In today’s New York Times, veteran science correspondent William A. Broad previews two new books that combine to do some rewriting —or at least some major revision— of the atomic history.
The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman and The Bomb: A New History, by Stephen M. Younger are both based on extensive research supplemented by insider insight and information.  And both conclude that the atom bomb was only invented once — by the scientists of the Manhattan Project led by J. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The proliferation that now plagues the world is the result of spying that leaked the secrets and national policy or ideological interests that spread the technology.  A striking graphic charts the claim.

All paths stem from the United States, directly or indirectly. One began with Russian spies that deeply penetrated the Manhattan Project. Stalin was so enamored of the intelligence haul, Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman note, that his first atom bomb was an exact replica of the weapon the United States had dropped on Nagasaki.

Moscow freely shared its atomic thefts with Mao Zedong, China’s leader. The book says that Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project who was eventually caught and, in 1959, released from jail, did likewise. Upon gaining his freedom, the authors say, Fuchs gave the mastermind of Mao’s weapons program a detailed tutorial on the Nagasaki bomb. A half-decade later, China surprised the world with its first blast.

 “Since the birth of the nuclear age,” they write, “no nation has developed a nuclear weapon on its own, although many claim otherwise.”

Among other things, the book details how secretive aid from France and China helped spawn five more nuclear states.

The book, in a main disclosure, discusses how China in 1982 made a policy decision to flood the developing world with atomic know-how. Its identified clients include Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea.

Two of the major sources, and resources, for nuclear proliferation have been China and France.

Why did Beijing spread its atomic knowledge so freely? The authors speculate that it either wanted to strengthen the enemies of China’s enemies (for instance, Pakistan as a counterweight to India) or, more chillingly, to encourage nuclear wars or terror in foreign lands from which Beijing would emerge as the “last man standing.”

A lesser pathway involves France. The book says it drew on Manhattan Project veterans and shared intimate details of its bomb program with Israel, with whom it had substantial commercial ties. By 1959, the book says, dozens of Israeli scientists “were observing and participating in” the French program of weapons design.

The book adds that in early 1960, when France detonated its first bomb, doing so in the Algerian desert, “two nations went nuclear.” And it describes how the United States turned a blind eye to Israel’s own atomic developments. It adds that, in the autumn of 1966, Israel conducted a special, non-nuclear test “2,600 feet under the Negev desert.” The next year it built its first bomb.

Israel, in turn, shared its atomic secrets with South Africa. The book discloses that the two states exchanged some key ingredients for the making of atom bombs: tritium to South Africa, uranium to Israel. And the authors agree with military experts who hold that Israel and South Africa in 1979 jointly detonated a nuclear device in the South Atlantic near Prince Edward Island, more than one thousand miles south of Cape Town. Israel needed the test, it says, to develop a neutron bomb.