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Monday, August 20, 2012

The First Post-Hiroshima Nuclear Death in America

The Hiroshima bomb killed or fatally damaged several American POWs on August 6, 1945, as I have observed here previously.  But the first American to die after this cataclysm was a nuclear scientist back in the U.S. named Harry Daghlian.  Sixty-years ago tomorrow he was involved in a nuclear experiment at Los Alamos that went awry, and died one month later.  Here's my piece about it a few months back, which mentions a new book of poetry inspired by the episode.  [UPDATE: I've added clip below from the Roland Joffe film Fat Man and Little Boy showing a version of the accident, starring John Cusack.]

On September 21, 1945, the New York Times published a brief item headlined “Atomic Bomb Worker Died From Burns.” Officials at Los Alamos, revealed that six days earlier a “worker” had died “from burns in an industrial accident.”  Daghlian, age 24, identified only as an instructor at Purdue University who had joined the bomb project in November 1943.

That was it. There was no information about the nature of the “industrial accident,” when it had occurred, or why the fatality was being reported five days after the fact. This wire service report would be the only mention of the incident in the American media. Only years later would details of the accident emerge. Daghlian was, in fact, no mere industrial “worker” but a scientist intimately involved with the bomb project. He had even helped assemble the core of the Trinity bomb. (For more, see my recent book Atomic Cover-up.)

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