The Demon Core

On 21 August 1945, Los Alamos scientist Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. suffered fatal radiation poisoning after dropping a tungsten carbide brick onto a sphere of plutonium. The brick acted as a neutron reflector, bringing the mass to criticality. This was the first known criticality accident causing a fatality.

On 21 May 1946, another Los Alamos scientist, Louis Slotin, accidentally irradiated himself during a similar incident, when a critical mass experiment with the very same sphere of plutonium (see demon core) took a wrong turn. Immediately realizing what had happened he quickly disassembled the device, likely saving the lives of seven fellow scientists nearby. Slotin succumbed to radiation poisoning nine days later.



About stevengoddard

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6 Responses to The Demon Core

  1. A shovel full of coal does the same thing. When you throw wood into a fireplace it happens too.


  2. Layne Blanchard says:

    This is why I don’t let the kids play with Plutonium.

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Don’t you need one tiny piece of dust of it to die and these guys had a big ball of it.

  4. Blade says:

    It took some digging but the official source for that wiki content and the photos comes from this PDF:

    A Review of Criticality Accidents. 2000 Revision. Los Alamos [la-13638.pdf]

    Very interesting reading. Probably shouldn’t be declassified though.

  5. Valerie says:

    What was the point of the expirement? Especially when they knew the danger of it?

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