Forty years ago Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered fission. The existence of this phenomenon could have been predicted before it was found if the theoretical physicists at that time had shown a little more inventiveness: It is a simple consequence of the facts that the Coulomb repulsion increases with the square of the number of protons and the nuclear attraction only with the first power. In 1938 enough was known about the nuclear force that it would not have been too hard to conclude that the nucleus must become unstable against a split in two parts around atomic number Z = 90.

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