JF Ptak Science Books Post 2405
'Russia reveals Cobalt Bomb; total World Destruction Ahead", ending of Philip K. Dick's "Exhibit Piece", 1952
I never really thought that much about what Dr. Strangelove was fiddling with to calculate the "half life of cobalt thorium-G" in Stanley Kubrick's mega-dystopian steam-nuke 1962 film, Dr. Strangelove. (We've looked at this film a number of times on this blog--just search the title in the Google search box to see the others.) So I went to some clips online and found a still showing him putting away his circular slide, which turns out to be the 1962 version of the "Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer" that was published and issued along with Sam Glasstone's The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (published by the Department of the Army as No 39-3, one edition n a continuing series.
My calculator is actually from the 1964 edition of the work--there seems to be no difference from computer to computer, but there are differences in the text of the book, one of which relates directly to Dr. Strangelove. There is a very brief, barely-two-page section called "Radiological Warfare" in the chapter dealing with radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons. there is nothing overtly technical in it, though the writers seem not to like the idea, given the inherent difficulties in producing and storing such advanced gamma radiation weapons, saying too the the use of such beasts would be either "impossible of very hazardous". The author also makes the point that the high fission energy yields of the new bombs, which make them "in effect, weapons of radiological warfare".1
Here's the reverse of the computer, rendered in black and white:
So, that's it. Dr. Strangelove though wasn't the first to discus a cobalt-laced dirty dirty dirty bomb, with the idea managing to surface several times in the '50's (as with the PKD example, above, and Fritz Lieber's Moon is Green, 1952, where there are cobalt bombs galore, then things happen, and then everything goes badly). The ideas of total destruction+total destruction=total destruction seems to have originated with Leo Szillard in a radio broadcast from the University of Chicago in February 1950 with the introduction of the cobalt-based bomb, which produces a far more intense radiation than U-238. Szillard presented his case as a what-we-will-soon-be-capable-of argument, putting not the destruction of entire cities into question, but the entire planet.
This is about the final minute of the movie, when Dr. Strangelove finds himself rising and walking by a secret Fuhrer-based miracle, his little computer still in his hand. And then seconds later the really bad stuff happens.