, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 443–465 | Cite as

Contingencies of the early nuclear arms race

Michael Gordin: Red cloud at dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the end of the atomic monopoly. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, 416pp, US$28 HB
  • S. S. SchweberEmail author
  • Alex Wellerstein
  • Ethan Pollock
  • Barton J. Bernstein
  • Michael D. Gordin
Book Symposium

S. S. Schweber and Alex Wellerstein

On July 16, 1945, the United States detonated a plutonium-core nuclear weapon in the desert of New Mexico. The test—“Trinity”—was secret, but the Soviet Union was well informed of it through espionage. In August 1945, the United States exploded two nuclear weapons above cities in Japan.

On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union detonated a plutonium-core nuclear weapon on the steppes of Kazakhstan. The test was secret. Five days later (on September 3), an American B-29 weather plane, on its daily flight between Japan and Alaska to expose radioactive-sensitive filter papers to the air, recorded higher-than-usual levels of radioactivity. This in turn triggered additional probes. By September 19, a group of top-level nuclear scientists had concluded that the detected particles were undoubtedly the traces of an atomic bomb explosion, later dubbed “Joe-1”. On September 23, the news of the Soviet test was announced by President Truman.

Two detonations, two...

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. S. Schweber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alex Wellerstein
    • 1
  • Ethan Pollock
    • 2
  • Barton J. Bernstein
    • 3
  • Michael D. Gordin
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of the History of ScienceHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of History, Box NBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.History Department, Building 200Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.History Department, 305 Dickinson HallPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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