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Published on Jul 9, 2009
Courtesy National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office
0800012 - Operation Ivy, Parts 1 and 2 - 1952 - 1:02:30 - Pacific, Color, Sanitized -
"The island of Elugelab is missing!" President Eisenhower heard this short report on the Mike shot in Operation Ivy from Gordon Dean, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Mike was the first full-fledged hydrogen bomb to be tested. The island where the device was detonated was vaporized. The hole Mike left was big enough to accommodate several pentagon-size buildings and deep enough to hold the Empire State Building. Mike's yield was an incredible 10.4 megatons, signaling the expansion of the nuclear arsenal from fission to fusion, the same process that occurs in the Sun.
The detonation of the Mike device was the climax of an intense debate over what would be the nation's correct response to the startling news in 1949 that the Soviet Union had detonated a nuclear weapon. Many wanted the U.S. to develop the means to produce and field a large number of fission bombs of varying yields which could be used for tactical purposes. Others believed that the country should institute a crash program like the Manhattan Project to develop a Super weapon based on the idea of forcing together or fusing light atoms with a fissile device to produce enormous amounts of energy.
After a bitter fight among scientific, government and military officials, the President opted for a crash program to demonstrate the Super bomb, now called a hydrogen or thermonuclear weapon. Many designs were evaluated and rejected until the Mike proposal came along. This concept involved the cooling of hydrogen fuel to a liquid form, near absolute zero, and fusing the hydrogen nuclei into helium using the atomic bomb as a trigger.
The Mike device was a 22-foot-long, 5-foot-diameter cylinder housing canisters of liquid hydrogen fuel. These canisters were surrounded by the atomic trigger. The Mike shot occurred on October 31, 1952, and as scientists watched from 40 miles away as the mushroom cloud rose into the stratosphere, the second generation of nuclear weapons was born.
Mike was followed on November 15, 1952, by the King shot, the largest fission device ever tested. It was an implosion bomb, but with an advanced warhead that enabled it to produce 500 kilotons of power.