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Nuclear Weapons & Warfare - see also : doomsday clock

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What is a Nuclear Weapon?

A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving the fission or fusion or both, of atomic nuclei. Basically it is any device that harnesses the immense power of the atom to create a bomb or explosive device. Even more simplified, they are essentially nothing more than huge bombs - with a unique exception - they have the potential to destroy entire cities. A typical nuclear tipped warhead  might have a power of one megaton of TNT. This means it would explode with the power of 1,000,000 tons of TNT. To grasp the size and quantity of this much TNT, imagine a field 300x300 meters long, and stack it with TNT 300 meters tall. The same reactions that occur with that much TNT is all packed into a nuclear device, and can be made ready to for deployment in something the size of a small boat.

nuclear weapon bomb explosion atom

What are the immediate and lingering effects of a nuclear blast?

Nuclear explosions produce both immediate and delayed destructive effects. Immediate effects (blast and shockwave, radiation) are produced and cause significant destruction within seconds or minutes of a nuclear detonation. The delayed and lingering effects (radioactive fallout and other possible environmental contamination) inflict damage over an extended period ranging from hours to centuries.

nuke nuclear weapons bomb nagasaki hiroshima

(The mushroom cloud of the atomic bombing of strategic port city, Nagasaki, in 1945 lifted nuclear fallout some 60,000 feet (18 km) above the epicenter.)

The missile or method of deployment would be detonated slightly above the ground, to extend the shockwave over the desired target, and maximize the bombs effect. The first chain of events would be the heat and extreme light, scorching everything for a few mile radius (depending on the size) in nearly 20,000°F flames. The air itself would literally be sucked up, and seem to catch fire. Seconds after the initial impact, the shockwave would follow. This would level buildings, homes, and throw cars around like paper in the wind. Imagine having a hurricane made of  fire, trees discintigrate in the hot wind, and structures crumble like dust. The shockwave would be so powerful that the air would not be able to absorb it all. Some energy would create an EMP (electromagnetic)  pulse that would destroy electrical circuits miles from ground zero, perhaps even knocking out orbiting satellites.

After the explosion itself, anyone on the edge of the explosion (who were lucky enough to survive) would have melted flesh and severe burns, the skin would literally fall off the bone. Anyone who had seen the blast from such a distance would have permanent loss of vision.

In the days, weeks and months to follow, anyone exposed to the are around ground zero would begin to suffer the effects of radiation and nuclear fallout. It would - and has been an awful sight to see.

nagasaki nuclear weapons fallout

nagasaki hiroshima nuclear aftermath

(Damage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after nuclear devices were used to end WWII - the cities we basically wiped off the map)

Who is in posession of Nuclear Weapons?

The amount of weapons posessed by these countries is more than enough to destroy the world (all the major cities, and cause a nuclear winter) many times over.

The following is a list of nations that have admitted the possession of nuclear weapons, and the approximate number of warheads under their control. This list is informally known in global politics as the "Nuclear Club".

  • United States - 10,640
  • Russia - 8,600
  • People's Republic of China - 400
  • France - 350
  • United Kingdom - 200
  • India - 60-90
  • Pakistan - 24-48

From a high of 65,000 weapons in 1985, there were about 40,000 nuclear weapons in the world in 2002-2003.

Countries believed to have or sometimes suspected of having at least one unconfirmed nuclear weapon currently, or at some point in history, or research programs with a realistic chance of producing a nuclear weapon in the near future:

  • Israel - It is questionable whether Israel should be classed as a "suspected state" at this point. Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to officially admit or deny having a nuclear arsenal, or to having developed nuclear weapons, or even to having a nuclear weapons program. Although former Prime Minister Israel - It is questionable whether Israel should be classed as a "suspected state" at this point. Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation TreatyShimon Peres unofficially acknowledged this last fact in the summer of 1998, extensive information about this program in Dimona was disclosed by physician Mordechai Vanunu in 1986, and imagery analysts can identify weapon bunkers, mobile missile launchers, and launch sites in satellite photographs. It is clear though that Israel can deploy or employ nuclear weapons at will, and it is suspected to possess nuclear weapons by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to the National Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists, they may possess 100-200 weapons. However until it admits to having an actual stockpile of weapons, it will be retained on the "suspect" list for the present time. (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/index.html)
  • Iran - Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and says its interest in nuclear technology, including enrichment, was for civilian purposes only, but the CIA claims this to be a cover for a nuclear weapons program.  (http://www.nti.org/e_research/e1_iran_nch.html) (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/nuke/index.html) The Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stated on the intentions of his country's nuclear ambitions: "Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path."  (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,122526,00.html)
  • North Korea - On January 10, 2003 North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Allegedly they have since announced their possession of several nuclear weapons to US diplomats.
  • Ukraine - signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Inherited about 5,000 nuclear weapons when it became independent in 1991. It transferred all of these to Russia by 1996. (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/ukraine/) However recent news has surfaced that due to a clerical error, Ukraine may still possess several hundred warheads which were not accounted for in the armaments repatriation move 14 years ago. In any case, even if Ukraine does possess these weapons, they are technically missing and not in a deployed state or any part of Ukraine's defense posture.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/3568139.stm)
  • Australia - From 1950 to the early 1970s Australia first attempted to gain access to British nuclear technology, then investigated a fully indigenous nuclear program on a number of occasions, going so far as to plan and begin clearing a site for a plutonium-producting nuclear reactor at Jarvis Bay in 1969, but abandoned its efforts at that time. Australia has large indigenous supplies of uranium. Currently Australia's uranium exports policy prevents export for military purposes, but there have been allegations about Australian uranium ending up in nuclear weapons. Curiously for an industrialized nation that is also a major uranium supplier, Australia has no nuclear power plants. There are however, several nuclear reactors in Australia that produce radioactive materials mainly for medical purposes. Australia has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is now one of the strongest supporters of anti-profileration efforts. However in recent years several illicit internal informants within the ADF have leaked rumours that Australia received a small number of warheads from allies (most probably the United States) during the high-risk tension with Indonesia while intervening in East Timor.  (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/documentaries/stories/s650355.htm)
(Info from wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_nuclear_weapons )

That's a lotta weapons!

So, why does everyone need these instruments of destruction?

The race to harness the power of the atom started in the World War II. The Manhattan Project, or more fully, the Manhattan Engineering District Project - was an effort during World War II to develop the first nuclear weapons by the United States with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada. Both German and Allied scientists were desperate to develop the bomb, knowing that if the other side developed one first the war would be over - in a flash. Of course the US was successful in developing the technology first and used it to force Japan to surrender - but their tactical superiority all changed when Russia announced in 1949 that they too had deveolped the weapons.

The two countires began to stockpile their nuclear weapons, in an effort to be more prepared than the other - should one of them attack. Russia and America were locked in an arms race of the worst kind, both frantically producing thousands of nuclear based weapons and warheads. However, it was only America that pursued the policy of MAD - mutually assured destruction. This meant - and still does mean - allowing every American citizen to be held hostage by Russia. It means our only defence to a nuclear attack is one of our own, which does not save the lives of any of the hundreds of millions of people that would die in the strike. Isn't that some wonderful news? Of course we're 'buddies' with Russian now, so we don't have to imminently fear them like through the 1950's through the middle 1980's.

Who would want to use a weapon of this nature?

Given that if either side of a massive super power country like the US or Russia were to use a weapon of this nature, the other would assuredly retaliate by launching their arsenal causing mutual destruction. This would mean hundreds of millions of casualties - depending on who else got involved. So what incentive do others have to try to acquire them? Terrorists and extremists who could potentially use them to either blackmail or detonate - to get the attention they demand.

Many terrorists would dream of creating such a weapon, but it would be cheaper and more effective to get ready made devices from the former USSR. The greatest risk from these could be the 'suitcase bombs' - nuclear weapons the size of briefcases, which a terrorist could simply walk into a city, a building, or a neighborhood with. The effects of such an attack would be terrifying.

suitcase nuke durty bomb

Why are suitcase bombs such a great risk?

Russia is know to have created around 200 suitcase bombs - nuclear weapons the size of suitcases. According to a Soviet defector called Aleksander Lebed it has seemingly lost track of more than 100 - each of which could kill more than 50,000 people (depending on where detonated). Many of these bombs were distributed and hidden in present day US hostile countries. Possibly the worst effect of a terrorist nuclear device would be that it could in fact trigger a nuclear war. If America thought Russia or an enemy country had used nuclear weapons against it, it would not hesitate to retaliate... so one small nuclear device could in fact trigger events that would killion millions.

The other big risk is the implied threat. By simply having control of a nuclear device, you have greater power and control over those who do not have one. It is quite possible that a terrorist group could cause more harm and have a greater impact by using the bomb as a bargaining chip. Movies have played out the scenario of "If you don't release all the prisoners, I'll detonate a hidden bomb in the middle of NYC!" countless times, but it certainly could become a real-world negotiation at some point and would probably not include the dramatic heroics of John McClane or James Bond. Consider this example of a threat being more powerful than actual action. Drinking and driving campaigns are everywhere, and almost every American can tell you that if you drink more than you should and get in your car, you better have a really great San Diego DUI lawyer on speed-dial, because you will get caught. In reality, statistics show that a majority of people driving while intoxicated do not get caught. However, try to leave the bar keys in hand after a bunch of shots and the whole place will stop you. This is because the threat of the consequences is so great that it simply can't be ignored. A suitcase bomb or something similar in the wrong hands would be the same.
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