This Day in History: September 23rd

This Day In History: September 23, 1949

tsar-bombaDuring a deliberately calm and measured statement to the American people, President Harry S. Truman announced that the Soviets had successfully exploded a nuclear device. They managed to accomplish this much earlier than U.S. officials had estimated, which caused ripples of panic to spread through the government.

By the time two bombs were dropped on Japan in August of 1945, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union was already showing signs of strain. Many high ranking U.S. officials, including President Truman, believed an American monopoly on nuclear weaponry was vital for any future relations with the Soviets.

The majority of American government officials, and even most U.S. scientists, were convinced it would be many more years before the Soviets would possess the capability to develop a nuclear bomb, and by that time the U.S. would have achieved a significant numerical upper hand.

However, on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union secretly tested their RDS-1 nuclear bomb, which was remarkably similar in design to the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb designed by scientists in the United States. And, indeed, there was significant Soviet espionage during the Manhattan project, which helped speed up the Soviet’s timetable on their atomic bomb program.

While the Soviets conducted this first test in secret, seismic activity from the Soviet Union was recorded by U.S. scientists that could only be the result of an underground nuclear test.

President Truman was skeptical at first, and ordered the data be rechecked. Once the results had been proven without a doubt, the President had to face the reality that any chance of an American nuclear monopoly was gone.

He also had to face the daunting task of informing the American people without creating a panic, as the news was sure to leak before long. On September 23, he released a brief statement.

I believe the American people to the fullest extent consistent with the national security are entitled to be informed of all developments in the field of atomic energy. That is my reason for making public the following information.

We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U. S. S. R.

Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected.

This probability has always been taken into account by us.

The next day, the Soviets exploded their second device, RDS-2, which was a 38.3 kiloton nuke.

Needless to say, a report was shortly presented to President Truman in early 1950 calling for such measures as huge increases in military spending and massively accelerating the hydrogen bomb development program. The Cold War from that point on really began to heat up.

If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • Even a nuclear war won’t get you out of paying your taxes or keep the Internal Revenue Service from coming after you. Since the 1960s, the U.S. Treasury Department has had an Internal Revenue Manual guiding IRS employees on how to function in the event of wars, natural disasters, pandemic influenza, terrorist attacks and yes, nuclear explosions. According to the manual, the agency would expect to resume assessing and collecting taxes within 30 days of the attack/emergency.  Several proposals of guidelines are in place, depending on the situation, that include cash grants to survivors, the government paying off outstanding bank loans and mortgages, the government buying assets destroyed in the attack and abandoning the existing tax policies for new ones that will fund the rebuilding process.
  • Each second about four million metric tons of matter is converted to energy within the Sun’s core.  This gives the Sun a lifetime as a main sequence star of about 10 billion years with about 5 billion years to go.
  • Amazingly, if we were actually able to convert matter perfectly to energy with 1 kg of matter being completely annihilated, the energy produced from just that small amount of matter is about 42.95 mega tons of TNT.  So an adult male weighing in at around 200 pounds has somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 megatons of TNT potential in their matter if completely annihilated.
  • This is about 80 times more energy than was produced by the largest ever detonated nuclear bomb, the Tzar Bomba, which itself produced a blast about 1,400 times more powerful than the combined explosions of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • To further illustrate, 1 megaton of TNT, when converted to kilowatt hours, makes enough electricity to power an average American home for about 100,000 years.  It is also enough to power the entire United States for a little over 3 days.  So 1 kg of some matter being completely annihilated would be able to power the entire United States for about four months.  One average adult male then, when completely annihilated, would produce enough energy to power the U.S. for about 30 years.  Energy crisis solved. ;-)
  • On a completely baffling scale, a typical supernova explosion will give off about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 megatons of TNT. *cowers in the corner*
  • If you could look at the Sun outside of our atmosphere (without blinding yourself), you’d see that the Sun actually is white, not yellow, despite being classified as a yellow dwarf.  Read more about this here: The Sun is White, Not Yellow
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