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Winston Churchills Bomb - Graham Farmelo - £200m (£7bn) for Britain's first atom bomb

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Published on Mar 11, 2016

Retired Particle Physicist & author of Churchill's Bomb, Graham Farmelo joins us to discuss the British origins of atomic weapons with Winston Churchill writing about the nuclear age in the 1930s also German Otto Frisch and Dane Rudolf Peierls producing the first ever design in 1940 for an atom bomb design at Nuffield, University of Birmingham. Later in the war the technology was transferred to the US under the August 1943 Quebec Agreement. After the war in the late 1940s and early 1950s Churchill got together with Sir John Cockroft, Christopher Hinton and William Penney to develop the British atom bomb. They used Tube Alloys as a cover and were based at Fort Halstead near Sevenoaks, Kent under the North Downs. But where did Churchill and Tube Alloys get the £200m (£7bn in 2016 money) to build the bomb from because it didn't come from Parliament? The Manhattan Project was also built from a mystery 'black budget' in the United States.
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Churchill’s Bomb
A HIDDEN STORY OF SCIENCE, POLITICS AND WAR

Winston Churchill was a nuclear visionary, repeatedly warning before World War II that the nuclear age was imminent. Early in WWII, physicists in Britain showed that the Bomb could almost certainly be built. Prime Minister Churchill paid only fitful interest in the speculative weapon and the initiative soon passed to the US, which had the vast resources needed to realise the venture. British scientists played only a minor role in it. Churchill dismissed warnings from the Danish physicist Niels Bohr that Anglo-American nuclear policy would lead to an arms race. After the war, the US government declined to honour a personal agreement between Franklin Roosevelt and Churchill to share their countries’ nuclear research. After Churchill returned to power in 1951, during the Cold War, he became the first British leader to have nuclear weapons, and also commissioned the H-bomb. Appalled by the prospect of thermonuclear war, he ended his political career as pioneer of détente.

Eight themes of Churchill's Bomb
1. ‘A SCIENTIST WHO MISSED HIS VOCATION’
Churchill was interested in basic science – in 1926, he was captivated by atomic physics and chaired a talk seven years later on the epoch-making nuclear discoveries made at Ernest Rutherford’s Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.

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Chartwell, Churchill’’s country seat
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Frederick Lindemann (left) with physicist Erwin Schrödinger (right) in Oxford, 1933
‘All the qualities … of the scientist are manifest in him. The readiness to face realities, even though they contradict a favourite hypothesis; the recognition that theories are made to fit facts, not facts to fit the theories; the interest in phenomena and the desire to explore them, and above all the underlying conviction that the world is not just a jumble of events but that there must be some higher unity.’
Lindemann talking about Winston Churchill, 15 March 1933

2. NUCLEAR VISIONARY
As a journalist in the 1920s and 1930s, Churchill wrote several widely-read articles speculating on the possibility of nuclear weapons and the prospect of nuclear power.

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Churchill article in the ‘News of the World’, 7 November 1937
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Churchill’’s article ‘Fifty Years Hence published in The Strand Magazine, December 1931

‘There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight … The scientists are looking for this.’ Churchill on nuclear energy (1931)’
Churchill on nuclear energy (1931)

3. BRITISH FIRST TO SEE HOW TO MAKE THE BOMB
Shortly before Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, two ‘enemy aliens’ at Birmingham University – Otto Frisch and Rudi Peierls – the first understood how to make a nuclear weapon. British physicists developed their ideas, which were later fully realized in the Manhattan Project.

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