Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Africa (7)

The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Image source wikipedia.

The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Image source wikipedia.

The presence of the Katanga ore, in New York, was hardly a secret. Sengier had sold small amounts to Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab), Monsanto Chemicals and Standard Oil Development Company, all units of MED.

Among these buyers, “Met Lab” is a name to remember. Just as Congolese uranium reached MED through African Metals, intellectual input from the continent came via Met Lab—one of the bomb-making units, where African American scientists and technicians worked.

We’ll revisit this theme shortly—the point being, that MED received more from Africa than uranium. The science that gave birth to the bomb, with its attendant horrors for Japan, drew on a rich intellectual heritage, to which African scholars and philosophers also contributed.

But for now, let’s return to the narrative: In which news of Sengier’s Staten Island stash, slowly seeps through to the OSRD S-1 Committee, at Los Alamos. The first trickle emanated from a U.S. State Department official, after African Metals had requested permission to export ore to a Canadian refinery.

The official, Thomas K. Finletter, contacted Colonel Nichols, who was deputy to General Leslie Groves, top military administrator of the Manhattan Project. This, Jones notes, was Nichols’ “first inkling of the existence of the Congo ore”. The Committee promptly ordered Nichols, to buy all of Sengier’s uranium .

“Thus, at just the time,” Jones continues, “when an acute shortage of uranium threatened to seriously delay the atomic project, the store of rich Congo ore became available to provide most of its wartime requirements”.

The U.S. Army not only acquired the Staten Island cache, but also Union Miniere’s Katanga inventory—taking complete control of Shinkolobwe. Sengier, says Paul DeRienzo, executive producer of Last Secret of the A Bomb, “allowed US troops to seize and reopen the Katanga mine”.

The Geological Society Of America signified, that the U.S. Military came to Katanga “in Liberator Bombers…to obtain uranium ore, just as earlier, when the Germans invaded Belgium…, armed Nazi units went straight to Oolen, where the uranium ore from the… Congo had been sent…”

According to Wikipedia, the Army purchased about 30,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (ore) between 1942 and 1944. Other sources report a monthly average of 400 tonnes. Volume aside, the Army Corps of Engineers revived the mine, denied journalists access and removed “Shinkolobwe” from all official maps.

In his book, Uranium, which Atlantic Monthly excerpted, Tom Zoellner wrote: “The mine would go on to supply nearly two-thirds of the uranium used in the bomb dropped over Hiroshima, and much of the related product of plutonium that went into the bomb dropped on Nagasaki”.

Again, uranium was not the only import from Africa that helped to give the first fission bombs their “bang”. While Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi and their cohorts were central characters in the atomic drama, other cast members played important roles offstage.

The case of Einstein is intriguing. His signature on Szilard’s letter to Roosevelt, did much to prod the President into action; and the historic formula, “E=mc2,” which describes the release of energy in nuclear explosions, is derived from equations in his Special Theory of Relativity.

Still, Einstein couldn’t get security clearance. The reason reportedly was his political views. Becky Oskin noted, in Live Science (March 5, 2015), that Einstein befriended Black leftist, such as singer Paul Robeson and the scholar, W.E.B. DuBois.

One wonders though, if Einstein’s interaction with Blacks, had ever prompted him to explore the belief systems of African people—especially in Congo. The odyssey may have fazed, even the father of Special Relativity—whose four-dimensional “space-time,” is also a pillar of Bantu philosophy!

To be continued.
J.K. Obatala

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