you and i in a little toy shop

Currently reading McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy, a dated mid-'70s look at the first 30 or so years of nuclear energy and nuclear weaponry, during my lunch breaks. While if I were really THAT intent on learning about atomics, perhaps something more recent would be a better place to start, I choose this book because it's John McPhee, and as I've probably noted before in these pages, I'm in awe of this guy's writing. It pains me a little that he was a visiting professor in my department at Pitt (the department I was in as an undergrad, not the interlibrary loan department) only a couple years before I came here.

Regardless, what's thrilled me thus far in the book is mostly one particular passage, a quick mention of an incident during the Manhattan Project of which I had never heard any mention.

During World War II, the Japanese sent fire balloons over the Pacific and into the U.S. (and occasionally they hit Canada instead). The balloons would float over, drop to the ground and ostensibly explode on contact (though many apparently didn't explode, or exploded later). This happened quite a number of times, but the press her kept mum on it because the government didn't want the Japanese know that the balloons were working (fair enough -- it sounds like a plot out of the A-Team or something, I wouldn't think it was actually working if I was the one trying it).

One of the balloons, though, came down on the power lines at the Hanford Site of the Manhattan Project, where they were fissioning Uranium and creating Plutonium-239, and shorted out the power. It only lasted for a short time, since there were of course backup power systems in place, but for a moment, a balloon from Japan shut down a main, important component of the U.S. nuclear program.

Sort of makes you think that maybe the generals were right, and Nena was wrong, eh?