On this day, 68 years ago, 12 men led by Colonel Paul Tibbets, in an
aircraft named after his mother 'Enola Gay', carried out the first nuclear
strike in history. Thankfully, the subsequent one three days later, has so
far remained the last.
The weapons effectiveness (in terms of yield, i.e. blast) was pretty
minimal compared to some of the behemoths developed later, during the Cold
War: the equivalent of 16,000 tons of TNT.
Nevertheless, the area destroyed in Hiroshima was around 1 mile in radius
(about 3.2 square miles, the size of Portishead or twice the size of
Nailsea). 70,000 – 80,000 people died in the blast and within a day of
acute radiation poisoning, 20,000 of them servicemen (Hiroshima was an
It is sobering to consider that during the height of the Cold War, weapons
with a yield of 100 megatons and even larger, were considered. These would
have produced yields 8000 times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb. This would
have produced a blast nearly 90 miles in radius. Total destruction. Dropped
over Birmingham, this blast would totally destroy Bristol, cause fires in
Weymouth, and break windows and strip roofs in Cherbourg. This is almost
incomprehensible, I know, but there's probably the key.
But then, you start to think. Nobody ever wins a war until their soldiers
are holding enemy soil. Even then, you're never sure (are you, Herr
Hitler?). And the radiation rising from such stupendous explosions just
goes up in the atmosphere, and comes back to bite YOU. In fact radioactive
material from any nuclear explosion is spread around the world, and
certainly in the West and the Soviet Union, this was thought of as
something of a disadvantage of large-yield nuclear weapons.
I worked this out all by myself during the Cold War, and although
V-bombers were on the runways fully nuked up during the 6-day War in 1967,
and after the Russian shooting down of an off-course airliner in 1984, I
slept at night. And here we are, worried about Al-Quaeda.
We are a worried species. If we aren't worried about nuclear Armageddon,
we pick on the next potential disaster – climate change, ecological
meltdown, alien invasion... Relax. It's been a 2 million year wild ride
since Olduvai Gorge, but we're still here.
And as for 6th August? I prefer to remember the Rev John Skinner
discovering the Roman settlement of Charterhouse on Mendip on this day in