Operation Hurricane

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For the Allied air forces' show of force over Germany during World War II, see Operation Hurricane (1944). For the Canadian Forces maintenance mission in the Arctic, see Operation Hurricane (Canada).
Op hurricane.jpg
Hurricane exploded in the hold of a frigate
Country United Kingdom
Test site Montebello Islands, Western Australia
Period 1952
Number of tests 1
Test type barge
Max. yield 25 kilotonnes of TNT (100 TJ)
Next test series Operation Totem

Operation Hurricane was the test of the first UK atomic device on 3 October 1952. A plutonium implosion device was detonated in the lagoon between the Montebello Islands, Western Australia, just over three years after the Soviet Union detonated a similar plutonium implosion device in August 1949.

Several key British scientists had worked on the Manhattan Project and after returning to the UK worked on the British atom bomb project, so unsurprisingly the weapon had a close similarity to the Fat Man (the device used against Nagasaki) weapon, although the McMahon Atomic Energy Act of 1946 prevented any British access to the US design data. The design used a hollow core,[1] unlike The Gadget tested at Trinity. This increased the expected yield of the bomb to 30 kilotons,[1] although the actual yield was closer to 25 kilotons. The bomb core used 7 kg[1] of plutonium produced mainly at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria with a low Pu-240 content of only 2%.[1]

Pu-240 is an unavoidable contaminant of Pu-239 produced by irradiation of uranium in a thermal reactor; its effect in a bomb core is to increase the risk of a "fizzle" or pre-detonation. The only way to keep it within acceptable limits at that time was to limit the time the reactor fuel was exposed in the reactors. The Canadian Chalk River plant supplied 5 kg of plutonium by April 1952,[1] and by August 1952 the Windscale plant had supplied 18 kg.[1] No records exist to show whether any of the Canadian material was used in the Hurricane test device; more than one fissile core was prepared for the trial,[1] each to a different design.[1]

To test the effects of a ship-smuggled bomb (a threat of great concern to the British at the time), Hurricane was exploded inside the hull of HMS Plym (a 1,370-ton River class frigate) which was anchored in 12 metres (39 ft) of water, 350 metres (1,150 ft) off Trimouille Island. The explosion occurred 2.7 metres (8 ft 10 in) below the water line, and left a saucer-shaped crater on the seabed 6 metres (20 ft) deep and 300 metres (980 ft) across.[2]


United Kingdom's Hurricane series tests and detonations
Name Date and time Location Elevation + height [note 1] Delivery, [note 2]
Purpose [note 3]
Device Yield [note 4] Fallout References Notes
Hurricane 3 October 1952
00:59:24 (UT)
08:59:24 (AWST)
Montebello Islands, West Australia 20°24′27″S 115°33′14″E / 20.407445°S 115.554013°E / -20.407445; 115.554013 (Hurricane) 0 - 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in) Barge,
weapon effect
American Mark 3 design, levitated pit 25 kt Unknown [3][4][5][6] Exploded in the hold of the HMS Plym (a 1,370 short tons (1,240 t) River class frigate).
Front page of The West Australian from the day after the weapons test
  1. ^ Elevation is the ground level at the point directly below the explosion relative to sea level; height is the additional distance added or subtracted by tower, balloon, shaft, tunnel, air drop or other contrivance.
  2. ^ Atmospheric, airdrop, balloon, gun, cruise missile, rocket, surface, tower, and barge are all disallowed by the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
  3. ^ Include weapons development, weapon effects, safety test, transport safety test, war, science, joint verification and industrial/peaceful, which may be further broken down.
  4. ^ Estimated energy yield in tons, kilotons, and megatons. A ton of TNT equivalent is defined as 4.184 gigajoules (1 gigacalorie).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h The National Archives, London, ES 1/11.
  2. ^ "British nuclear test Operation Hurricane - secret reports to Winston Churchill and civil defense data obtained". Internet Archive. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Cathcart, Brian (1994). Test of Greatness: Britain's Struggle for the Atom Bomb. Cambridge, UK: John Murray. 
  4. ^ Cooper, Malcolm B.; Lokan, Keith H.; Williams, Geoffrey A. (November 1, 1983). The Radiological Status of the Monte Bello Islands: May 1983 (PDF) (Technical report). Yallambie, VIC, Australia: Australian Radiation Laboratory. Retrieved December 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ Norris, Robert S.; Burrows, Andrew S.; Fieldhouse, Richard W. (1994). Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. 5: British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Weapons. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 
  6. ^ Yang, Xiaoping; North, Robert; Romney, Carl (August 2000). CMR Nuclear Explosion Database (Revision 3) (Technical report). SMDC Monitoring Research. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bird, Peter (1989) Operation Hurricane Worcester: Square One Publications. ISBN 1-872017-10-X First published: 1953.

External links[edit]