Multiple scientists tragically received fatal doses of radiation in freak accidents when handling the so-called Demon Core. Was it karma for our dropping the atomic bomb? io9 writes:
Ever heard of The Demon Core? It was named by Los Alamos scientists — who are generally not a superstitious lot — after it claimed multiple lives, in a series of strange and horrible accidents. Discover a legend of science… that’s worthy of a horror movie.
The Demon Core was a hunk of plutonium that was being used to refine the atomic bomb, just after it had been used in Japan. One of the first reactions tests was conducted, unofficially and without other scientists present, by a gifted 24-year-old physicist named Harry Daghlian. He had built up walls around the core, monitoring it all the while, and then placed a brick on top of the walls. The reaction started cranking up to critical levels, and Daglian hurried to withdraw the brick. He dropped it on the core, causing it to be completely surrounded with the reflective substance. The radiation being given off skyrocketed, and Daghlian grabbed the brick. He dropped it again, right in the same spot. Unable to grab it again, he started taking apart the walls. By the time he had taken apart the structure, it was too late. He went into the hospital, and died of radiation poisoning about a month later.
Making a suitably large sphere of plutonium required the labor of entire industrial facilities. There was no known substitute for the material, and its top-secret nature made it tough to put in industrialized safety guards, especially for what was thought to be a freak accident. So a year later, Daghlian’s friend, Louis Slotkin, was doing the same experiment, except with a different neutron reflector. He was experimenting with two half-bowls, and using a screwdriver to lever them more open and more closed, monitoring the radiation being released each way. He was supposed to be using safety wedges to keep the bowls slightly apart. For some reason, he didn’t. They crashed together, and Slotkin, too, got a lethal dose of radiation.
After that, the core got a reputation, and acquired its name. It was eventually detonated in 1946, near the Bikini Islands.