Saturday, 31 December 2011

Well Done, Sherlock! #235

The Well Done, Sherlock! award on this occasion goes unusually to joint recipients and is awarded posthumously to The British Government of October 1952, led by the inimitable Sir Winston Churchill, and William Penney, mathematician and general all-round boffin, who was responsible for the development of British nuclear technology after World War II. Britain's nuclear weapons programme had been instituted some years beforehand and 1952 brought the occasion of Britain's first atmospheric test of a nuclear bomb. Something the Government was particularly concerned about was the effect that a nuclear bomb might have if one were to be brought surreptitiously on a ship into the River Thames in central London, and detonated. So William Penney came up with the idea of setting one off on a navy frigate in the Monte Bello islands of Australia to see what happened. This became known as Operation Hurricane.
They used a 25 kiloton plutonium implosion device and guess what? The ship was vapourised and the blast left a crater on the sea bed 6 metres deep and 300 metres across and we learned that letting off a nuclear bomb in central London would, generally speaking, be rather damaging. Duh! Well Done, Sherlock!

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