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Nuclear bomb test site comes to life at museum

As workers hoisted the contraption known as the Gadget – what would become the world’s first nuclear bomb to be detonated – to the top of the 100-foot-tall steel tower, a small cluster of mattresses was placed on the ground below it.

“Just in case it fell,” said Jim Walther, executive director of Albuquerque’s National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, said. “Isn’t that something?”

When the dust from the massive July 16, 1945 explosion had settled, the Gadget and the steel tower which had housed it were gone, vaporized from the intense heat of the blast.

Even the sand around ground zero had melted, forming pieces of greenish glass known as trinitite.

As a result, there’s not much to see there these days, save some concrete and rebar from the footings of the tower.

In Albuquerque, at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, visitors can see artifacts and other historical items from the story of the world’s first nuclear explosion.

And on Friday, the museum will introduce its newest piece of history: a nearly to-scale replica of the Trinity Tower.

At around 98 feet tall and made of 15,000 pounds of steel, the tower is clearly visible on approaching the museum.

Atop the steel tower sits a tiny shed.

The Gadget, the first nuclear bomb to be detonated, before it was hoisted to the top of Trinity Tower

The Gadget, the first nuclear bomb to be detonated, before it was hoisted to the top of Trinity Tower.

The original shed was oak-floored and surrounded on three sides with corrugated iron and had a hatch at the bottom to receive the bomb. The fourth, open side faced a camera bunker to the west of the tower.

The replica is completely enclosed, with the “open” side and bottom hatch painted on.

It took around two months to erect.

Most of the structure is from an old 50s-era fire observation tower taken down from a forest in Alabama, Walther said.

A replica of the Gadget was donated by the propsmaster of the cancelled TV show, “The Manhattan Project.”

The replica will hang from a pulley as if in the midst of being pulled up into the tower prior to detonation.

“We are so excited to be able to bring such an important piece of history to life at the museum,” said museum spokeswoman Jennifer Hayden.

Several local companies contributed time and equipment to make the project a reality, Hayden said.

Clay Kemper Perkins, a nuclear science enthusiast, retired physicist and philanthropist, pitched the idea to the museum and funded it.

Perkins was 11 years old when the plutonium-based Gadget detonated and its successor, Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, three weeks later. (The bomb dropped on Hiroshima — the first used in warfare — was uranium based.)

The events left a lasting impression on him.

“I was old enough to be fully conscious of the war and be aware of how it ended,” Perkins, now 83, said from his home in Ranchos Santa Fe, a San Diego suburb. “That is what made me go into physics.”

The museum will host a special outdoor event featuring a screening of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels: The Manhattan Project” and a chance to see the replica.

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