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Could the British have developed atomic weapons on their own?

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  • Could the British have developed atomic weapons on their own?

    The threads on no U.S. involvement in ww2 have made me think about a potential British only nuclear bomb.

    I know there was a programme predating the Manhatten project but could it have resulted in a working deliverable weapon without US assistance and before the Germans developed one?
    "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."

  • #2
    Britain probably could have managed to build one before the Germans, especially after the latter largely abandoned that project following the raid on the Norsk hydro-plant. I remember reading somewhere that one postwar US estimate put Germany at about ~9 years away from a bomb.

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    • #3
      Most likely, yes. But, it would have taken them decades to build the infrastructure to produce it. Until the plutonium route was known and an implosion bomb designed it likely would have been impossible on cost alone.

      Germany is worse off really. Their physics program was decimated by the Nazis and those remaining had made serious errors in calculations. The "Hegelkorn" reactor using heavy water probably wouldn't have worked as designed. The "necklaces" of uranium blocks with their random geometry likely would have produced a very odd set of local fission events and hot spots rather than a controlled and uniform reaction, if it worked at all.
      I'd say the Germans were 20 years out from a bomb.

      The British, of course, could also rely on US data and the large number of top physicists that escaped Germany and Italy for additional help in the theoretical part of developing a bomb, something the Germans couldn't rely on.

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      • #4
        There is no question that the UK could have developed a nuke. The question would be when and for what, where and when could it have been tested and other questions.
        "Ask not what your country can do for you"

        Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

        you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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        • #5
          In my view yes, but they would have required great help from Canada - facilities, money, people and cheap energy.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by lakechampainer View Post
            In my view yes, but they would have required great help from Canada - facilities, money, people and cheap energy.
            Just how many of those four did Canada really have? Facilities would have to been built from scratch. Money? From where? Most of what they had was already being spent on war production and the people were in uniform or working in defence plant etc. Energy is the only realistic thing they had and the great white as a place to try out a nuke weapon. Still the Uk could stillnhave developed a bomb. The question remain when an for what purpose?
            "Ask not what your country can do for you"

            Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

            you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

            Comment


            • #7
              Yes

              Historically, McGill University of Montreal, and the University of Cambridge had very close ties, Ernest Rutherford had accepted a post in charge of McGill's Physics Dept. (Macdonald Professor of Physics) around 1900. He later returned to the UK and held posts at Cambridge, the schools were quite "chummy".

              In WWII, a large chunk of the Cambridge Physics Dept. moved en masse to McGill to continue their nuclear research with Canadian Scientists, and field experiments i.e. radioactive isotope extraction at Chalk River, on the Ottawa River well above Ottawa. Development moved to the US but uranium was available in Canada (Elliot Lake Ont.), as was heavy water (Chalk River Ont.) As it was, even with Manhattan, fission product analysis was conducted at National Research Council's (NRC) Montreal Laboratory, which was the precursor to Chalk River Laboratories and AECL.

              In 1945 the Cambridge/McGill group conducted the first controlled nuclear chain reaction outside the US. Even without the US and Manhattan, between them Britain and Canada, with a very much streamlined program inclusive of British input towards Manhattan, could theoretically have developed a nuclear device within a WWII framework; funding sources, available to Canada early in the war but not touched, could have been applied. Even if some feel that's too broad a statement, it's more than fair to say that they were certainly much further along than any German attempt was.

              Originally posted by Surrey View Post
              The threads on no U.S. involvement in ww2 have made me think about a potential British only nuclear bomb.

              I know there was a programme predating the Manhatten project but could it have resulted in a working deliverable weapon without US assistance and before the Germans developed one?
              Last edited by Marmat; 18 May 15, 21:30.
              "I am Groot"
              - Groot

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              • #8
                Originally posted by lakechampainer View Post
                In my view yes, but they would have required great help from Canada - facilities, money, people and cheap energy.
                Not forgeting Australia: the Woomera/Maralinga test areas and vast amounts of uranium.
                "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                Samuel Johnson.

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                • #9
                  Yes, but where would they have tested it? Australia?
                  My worst jump story:
                  My 13th jump was on the 13th day of the month, aircraft number 013.
                  As recorded on my DA Form 1307 Individual Jump Log.
                  No lie.

                  ~
                  "Everything looks all right. Have a good jump, eh."
                  -2 Commando Jumpmaster

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                  • #10
                    Tube Alloys was the Brit code name for their project.

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_Alloys
                    Credo quia absurdum.


                    Quantum mechanics describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And yet it fully agrees with experiment. So I hope you can accept nature as She is - absurd! - Richard Feynman

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by 101combatvet View Post
                      Yes, but where would they have tested it? Australia?
                      Yes they actually did so, in fact, from 1952 onwards.
                      "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                      Samuel Johnson.

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                      • #12
                        I don't believe they could have by themselves during WWII. OTOH, the U.S. did not accomplish the task by ourselves, without the aide of Canada, and scientists from around the world who knows how long it would have taken the U.S.?
                        Dispite our best intentions, the system is dysfunctional that intelligence failure is guaranteed.
                        Russ Travers, CIA analyst, 2001

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                          I don't believe they could have by themselves during WWII. OTOH, the U.S. did not accomplish the task by ourselves, without the aide of Canada, and scientists from around the world who knows how long it would have taken the U.S.?
                          The Theory was done early.

                          The Engineering was the real bottleneck, and once reactor plutonium was made, then had come up with implosion, since the original Thin Man wouldn't work.

                          I think Little Boy would still be close to OTL for readiness before Japan would be invaded

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by BELGRAVE View Post
                            Yes they actually did so, in fact, from 1952 onwards.
                            Dammit! I knew that island was good for something. Uhhh... sorry.
                            My worst jump story:
                            My 13th jump was on the 13th day of the month, aircraft number 013.
                            As recorded on my DA Form 1307 Individual Jump Log.
                            No lie.

                            ~
                            "Everything looks all right. Have a good jump, eh."
                            -2 Commando Jumpmaster

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Marathag View Post
                              The Theory was done early.

                              The Engineering was the real bottleneck, and once reactor plutonium was made, then had come up with implosion, since the original Thin Man wouldn't work.

                              I think Little Boy would still be close to OTL for readiness before Japan would be invaded
                              My point is that the Manhattan Project was a joint U.S., Canadian and British project. We, the U.S. did not do it alone.
                              Dispite our best intentions, the system is dysfunctional that intelligence failure is guaranteed.
                              Russ Travers, CIA analyst, 2001

                              Comment

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