Memorandum, 1940

Strictly Confidential

The attached detailed report concerns the possibility of constructing a “super-bomb” which utilises the energy stored in atomic nuclei as a source of energy. The energy liberated in the explosion of such a super-bomb is about the same as that produced by the explosion of 1,000 tons of dynamite. This energy is liberated in a small volume, in which it will, for an instant, produce a temperature comparable to that in the interior of the sun. The blast from such an explosion would destroy life in a wide area. The size of this area is difficult to estimate, but it will probably cover the center of a big city. In addition, some part of the energy set free by the bomb goes to produce radioactive substances, and these will emit very powerful and dangerous radiations. The effects of these radiations is greatest immediately after the explosion, but it decays only gradually and even for days after the explosion any person entering the affected area will be killed. Some of this radioactivity will be carried along with the wind and will spread the contamination; several miles downwind this may kill people.”

… “In these estimates, the lethal dose of penetrating radiation was assumed to be 1,000 roentgens; consultation of a medical specialist on X-ray treatment and perhaps further biological research may enable one to fix the danger limit more accurately. The main source of uncertainty is our lack of knowledge as to the behavior of materials in such a super-explosion, and an expert on high explosives may be able to clarify some of these problems. Effective protection is hardly possible. Houses would offer protection only at the margins of the danger zone. Deep cellars or tunnels may be comparatively safe from the effects of radiation, provided air can be supplied from an uncontaminated area (some of the active substances would be noble gases which are not stopped by ordinary filters)

The irradiation is not felt until hours later when it may be too late. Therefore it would be very important to have an organization which determines the exact extent of the danger area, by means of ionization measurements, so that people can be warned from entering it. »

Otto Frisch, Rudolf Peierls, Memorandum, 1940