Government tries to halt sale of Hiroshima atomic bomb remnants

By David Kravits, The Associated Press
Wednesday June 12, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO – Remnants of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima were auctioned for $167,500 Tuesday — but the federal government says the sale is a breach of national security and wants to block the buyer from claiming his purchase. 

Pending the outcome of litigation by the Justice Department, Butterfields Auctioneers Inc. has agreed to hold onto the arming mechanisms of the bomb dropped from the Enola Gay. The B-29 bomber dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945, killing roughly 140,000 people. 

The Justice Department said in court papers Tuesday the internal configuration of the auctioned thumb-sized plugs — one of which was used to activate the real bomb — are classified. 

“Their design is classified as secret, restricted data, and has never been declassified,” said Steven Saltiel, a San Francisco federal prosecutor. 

The government is seeking a court order prohibiting a San Diego real estate developer from taking possession of the plugs. 

A federal judge has set a hearing for Friday and denied the government’s request on Tuesday to block the auction from Butterfields’ San Francisco office and over the Internet. 

Clay Perkins, who bought the two thumb-sized devices, said they have great personal and historical value. He said the idea of nuclear power inspired him to become a physicist. 

“They are arguably the most significant physical objects to come out of the 20th century,” said the 68-year-old real physicist-turned-real estate developer. “They are the only thing left of the first atomic bomb.” 

The government also said the so-called plugs are the government’s property, not that of Morris Jeppson, an Enola Gay crew member who put them up for auction. 

Jeppson, of Las Vegas, was unavailable for comment. 

A Butterfields spokesman, Levi Morgan, said the government’s case is “without merit.”