Sun printers’ role in the atomic bomb programme

The repro department at Sun Engraving took the skills needed to process images for photogravure and letterpress printing to great heights in the 1930s, with Picture Post, Vogue and Woman’s Own among the many magazines it printed.
During the war, the company turned over much of its production to military purposes, printing maps and documentation. Now, an exhibition at the Science Museum in London, ‘Churchill’s Scientists’, has revealed a less likely activity – Sun’s work for ‘Tube Alloys’, Britain’s atomic bomb project.

A Sun printing screen used for uranium enrichment at the Science Museum A Sun printing screen used for uranium enrichment at the Science Museum

Sun took the screens it made to produce printing films for photographs and illustrations and developed them into ultra-fine screens that would ‘enrich’ uranium by a process called gas diffusion. The screens progressively concentrated the proportion of uranium-235, the lighter isotope of the metal that is essential to a nuclear explosion, from less than 1% to the 85% needed for weapons-grade material.

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