Operation Ivy

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Operation Ivy was a pair of U.S. nuclear weapon tests in the Marshall Islands in 1952, which both provided experimental verification, with a prototype (Ivy Mike), of the Teller-Ulam design for fusion weapons, and also of a backup using an exceptionally high-yield fission device (Ivy King).[1] A weaponized fusion device would be demonstrated two years later at Operation Castle.

Ivy Mike

Ivy Mike was a ground test of a prototype called the Sausage, far too large to airdrop but using the Teller-Ulam principle of staged radiation implosion. Teller himself did not participate, but the development effort, coded Project Panda, was conducted by the Panda Committee at Los Alamos, under J. Carson Mark.

The device was built on an operational Mark 5 primary, but its secondary used cryogenic fuel in a physical housing that could not possibly be movable. The secondary was a cylindrical Dewar flask, with a 239plutonium "spark plug" rod in the center of the thermally insulated container. The Dewar, in turn, was surrounded by a 238uranium pusher-tamper weighing over 5 metric tons. Surrounding the Dewar was a 80 inches wide and 244 inches long steel casing, "with walls ~10-12 inches thick, the largest single forging made up to that time. The inside surface of the casing was lined with sheets of lead and polyethylene to form the radiation channel that conducted heat from the primary to the secondary. The entire device weighed 82 tons."

Ivy Mike and Pandamonium

The test also produced the first atoms of element 99, now known as einsteinium (Es), although the discoverers wanted to call it Pandamonium. [2], produced the 20-day 253 Es isotope in the fallout. Elements 99 and 100 (einsteinium and fermium) were found in debris brought back from the first H-bomb test in the Pacific by Al Ghiorso and co-workers at Berkeley in December 1952<[3]

It produced the fourth largest yield of any U.S. test. "77% (8 megatons) of the yield was due to fast fission of the natural uranium pusher/tamper, with remainder (2.4 megatons) coming directly from fusion of the deuterium fuel.

Elugelab, the island on which Ivy Mike was detonated, disappeared into a crater was 6240 ft across and 164 ft deep. "High levels of radiation blanketed much of the atoll following the test. The mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet in only 90 seconds, entering the stratosphere. One minute later it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the mushroom head joining the stem at 45,000 feet."

Ivy King

Ivy King was a prototype of the Mark 18 (nuclear weapon), also called the "Super Oralloy Bomb (SOB)", which would be obsolete if the Ivy Mike prototype could be turned into an air-droppable bomb. Still, Ivy King was airdropped from a B-36 bomber, detonating at 1480 feet and yielding 500 kilotons. It was designed by Ted Taylor at Los Alamos, and remains the highest-yielding pure fission bomb ever tested, and the most efficient fission bomb when Taylor's 32 KT HAMLET (nuclear weapon) design was not considered.

The Ivy King device was based on the operational Mk-6D bomb, but used the 92 point implosion system designed for the Mark 13 (nuclear weapon), and a unique fission pit containing an unusually high amount of oralloy, or highly enriched uranium. Pits of operational bombs mixed uranium and plutonium.

The 60 KG of oralloy made up several critical masses and used improvised safety mechanisms to prevent a criticality accident in the event of a crash.

It was confirmed obsolete by the Operation Castle test two years later, in which a weaponized thermonuclear bomb was airdropped.


  1. Operation Ivy 1952 - Enewetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, 14 May 1999
  2. letter by Eric Evans in the Economist (April 19th. 1997, p.8)
  3. http://www.lbl.gov/today/2005/Jul/11-Mon/ghiobio-jump.html