On a Weapons Project

Nuclear fusion was first accomplished by German physicists in Berlin in 1938. The potential power released in this experiment caused nations to sit up and take notice. War was looming again in Europe, and a race started among various countries to be the first to develop a weapon based on this discovery.

As World War 2 began, the nuclear arms race intensified. The fear was that the enemy would create a nuclear weapon first and bring the war to an end either by the use of the weapon or the threat thereof. The government sponsored conferences to begin to tackle the problem. The administration called the top scientists and physicists in the nation together and gave them top security clearances. Plans were made to have a weapon produced by the mid-1940s. An overall strategy was devised, a step-by-step plan set up. The government set the goal of first creating a nuclear reactor in which the fission could be created and controlled.

The program was so top-secret that research and development was spread out over several locations across the nation, and work was managed by many different departments for security reasons. Workers on the bomb only knew their relatively small area of expertise and had no idea that others were working on other elements of the bomb’s production. Many of those involved did not even realize what the project that they were working on actually was. Only a few top military and political personnel knew the overall project goals and its progress.

University physics departments were coopted by the government to provide research labs and technicians. While uranium nuclei were the primary fuel for the experiments, some of the universities and research facilities sought other methods for creating a nuclear superweapon that would end the war.

And, as the war progressed, the pressure on the program increased. The other side often seemed to have the advantage in the war, and the fear that they would win the nuclear race motivated the scientists and workers to work long hours. Fears of espionage and sabotage exacerbated the progress. Setbacks and funding also often hampered the work.

Finally, in 1942, a major turning point in the research and development of the bomb was reached. The science was clear, and it was time to make a decision. The findings were gathered by the leading physicists and announced to the government on June 4, 1942. The findings showed that…the nation was not that much closer to developing a bomb than they had been three years before. Oh, the capabilities were there, but the costs in terms of manpower, production, and materiel were prohibitive.

The decision was made to scrap the entire project. The scientists, laboratories, and workers all turned their attentions to developing conventional weapons rather than nuclear ones.

And that is why Nazi Germany never developed a nuclear weapon.

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