Sunday, July 17, 2005

I Had a Migraine Yesterday

so I didn't post the answer on how to detonate a nuclear warhead. Sorry about that unresolved cliffhanger. Okay, I'm still under the weather so this will be short. According to Luis Alvarez, Nobel Prize winning physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project: "With modern weapons-grade uranium, the background neutron rate is so low that terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half... Even a high school kid could make a bomb on short order." Luis Alvarez, Adventures of a Physicist (Basic Books, 1987), p. 125. You may not get maximum yield, i.e. biggest bang for your buck, but it would certainly make the evening news and that's what terrorism is all about. Allegedly, a plutonium warhead would require shape charges in order to achieve detonation which is not quite so simple. For more information to keep you up at night, this is a link discussing Aum Shinrikyo, terrorism and nuclear bombs. However, nuclear warheads are not the most lethal weapon in the arsenal, albeit the most spectacular and expensive. I will continue this discussion later.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pat said...

Allegedly, a plutonium warhead would require shape charges in order to achieve detonation which is not quite so simple. For more information to keep you up at night, this is a link discussing Aum Shinrikyo, terrorism and nuclear bombs.

My understanding (and it may be incorrect) is that you need shaped charges for a Pu bomb if you have a subcritical mass. If you have critical mass or more plutonium, you can make two hemisphere and slam them together for the BANG. If you're short on plutonium (if, say, the local Home Terrorist shop had it on back-order) you can still get a big explosion out of it by compressing it with specially-shaped charges, which will simulate critical mass by momentarily increasing the density.

Maybe "critical mass" is an inexact phrase, but I suppose it rolls off the ol' tongue easier than "critical density"...

7/18/2005 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/18/2005 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

To be honest, I've never bothered to look into the subject closely enough. While I was doing a bit of research for this subject, I did see one or two articles stating that U bombs only required a shotgun type device but Pu required an explosive charge.

The nuclear weapon threat is a relatively minor part of the Aum Shinrikyo story so I didn't spend very much time researching that aspect. I included it, though, because I liked the quote from Luis Alvarez.

7/18/2005 09:56:00 PM  

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