• U.S.

Science: Rumor Scotched

2 minute read

Rumors of bigger & better atomic bombs chilled the blood of the many who heard them. The new models, said rumor, would be one thousand, or one hundred thousand, times as powerful as the bomb used at Nagasaki. Exploded high in the stratosphere they would devastate whole states, exterminate whole nations.

Last fortnight, the frightening rumors crossed the Atlantic and chilled Professor Harold J. Laski, articulate British socialist (TIME, April 29). The U.S., cried Laski, possessed an atomic masterpiece so powerful that five of them could destroy the whole of the U.S. south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Laski’s wild statement was promptly and properly ridiculed in Washington by General Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project. But Groves did not say exactly how wrong the Professor had been, nor did he deny that a better bomb was cooking.

Last week Washington atomic insiders let a little information leak out. A really “super” bomb existed only in the minds and notebooks of atomic idealists. It was theoretically possible, but exceedingly difficult to construct. The best the bomb-fanciers could do for the present, they thought, would be to step up the destructive power of the Nagasaki-type (Model-T) bomb about one hundred times.

This would multiply the radius of blast (three miles for the Nagasaki bomb) by about the cube root of 100, or 4.6 times. An exercise in high school arithmetic proved that the new bomb would, under the best of circumstances, devastate something like 600 square miles. This was considerably less than twice the land area of New York City. Laski had been way out.

Rumor crept off, shaking its head and muttering.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com