Popular Science

August 9, 2012

Video: The Trucker Who Reverse-Engineered An Atomic Bomb In His Spare Time

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PopSci is pleased to present videos created by Motherboard, Vice Media’s guide to future culture. Motherboard’s original videos that run the gamut from in-depth, investigative reports to profiles of the offbeat forward-thinking characters who are sculpting our bizarre present.

The atomic bomb changed everything. It just did. It’s all but impossible to point to a suitable contemporary analogue to the events of August, 1945, when the United States military dropped two atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killed tens of thousands of people, irradiated vast swaths of land, and reduced entire cities to rubble, all in about the time it takes to post a status update on Facebook.

Little else compares to that; an unprecedented scientific achievement harnessed to become what remains the most feared weapon in the world. And we all deal with the fact that those bombs went off (and that they might again, someday) in different ways. Some protest nuclear power. Some lobby for non-proliferation treaties. John Coster-Muller reverse-engineered the bombs in his spare time and produced the most accurate replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy ever built. A truck driver with scant college education, Coster-Muller spent ten years studying schematics, interviewing scientists, and poring over every shred of available information on the bombs. Then, meticulously, he recreated the bomb.

After laying relatively dormant for a brief period, all things nuke are once again fully entrenched in the zeitgeist—Fukushima has reignited the debate about the merits and dangers of nuclear energy, and mounting tensions with Iran have brought back grim visions of the bomb. Coster-Muller’s story is more relevant than ever; it’s both a reflection of our ongoing infatuation with the weapon, and a reminder that the technology is still very much alive, and open to tinkering, even hacking.

“The secret of the atomic bomb,” he says, “is how easy they are to make.”

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