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Aw, yeah. Well known in the nuclear engineering world. Playing with fire. And this wasn't the only time such an accident occurred. There was another one at Hanford. BZZZZT! Blue flash of light. Oops.

Playing with plutonium is not like playing with uranium. You need a lot more uranium to get critical so it's inherently less sensitive to human mistakes and fumbles. A plutonium pit is so small that human errors are easier to make.

Twice? How stupid can a nuclear physicist get?

Friends: "C'mon, you can do it - just go in there and do it, What are ya, chicken?

Good thing it did not take a few square miles down.

Yeah, that would have been bad, since a lot of smart people were nearby. But a naked plutonium pit, while you can make it go supercritical by hand, it won't "detonate" like in a bomb. You won't get an explosion. You'll only get "fizzles". To get the instantaneous detonation of a bomb, you need the compression from the explosives surrounding the pit, which aren't even present, much less detonated correctly.

The plutonium pit bomb design is actually quite excellent. (If you're intent on building bombs. The wisdom of building these things is another discussion. Lol.) It's inherently safe.

In other words, if I gave you a plutonium pit, there's no way you could make it go off like a bomb without doing lots of precision engineering of chemical explosives and setting off those explosives in a precise way. So, that's a good thing about this design that we universally use in every bomb we have.

Lol. Engineers think differently and have two contexts: real life, and engineering. The real life side of me would prefer that these things didn't exist at all. The engineering side of me think's it's fascinating and cool.

Wow, a ball of plutonium! And the things it can do! :-)

I hate to think about the poor suckers who put this thing together...

Yeah, radiation sickness is not worth it.

Let me expound a bit more, I was being dismissive. The really cool thing about the ball of plutonium is all the theory and science and technology behind it, all of this focused in the creation of a precise and powerful object, an object more like a symbol than a thing- a work of art.

Much like ICBMS, with those incredible engines - the focused power of a controlled explosion, an immense exothermic experiment in action. And the ballistics, with a beautiful arc traversing half the globe at high altitude and arriving with such precision at a precalculated location. With its plutonium payload. Surely a work of art. You have to love this achievement to attain it. This is the hand of Dr. Strangelove.

Okay, then I misunderstood. I'm of two minds on this stuff. Back in the 1980s I had a giant poster on my office wall, and it was interesting to find out who saw it as I did, and who didn't. I appreciate the art and beauty in it, and the technology, and separate that from the purpose of the device, which is to kill millions of people. (Although, one can make the argument that, thus far, weapons like that have not killed anyone. They're served to prevent us from using them.)

Some people were shocked and thought it horrible that I had it on my wall. I would say, what if this was not a weapon. What if this was a device we use to mine for valuable materials on lifeless planets? It usually didn't work.

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Not to be biased, in the computer science field we have incredible intellects devoted to creating machines that can out-think a human, not just in one sphere, but in any sphere. Amazing creation - almost godlike, with the results beyond comprehension. To be part of that...

And in business, with the cell phone, we can see something similar: a product, so cool, so well designed - the aesthetics! And the Marketing! The manipulation of minds, changing of behavior - the changing of culture even such that our entire society wants this.

And we make so much money, money not only through the sale, but through the product's use. The money-making potential, the incorporation (or invasion) into people’s lives is almost limitless. This is not a career it is indeed a high calling.

The High Art of pure destruction...

Horrible as all Hell.

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A picture of the result of an early criticality experiment. A mechanical frame holds two enriched uranium hemispheres, and can be remotely controlled to bring them together. In the picture, you can see that the frame is bent as a result of slightly more criticality than planned -- all those neutrons flying around actually have some mass, and carry some momentum. And they tend to push the critical mass apart.

.. and because the neutrons are propelled by nuclear forces, they are capable of overpowering the puny electronic bonds which hold ordinary matter together. By five or six orders of magnitude, regardless of what kind of matter. The hardest steel is weaker than jello by comparison.