The World since the Little Boy and the Fat Man

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Atomic pin-up girl at Nevada Nuclear Test Site

The Nuclear Dancer, an ‘atomic pin-up girl’ with a mushroom cloud during the Upshot-Knothole Dixie atomic bomb test-firing, photo dated 6 April 1953

The ‘Nuclear Dancer’ is a photo taken on 6 April 1953, and released by the National Nuclear Security Administration of the United States, depicting an ‘atomic pin-up girl’ with a stemless mushroom cloud during the test-firing of the nuclear bomb codenamed ‘Upshot-Knothole Dixie’ at the Nevada Test Site.

This test was the fourth of a series of bombs test-fired at the Nevada Test Site as part of a series of atomic weapons tests in which eleven bombs were test-exploded in 1953. The airdrop shot detonated at an altitude of 6,000 feet above the ground, the highest airburst bomb detonation till then, yielded 11 kilotons of heat and radiation energy.

During the final stages of World War II, a uranium 235 fission bomb, codenamed the ‘Little Boy’, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August 1945. It was the first nuclear bomb ever used as a weapon. The first aircraft to drop a nuclear bomb as a weapon of war was Enola Gay (a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber), named after Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of Colonel Paul Tibbets who piloted the bomber plane and nuked Hiroshima.

The Little Boy that devastated Hiroshima used up only 600 to 860 milligrams of uranium 235 (U-235) which was converted to radiation and heat energy, but it exploded producing between 16 and 18 kilotons of TNT (Trinitrotoluene) equivalent of energy. As per available estimates, the Little Boy evaporated (killed) 130,000 to 150,000 people, most of them instantly and some others from injury and radiation burns by the end of December 1945. Because of the carcinogenic nature of the radiation, chronic diseases including cancer, suffering and death continued even after December 1945, but the exact figures are unavailable.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the death toll of the bombing of Hiroshima by end of December 1945 “was probably over 100,000” and “the five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold.”

The devastation caused by the Little Boy was followed by the second bomb, a plutonium bomb codenamed the ‘Fat Man’, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, three days later, on 9 August 1945. It yielded the destructive power of about 21 kilotons of TNT, much more devastating than the ‘Little Boy’. Due to poor visibility caused by clouds, the bomb missed its detonation point, and hence the casualty was less than in Hiroshima, killing an estimated 39,000 people instantly and leaving about 25,000 people injured and affecting several thousands more with nuclear radiation.

As fate or destiny would have it, there were some double survivors (called nijū hibakusha in Japan) who survived both The Little Man and The Fat Man. For instance, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a businessman who visited Hiroshima, was only 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away from ground zero when the Little Boy detonated over the city. Yamaguchi suffered serious burns and spent the night in Hiroshima. He returned to his home city Nagasaki on August 8, a day before the Fat Man was dropped on the city. He was not killed but was exposed to radiation.

Later, the Japanese Government acknowledged Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the first officially recognized survivor of both the bombings. He died on 4 January 2010 at the age of 93, after battling for long with stomach cancer.

Now the legends of The Little Boy and The Fat Man seem to be old irrelevant stories in comparison to some of the most powerful nuclear weapons of the present times. For instance, the AN602 Hydrogen Bomb, nicknamed Tsar Bomba, is reportedly the most powerful nuclear bomb ever tested. Though originally designed to yield the energy of 100 megatons of TNT, before testing, the yield was decreased to 50 megatons to reduce nuclear fallout. It was tested on 30 October 1961 in Novaya Zemlya archipelago by the Soviet Union.

The Tsar Bomba’s yield of destructive power (at 50 megatons, or 50% of its designed capacity) is 1,400 times the combined power of The Little Boy and The Fat Man that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 10 times the total power of all the bombs and explosives used during World War II.

And that is the power of just one bomb. How many such bombs are stockpiled by all nuclear powers and what is their total yield of destructive energy? Possibly, we shall never know, excepting some published statistics that are not independently verified, and can never be verified.

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuked, there have been over 2000 reported nuclear weapons test detonations. As of 2011, according to the estimates of The Federation of American Scientists, the known stockpiles of nuclear weapons are more than 20,500 warheads and about 4,800 of them are kept ready for deployment at any time.

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