- - Sunday, August 16, 2015


As World War II began, the United States knew Japanese intellectuals included accomplished physicists such as Yoshio Nishina. They knew he was a staunch Imperial nationalist and capable leader; so capable two of his students later won Nobel prizes.

If Japanese atomic research was as advanced as we suspected, here was a compelling reason to avoid invasion and drop the bomb. A kamikaze plane or submarine could detonate a bomb in the fleet, or devices could reside beneath peasants’ huts to devastate the buildup of forces in southern Honshu or the Tokyo Plain.

The next American insight into Japan’s progress came in May 1945 as Germany surrendered. Adm. Doenitz ordered all submarines to proceed to Allied ports. In Portsmouth the Navy discovered U-234’s cargo contained 560 kilos of uranium oxide destined for Japan.

However, throughout the war America found Japan largely impenetrable except when it came to cryptographic intelligence. As expected by U.S. analysts, Nishina received substantial budgets for atomic research. Progress for uranium extraction and enrichment proceeded in Japan until B-29s attacked the Home Islands. Then work was concentrated at the huge nuclear facility in Hungnam, North Korea. One day after the Nagasaki bomb, Japan exploded an experimental nuclear device off the coast of Hungnam.


Eugene, Ore.

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