Rushville Republican


May 16, 2007

The Day the Sun Rose Twice

Don Miller story, Part III

(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories detailing Rush County resident Don Miller’s involvement in the development of the atomic bomb.)

Don Miller headed for work every day at the research lab at Los Alamos, N.M. and spent his days testing spark plugs; it was months before he learned why.

“I went to work one day and finally figured out that we were building a nuclear bomb,” Miller said. “But that’s about all I knew about it.”

It was 1944 and the war was getting worse.

“We were just about to lose it,” Miller said. “We went into Okinawa, supposed to take the city in one day and it took 30 days. We knew then that the U.S. could never invade Japan.”

According to Miller, it was then that the chemists at Oak Ridge concurred that the time had come to end the war, and they did a tremendous thing--introduced a new element to the mix.

It was discovered that nuclear reactors produced a new, artificial element that fissioned even more readily than uranium: plutonium. In theory, an even more devastating weapon could be constructed from its isotope Pu-239, but plutonium was difficult and dangerous to handle and a plutonium bomb would require even more sophisticated engineering. Researchers realized that conducting further experiments and production in populated areas entailed serious physical as well as security risks, so the remote location in Los Alamos was selected to continue the process of developing “the bomb.”

In the spring of 1945 President Roosevelt died, and Los Alamos almost died with him. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein went to Washington D.C. to speak with his successor, Harry Truman.

“He was smart, but didn’t know what was going on,” Miller recalled. “The three scientists briefed him on the bomb race. They said ‘Mr. President, we have one more uranium bomb that we could detonate tomorrow. We have a possibility of building plutonium bombs if you give us a little time. Oak Ridge at this point had acquired enough plutonium to build more than three bombs. What do you want us to do?’ Truman thought about it and said, ‘Oh hell, drop the damn thing.”

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