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Since 1945, the U.S. nuclear weapons program has included 60,000 warheads of 71 different types for 116 separate weapons systems. Another 29 designs were canceled before they reached production. By the end of 1992, the U.S. had detonated more than 1,000 nuclear explosions on the surface of the earth, underground, underwater, in the atmosphere, and in space over and under the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and in several states in the continental U.S.
The cost of this program has been staggering: over $89 billion in development costs and $700 billion for delivery systems. These nuclear warheads were fabricated by a vast administrative and materials production complex that spans the west coast from Washington to California and which ranges east across the country to the District of Columbia and south to Florida. Many thousands of persons have been and are employed by this network.
In spite of the massive size and scope of this weapons development effort, its products and activities have remained largely out of the public consciousness. This has been even more true since the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 which sent U.S. nuclear testing and, until just recently, most protest underground. Secrecy about the American nuclear weapons program, while necessary up to a point, has brought many unpleasant side affects. War plans employing hundreds of nuclear bombs were drawn up by the Joint Chiefs of Staff soon after World War II at a time when the total U.S. nuclear stockpile did not contain more than a few dozen weapons. The JCS made their plans totally ignorant of the most closely-held secret in the country. Only recently, nearly 50 years later, has the Department of Energy begun to declassify and release stockpile sizes after 1948.
The country's readiness for war was hindered by nuclear secrecy: obtaining and reviewing secret and top secret clearances for employees, consultants and armed forces personnel has been a major bottleneck since the Manhattan Project of World War II. At one time soon after the end of World War II, Air Force Strategic Air Command aircrews were not cleared to even see the bombs they would be dropping, let alone service, handle, or arm them.
Aircraft manufacturers were given only the most general estimates of weights and volumes for the weapons their yet-to-be-built aircraft would carry. In his book, Ed Heinemann, retired chief designer for Douglas Aircraft, relates how in 1949 he was visited by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation after he speculated about an atomic bomb that was considerably smaller than the five foot diameter, fifteen foot long, 10,000 lb. weapon specified for carriage by the new A3D Skywarrior, then in design.
This obsession with nuclear secrecy has bred a gross public ignorance about the origins and effects of nuclear weapons, to the point that in 1979 a sizable part of the American public was fooled into believing that a multistage hydrogen bomb could be built solely from information in a 10-page long political magazine article. To other people, nuclear weapons are little more than an abstract concept and difficult to imagine as physical hardware.
The government has always gone to extreme lengths to maintain this monopoly of information. In 1950, copies of an issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN containing an article about the H-bomb by Dr. Hans Bethe were destroyed and printing plates smashed after the Atomic Energy Commission objected to a few words of text in the article. In 1967, the AEC attempted unsuccessfully to gain dominion over all privately-funded research into laser-driven fusion.
After the Department of Energy was created in 1977 and James Schlesinger was named its director, there were instances in three consecutive years when DOE suppressed or tried to suppress articles and papers by college students and a free-lance writer about hypothetical nuclear weapons designs. In these cases, the government asserted sole rights to public-domain information, even though most of it had been previously declassified and released by the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Administration, and DOE itself.
Ironically, concepts at issue in 1979 were unclassified in the Soviet Union, but remained classified here until late in 1980. Before the PROGRESSIVE case, one DOE spokesman boasted that inquisitive journalists always ceased their questioning when the cover of classification was invoked. Another major effect of secrecy has been the total absence of a comprehensive unclassified technical history of the U.S. postwar nuclear weapons program. A recent three-volume AEC history is a largely administrative account that was subjected to severe censorship about the postwar weapons program.
To fill this gap, I decided to write an unclassified technical history, in the style of many books about the famous wartime Manhattan Project. In 1971, I began serious research. Four years later, I had written a 100-page monograph that summed up most of what I had learned; a portion of it appeared in 1976 in REPLICA IN SCALE, a now-defunct Texas-based aeromodeling magazine. In 1981, I signed a contract with AEROFAX, Inc. in Dallas to produce a major work on the subject. The results were published in 1988 by Orion Books in New York as U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History. It was the only book of its type in the U.S. and quite possibly in the world.
Since 1988, I have been extending and updating the manuscript upon which the book was based. The results to date have included almost a four-fold expansion in text volume, and a near doubling of source photos. It became apparent by 1994 that new media would be required to not only hold this massive amount of information and images, but also to allow regular updates at a reasonable cost. Hence the use of a CD-ROM and microfiche for this service. The CD-ROM version includes all text and illustrations; the fiche includes text and tables only.
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