Comparison of Radiation Safety and Nuclear Explosive Safety Disciplines


J. L. Winstanley


In August, 1945, U.S. Navy Captain William Parsons served as the weaponeer aboard the Enola Gay for the mission to Hiroshima. In view of the fact that four B-29s had crashed and burned on takeoff from Tinian the night before, Captain Parsons made the decision to arm the gun-type weapon after takeoff for safety reasons (15 kilotons of TNT equivalent). Although he had no control over the success of the takeoff, he could prevent the possibility of a nuclear detonation on Tinian by controlling what we now call the nuclear explosive. As head of the Ordnance Division of Los Alamos and a former gunnery officer, Captain Parsons clearly understood the role of safety in his work. The advent of the pre-assembled implosion weapon where the high explosive and nuclear materials are always in an intimate configuration meant that nuclear explosive safety became a reality at a certain point in development and production not just at the time of delivery by the military. This is the only industry where nuclear materials are intentionally put in contact with high explosives. The agency of the U.S. Government responsible for development and production of U.S. nuclear weapons is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) (and its predecessor agencies). This paper will be limited to nuclear explosive safety as it is currently practiced within the DOE nuclear weapons complex.


This abstract was presented at the 32nd Annual Midyear Meeting, "Creation and Future Legacy of Stockpile Stewardship Isotope Production, Applications, and Consumption", Stockpile Stewardship - History, Management, and Safety of Materials Session, 1/24/1999 - 1/27/1999, held in Albuquerque, NM.

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