It doesn't take a Saddam Hussein or a Kim Jong Il to build atomic bombs. John Coster-Mullen has done it unaided. And he's a Wisconsin truck driver.
Rest assured, Coster-Mullen won't commit genocide: his bombs have no nuclear fuel. But this college dropout has determined the design of the bombs dropped over Hiroshima ("Little Boy") and Nagasaki ("Fat Man"), and built an exact replica of Little Boy. "I've spent 15 years and thousands of hours reading declassified documents, studying photographs and interviewing people who were involved with the bombs", he says. "The secret of the atomic bombs is that they're easy to make."
Coster-Mullen, who calls the bombs his obsession, conducts mental calculations of the bombs' design during his night-time routes on deserted highways. "I found a paragraph here, a sentence there, and finally was able to reverse-engineer them", the trucker explains. "I'm still making improvements, but since 9/11 the government has made it harder to access information."
Remarkably, Coster-Mullen's book Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man has become a trusted reference for nuclear weapons experts. "His research is very impressive, but unfortunately people who want to make nuclear bombs can benefit from it", says Dr. Robert Norris, a nuclear weapons expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The hard part is getting the fuel. You can't make nuclear fuel in a cave in Pakistan."
But countries and terrorists are trying to obtain the fuel, and they don't need much of it to cause devastation. "The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs are like firecrackers compared to today's weapons", says Coster-Mullen. "Today someone could eliminate Manhattan with a nuclear weapon the size of a basketball."
Elisabeth Braw wrote this story for