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U.S. Tries to Stop Atomic Bomb Sale

June 12, 2002

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Parts from the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima were auctioned for $167,500 Tuesday _ but the government says the sale is a breach of national security and wants to block it.

Pending the outcome of litigation by the Justice Department, Butterfields Auctioneers Inc. agreed to hold onto the arming mechanisms from 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 thumb-sized plugs _ one of which was used to activate the real bomb _ is classified. The mechanisms work similar to the pin on a grenade.

``Their design is classified as secret, restricted data,″ said federal prosecutor Steven Saltiel.

Butterfields spokesman Levi Morgan said the government’s case is ``without merit.″

The government is seeking a court order prohibiting a San Diego physicist-turned-real estate developer from taking possession of the plugs. A hearing was set for Friday.

A federal judge denied the government’s request 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 embark on his first career as a physicist.

``They are arguably the most significant physical objects to come out of the 20th century,″ said Perkins, 68. ``They are the only thing left of the first atomic bomb.″

Prosecutors also said the plugs are the government’s property, not that of the Enola Gay crew member who put them up for auction.