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U.S. Nuclear Pioneers Remember Test Blasts

This is of general interest ...

Sunday April 5 4:00 PM EDT 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - Ben Benjamin remembers it as a boiling
ball of fire that melted the desert. 

The 22 year-old U.S. Army sergeant assigned to photograph the world's
first atomic blast huddled six miles from ground zero and held up dark
pieces of glass that cut the light intensity by 100 times. 

"I remember saying, 'My God, it's beautiful'," Benjamin, now 75, said
of the June 16, 1945, explosion over the New Mexico desert. "It was
brighter than several suns and melted the desert sand leaving a coat
of glass." 

Benjamin, one of 20 "nuclear pioneers" honored this weekend at a New
Mexico public forum for their roles in ushering in the nuclear age,
said that he was proud of the work he did. 

"We thought we'd have a chance of shortening the war if we got it
finished in time -- and we did," he said. 

Tom Jones, 67, worked with the Atomic Energy Commission and was
responsible for responding to nuclear weapons accidents and training
others as response teams. 

"A lot of the early training was trial by fire," said Jones. "That was
during the time we were having a significant number of accidents so
people became very well-trained." 

Jones said there had been a number of accidents in the U.S. nuclear
program since the Second World War but that none came close to a
devastating explosion. 

"And luck never played any part of it. A lot of outstanding minds went
into producing, testing and designing these systems. It never would
have led to a nuclear detonation," he said. 

This weekend's public forum, sponsored by the Department of Energy
(DOE) and National Atomic Museum at Kirtland Air Force Base, coincides
with the release of thousands of previously classified government
films illustrating weapons production and testing at the end of the
Second World War and after. The pioneers being honored added a
personal touch to the dramatic history detailed in the films. 

"My role was to do my best to end the war," said Leon Smith, 77, who
was assigned to the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons in

Smith described himself as being very patriotic, "but I was and still
am against war." 

By a coin's toss, he lost the job of weaponeer on Enola Gay, the plane
which dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug
6, 1945. But he later served as weaponeer for test bombings at Bikini
Island in the Pacific. "My wife didn't know a thing about what I did
at the time," said Smith. "We never talked about our jobs and
information was highly departmentalized." 

For many of this weekend's honorees, this was the first time they had
spoken publicly about their top secret work. 

Among the documents unclassified over the last three years is a
three-part series of films depicting the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
The first two series were released in January 1996 and December 1997
and the third this weekend. 

The films show "the good the bad and the ugly" of the nuclear
industry, said Charles Demus, a federal classification officer based
at Kirtland and the man responsible for deciding to include footage as
part of their declassified documents. 

"The subject of nuclear weaponry raises a lot of emotions so I wanted
this project to provide information and education without judgment,"
said Demus, who still takes extreme precaution in deciding what people
will see. 

"We make sure the films are dipped in boiling water then scrubbed with
a nylon brush," he said of the review process. For example, all
detailed weapon designs or precise descriptions of blast strengths, or
yields, are edited out. 

The color and black-and-white films on display at the National Atomic
Museum here show images of huge mushroom clouds forming in the sky,
underground explosions where the ground expands and then implodes,
weapons inspections, "broken arrows," which are lost devices, and

Demus is coordinating a fourth series of films tentatively scheduled
for release June 10 in Nevada. "We're calling it the DOE film
festival," he said. 
Sandy Perle
Technical Director
ICN Dosimetry Division
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Office: (800) 548-5100 x2306 
Fax:    (714) 668-3149

Personal Website: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/1205
ICN Dosimetry Website: http://www.dosimetry.com

"The object of opening the mind, as of opening 
the mouth, is to close it again on something solid"
              - G. K. Chesterton -

The comments expressed are solely, absolutely and positively those of the author, and, NOT those of my employer