After years of intense research and development the nuclear era physically started in New Mexico at a site just north of Alamogordo. Trinity was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945 at 05:29:21 MWT, as part of the Manhattan Project.
The code name “Trinity” was assigned by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, after a poem by John Donne, a phrase from Donne‘s Sonnet XIV (Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you). Not only was Oppenheimer a great American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, he had ethical concerns about the purpose of the work he was doing on the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer later remarked “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that one way or another.”
After the war Dr. Oppenheimer became a chief advisor to the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission and used that position to lobby for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and an arms race with the Soviet Union. He was later stripped of his secrete clearance because his wife and brother were admitted Communist and he was a sympathizer. That was a bad combination back in the late 40’s and early 50’s. There was a tremendous distrust of the Communist that eventually led to the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear bomb testing. The Manhattan Project brought together some of the greatest minds of that time to develop the principle of atomic energy and another one of those physicist was Albert Weinberg.
Weinberg, like Oppenheimer, also understood both the destructive possibilities of nuclear energy as well as the constructive potential of nuclear energy for all mankind. Weinberg designed both the Light Water Reactor (LWR) for the US Navy Fleet and the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) for public commercial use to generate electricity. It was very ironic that both of these men were stripped of their greatness by the political ambitions of their Government. Weinberg also used his position as the Director of Oak Ridge National Labs to get the Government to take the safer and less wasteful path to commercial nuclear energy with Molten Salt Reactors and was eventually fired because of it. I personally believe that was a tragedy but it is not the only major mistake our Government has ever made.
The Trinity test site is now part of the White Sands Missile Range. It was declared a National Historic Landmark district in 1965, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year. More than seventy years after the test, residual radiation at the site is about ten times higher than normal background radiation in the area. The amount of radioactive exposure received during a one-hour visit to the site is about half of the total radiation exposure which a U.S. adult receives on an average day from natural and medical sources.
Special tours of the site were conducted on April 4, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Trinity test. Thousands of visitors arrived to commemorate the occasion. There are always large crowds for the annual open house on the first Saturday in April. The site is still a popular destination for those interested in atomic tourism, though it is only open to the public twice a year.