra weirdness was that a handful of protesters tried to stop it by placing themselves on top of it. As an article on CBS Denver notes:

They believed the scientists wouldn’t actually detonate the bomb if people were inside the closure area above, they were wrong.

The protesters survived, but I'm assuming they must be the only people to have ever been directly on top of a nuclear explosion who lived to tell about it.

An article on offers a few details about what it felt like to be in the blast zone:

"There was this great rumble, and we were lifted about six or seven inches off the ground," he recalls. "There were a whole bunch of tremors reverberating through the ground. People down below described seeing ripples flow through the earth, like a rock that had been tossed in a pond."

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 19, 2019 - Comments (4)
Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1960s

The History of Nuking Hurricanes

The idea of nuking hurricanes has been in the news lately. Which made me wonder: how soon after learning of the existence of atomic bombs did people start to speculate about dropping them into hurricanes?

The answer seems to be, immediately. I found the article below about nuking hurricanes, dated Aug 8, 1945 — a mere two days after the bombing of Hiroshima.

Interestingly, the article speculates that the idea may have been inspired by earlier legends about using cannons to dispel waterspouts:

Talk of bombing hurricanes stems from stories of waterspouts being dissipated in the South Seas with cannon or rifle shot, Norton said. He doubts the truth of these yarns.

The Miami News - Aug 8, 1945

Posted By: Alex - Sun Sep 15, 2019 - Comments (4)
Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1940s, Weather

The Atomic Golf Ball

A demonstration that what is possible may not be what is practical.

Developed by nuclear physicist William Davidson in 1950, a small amount of radioactive material at the core of the atomic golf ball allowed it to be found using a Geiger counter, should it be hit into the rough. But there were a few problems with the concept:

1: The Geiger counter needed to be pretty close to the ball (within 5 feet) to actually detect it.
2: Not many people own Geiger counters.
3: Even though a single ball didn't pose much of a radiation risk, a bunch of the balls stored together would be a problem. So, it wasn't possible for stores to stock and sell these.

Mechanix Illustrated - Mar 1951

Akron Beacon Journal - Aug 20, 2000
click to enlarge

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jul 24, 2019 - Comments (4)
Category: Sports, Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1950s

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