2022 was a harrowing year in a long line of harrowing years. A brutal war in Europe raised the prospect of nuclear war as the leaders behind the invasion rattled sabers and made thinly veiled threats to use weapons of mass destruction. And all this as we’re still working our way through the fallout of a global pandemic.
Those hot-headed threats raise an interesting question, however. Decades have passed since either Russia or the United States ran a live nuclear weapons test. Given that, would the nukes even work if they were fired in anger?
Check and Test
If there’s one thing engineers like to do, it’s to test things. It’s all well and good to draw something up on paper or put it together in the lab. But until you’ve switched it on and made it do its thing, it’s hard to know if it’s going to act as expected.
The problem with nuclear weapons is that testing them is a nasty business. It tends to leave giant craters in the landscape, and pumps radioactive dust into the atmosphere to spread over neighbouring populations. For this reason, most countries signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which banned all nuclear weapons testing save for that done underground. This later expanded into the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, formed in 1996, that nevertheless has never officially come into effect due to several holdout states.
Treaty or no treaty, nuclear weapons tests have become exceedingly rare in recent decades. The last atmospheric test was held by China in 1980, while North Korea has executed nuclear tests as recently as 2017. When it comes to the major players on today’s world stage, the US executed its last underground nuclear test in 1992, and the Soviet Union in 1990. China is known to have last ran a test in 1996, while India and Pakistan both ran tests in 1998.
Thus far, though, we’ve only discussed the testing of nuclear warheads themselves. Testing of complete nuclear weapons systems is even rarer. Nuclear weapons are often intended for delivery by missiles, but the weapons have rarely been tested and fired as complete assemblies. The US, Soviet Union, and China ran minimal tests in this regard in the 1960s. However, since then, those tests have not been repeated. Furthermore, no live test of an nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile has ever taken place. That’s often put down to the risk involved. When the warhead is on the ground, you can press a button and be pretty confident on where it’s going to end up. When the warhead is on the end of a rocket, there’s always the risk that it could end up somewhere inconvenient, or that the rocket could blow up on the pad. Unlike a static weapon test, there can be very deadly consequences of a nuclear missile test gone wrong, so they simply don’t happen.
The complicated political status of nuclear weapons creates other problems, too. Production of nuclear weapons largely stalled out after the frenzied build-up of the Cold War era. As countries worked to slim down their warhead stockpiles, there was no need to keep factories running, and many were shut down. This has caused problems for those charged with maintaining decades-old weapons. Delicate mechanical mechanisms can foul up or wear out over time, explosive components can falter, while electronic components have a limited lifespan, too. In a nuclear weapon, perfect performance and timing is critical. It doesn’t take much to spoil a weapon’s yield if a component isn’t operating perfectly.
In the US in particular, this came into focus in the early 2000s. There was a crisis as weapons technicians realized they no longer had a supply of a classified material called FOGBANK, which was crucial to US nuclear weapons. Worse, the records of the material’s production were sparse, the original facility had closed down, and many staff were no longer around to recall how it was done. It took many years and tens of millions of dollars for the National Nuclear Security Administration to reproduce the material.
This creates an unnerving situation when contemplating the nuclear militaries of the world. They’re armed with untested warheads of mass destruction mounted upon weapons systems that they haven’t been fully tested with.
Two things give military commanders confidence that their weapons will still set enemy cities aglow if ever called upon. The first is regular maintenance. Nuclear weapons are, in a way, much like the truck parked up at your aunt’s farm. Leave it in a shed unattended for 20 years, and it’s unlikely to start when you jump in and turn the key. Alternatively, start it up every few months, and give it regular care and attention, and you can be relatively confident that it will roar into life when needed.
The second aspect is one of simulation. Engineers and physicists have incredibly advanced simulations of nuclear phenomena which are used to model the performance of weapon components when they can’t be tested. Simulation isn’t a perfect science, of course, but the physics of nuclear weapons is relatively well understood by those in the know. This is also aided by the immutability of the laws of physics. The behavior of atoms undergoing fission and fusion is the same today as it was back in 1945. If you build and maintain the weapons to the same specification as they were designed, they should perform in the same way they did many decades ago.
It’s nice to think that even if the button was pressed, the nuclear weapons fired would fail to annihilate the world as we know it. Unfortunately, it’s likely not the case. Even at a 50% failure rate, a full-scale nuclear war would ultimately destroy society as we know it. As for nuclear weapons that “fizzle” and fail to detonate as expected, they can still cause great harm. Such a failure is still likely to spread radioactive material over a great area, and cause serious casualties. We can’t rely on incompetence to save the world from nuclear war.
Ultimately, ideally we’ll never know if the world’s nuclear arsenals are as potent as their owners say they are. On the amphitheatre of mutually assured destruction, of course, the perceived threat of the weapons on paper is the most important thing, anyway. Regardless, these untested weapons remain sitting in bunkers around the world, waiting for the call that must never come.
145 thoughts on “If They Fire The Nukes, Will They Even Work?”
Its important to remember a few things in regards to “A brutal war in Europe raised the prospect of nuclear war as the leaders behind the invasion rattled sabers and made thinly veiled threats to use weapons of mass destruction”:
– Said leader and several people around him have actually apologized for those remarks on several occasions, while the man in question still likes to mention nuclear weapons every now and then, its pretty clear that he seems to understand that he cant use them
– IF he somehow doesn’t really understand and is just keeping up appearances, its already clear that the people around him DO very much understand that you simply cant use such weapons, not in the least because they will get several back the moment they use one & they are well aware of this, using one could end a country, but would above all also be the end of their own country.
– The whole government of the country in question is starting to crumble in the last few weeks with several parties pointing fingers at each other and debunking claims made (about the country they are attacking & “the west”) by that government in the past. And now that Finland joined NATO there will be even more internal issues (because its hard to not see this as a fail from their perspective) and its likely that this whole conflict will end soon.
To summarize, nuclear war is pretty much as unlikely as its always been, there’s really no need to worry about this, dont let them get in your head :)
Plus, all the brass and copper bits in the missiles and their silos have already been pilfered by the crew and sold for scrap, just like they did in the Russian navy when the government forgot to pay them…
I’m pretty sure all the uranium and plutonium has been sold as fuel and don’t forget all the gold. If what is happening in Ukraine is any indication, most of the Russian stuff will fail but I would bet the stuff on the subs is OK. And the Doctor Insane-oh nuclear tsunami torpedo. Of course, like the advanced jets and missiles and everything else, you have to wonder if they actually made more than 3. Enough to have a flyby at a military demonstration for Fearless Leader while the money goes to Swiss bank accounts.
Nice fantasty. Pentagon planners and experts that have dedicated their entire lives and careers for this stuff all are convinced of exactly the opposite, but you have the correct answer. Brilliant!
Pentagon planners etc, etc have a lil bias. Military industrial complex just doesn’t have the same appeal if there’s no threatening enemy…..but you have the correct answer , think before you troll
The NSA also banned Furbies for being Chinese spies. So let’s not mistake “deeply held paranoia” for “dedicated entire lives and careers.” I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I would say that the current war has proven a lot about Russia’s capabilities, fleets, propaganda machine, and fractured leadership; and all that paints a picture in which pilfered silos and corroded components seem a lot more likely them being a well oiled war machines one hammer drop away from ending life on earth.
Well, a Furby is an audio recorder that is constantly listening to its surroundings – what is that but a bugging device? Granted, you’d need to recover it somehow, but that has been done before.
These the same ones who thought Putin wouldn’t really invade, and then that when they did, they’d take Kyiv by lunchtime on the first day?
A lot of people took Russia’s military at something equating to face value when in fact it’s been exposed as being an utter shambles in almost every way – all they’ve really had on their side is numbers and brutality, plus a lot of help from Wagner.
Have you heard of STAR treaties? Are you aware that they mean both sides know exactly how much and what type weapons the other side has abd also both side inspect each other’s nuclear capabilities on site to be sure that the treaties are honored. Putin only refused the new STAR treaty last month, probably just for propaganda to shape public’s opinion. If Pentagon knew Russian rockets don’t have teeth NATO would have declared war on Russia by now
There are boundless reasons not to declare war beyond the fear of nuclear retaliation. Financial cost, human cost, political cost, diplomatic costs – just to name a few. The US has bases all over the world and a mesh of Missile Defense systems that, if called upon, could render any enemy fleet toothless. What do you think the point of all that Missile Defense Agency spending is? …the reason we haven’t gone to war is because the costs don’t balance out, plane and simply.
“Plus, all the brass and copper bits in the missiles and their silos have already been pilfered by the crew and sold for scrap”
We’d all be very, very lucky if the only things that were pilfered were the brass and copper bits.
You have to be able to sell it and not get caught. Weapons grade plutonium isn’t exactly trivial to smuggle out in your pocket…
Why not? It ain’t all that strongly radioactive. It’s an alpha emitter. As long as we’re talking sub critical masses, it’s no more dangerous that carrying a piece of lead around in your pocket.
The fact that we have plenty of reports of people getting caught trying to sell weapons-grade plutonium implies that there are plenty of times when they *didn’t* get caught.
If it’s that easy to get out, where Dan I get some? Would make the production of random bits much faster…
While plutonium isn’t amazingly radioactive (in sub-critical amounts) it is rather pyrophoric when exposed to moist air (or sweaty hands).
it also can mechanically degrade over time due to self irradiation.
“Weapons grade plutonium isn’t exactly trivial to smuggle….”
BS. Libyans in old hippy vans smuggle case loads of that stuff into Twin Pines Malls across America practically every single day
I mean, I’m pretty sure the Pu in my bug-out-bunker reactor was moved exactly that way…
They beat a soldier wanting peace to death with a sledge hammer. You think nuclear minute men in Russia would try to take anything from a nation that does that.
Troops are buying their own helmets and other gear because quartermasters have sold it all on eBay. Engine parts, tires, anti-freeze for the Jet’s window washers, clothes, boots. All gone. It has been the way for middle officers to make money since Soviet days. Well, since 1917 at least. The revolution sounds good until you are in it.
Guarantee they will work !!! Ilive in Ukraine and you o ly have to look at the 50-60 year ladas . They still run like rockeys
Of course they run – they were designed to work on kerosene and 50 octane gasoline. You can use toilet paper for a head gasket and it’ll still get enough compression to start.
There are no 60 year old Ladas, the first ones were produced in the late 60s. Also, nukes are just a tiny bit more complex than Ladas. :D
Total pipe dream.
“not in the least because they will get several back the moment they use one”
Nah. I doubt that.
If they use just one, if it’s against a non-NATO country or if it’s a tactical nuke as opposed to strategic…
I doubt any will be sent back in response.
Instead it will be an unimaginable quantity of conventional, non-nuclear firepower that removes that leader and everyone close to him from this world within a few short minutes. Followed by enough troops to ensure that the empire he wants so badly to restore is never the same place again.
But a response of actual nukes? There’s too much to lose doing that.
China is the wildcard. They’re just as ambitious as Russia.
China knows we can’t fight a two front war against BOTH China and Russia at the same time. My bet would be they are preparing to take Tawain and will only proceed when and if the US enters into direct conflict with Russia. I believe if that were to happen Biden would have his out and justifications to not defend Taiwan as resources are focused on Russia.
Don’t be so sure.
US military doctrine since WWII has been to be prepared and capable of fighting and winning against the two biggest competitors in conventional (non nuclear) war at the same time. That’s why they outspend the rest of the world combined. It was thought that was Russia and China but Russia is proving to be crap. Not sure who competitors 1 & 2 are now.
Besides that the US has already been helping arm and train Taiwan for decades now such that combined with their geography and the difficulty it creates landing troops they could hold the Chinese off for quite a long time.
And Ukraine has been softening Russia up.
Taking land and holding it back from the people who live there is a very hard thing to do.. thus Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighting in the middle of an internal struggle, that’s not a good place to be. (Vietnam)
But just going in, trampling the place, conquering it’s existing government then returning home.. that’s a piece of cake for the US military so long as no one pushes the nuclear button.
China would do much better to go after taking back Outer Manchuria than Taiwan.
Unless of course someone got the bright idea of sticking around for “state building”…
Then it’s a loss for sure! About 30 years later when they finally give up and leave.
Chinese stuff is as bad or worse than Russian. The primary source of income for Party members is graft and corruption. Ghost cities. Skeleton buildings that qualify for BOC loans by achieving 3 framwork stories then are never touched again. Apartment condo/apartment high rises that are falling apart because the “structural” concrete is a fascade stuffed with newspapers and sand.
They can probably field a good sized first round – then it is just like Russia. The reserves don’t exist.
But they always take advantage of weakness. A second Biden term probably = Taiwan invasion.
It’s a U.S. sovereignty highly doubt they will not defend Taiwan even in that circumstance.
When is the last time that worked out after WW2? Dismantling a place and occupying it with troops I mean.
I read a report last week about Iraq and the people being considerably better off than before the war. By Middle East standards it is a win-win.
> Instead it will be an unimaginable quantity of conventional, non-nuclear firepower that removes that leader and everyone close to him from this world within a few short minutes.
> Followed by enough troops to ensure that the empire he wants so badly to restore is never the same place again.
Ah. The famous ‘double down’ move of the US. Where they first remove the leader. Then double down, and also punish all the civilians by destroying half their country…?
It’s what you seem to be saying…
The dumb cold war-era takes are circulating again? If you’ve lived through the past five or six wars (so any middle-aged person) and you think that this conflict won’t drag on for another ten or twenty years—and uncover fresh new horrors—you have a brain injury.
I’m nearly 40, seen my fair share of wars, pretty sure my brain is fine ;)
This conflict wont drag out much longer because
– They are running out of money fast & already reaching the limits of their materials
– The “new” military gear they have and were counting on has all failed to perform
– They failed by far most goals they set themselves (causing internal conflict in gov)
– Protests are (finally) increasing (because the sanctions are starting to reach civilians)
– The country they are attacking is (finally!!!) receiving the bulk of the material they can use to fight back
This is not lasting for another 10-20 years, no way.
Um. A nukes not that complicated. All they used the he was a gun type set up with a uranium dlug to slam into the near critical mass core or a set up of 360 degrees of high explosives to compress the core to criticality. Those are the two main designs as well and are very reliable and may even be more powerful than simulations predict. Tickets blowing up on the pad may not even detonate a nuke either. And with them testing missiles all the time without a warhead…. Not likely they’ll blow up on the pad. Guidance would be where the most likely failure happens.
If I remember right, the 360 degree explosion ones are actually really sensitive if you mess up igniting the explosives at the exact same time. It’s possible the igniter, the explosives or even the wires/electronics have degraded enough to cause problems.
In reality, I would expect that these systems have been tested in isolation to confirm they haven’t degraded, and if they have,they would be fixed or replaced as a part of maintenance. And, they were likely designed extremely well, such that this decay would take centuries instead of decades.
Blowing stuff up is easy. Blowing stuff up at the precise moment you want to and in the way you want to, now that’s not so easy.
“Said leader and several people around him have actually apologized for those remarks on several occasions”
More like accused the west of nuclear blackmail.
They never apologize or acknowledge mistakes. Just look at Lavrov and hos regular insulting remarks about Jews. Later “apologies” sounded ridiculous especially after he regularly repeats the same mistake
Couldnt find the video from a few weeks ago that had him saying it but this article comes pretty close: https://apnews.com/article/putin-europe-government-and-politics-c541449bf88999c117b033d2de08d26d (no affiliation for anybody wondering)
The weird thing is that they do both, they threaten with it but also say they wont use them
How dumb is that. Wow. You must not have ever read how many close calls and glitches there have been. Who is “He” anyways? There are sub commanders that absolutely have authorization when provided. “He” meaning Brandon, by the way, has 130 tactical nukes already in place in Europe, and he would order those and his other forces without hesitation whether on purpose or accidental.
Nuclear weapons do not require testing. The technology is Proven.
Russian nukes are not from the 1960’s. They are new. They travel at 6,000+ miles per hour. They carry multiple warheads of 100 mega tons and more. That is everyone with 60 miles of the implosion of a single warhead will die.
Russia has public written nuclear doctrine. It says if we face an existential threat we will fire all of our missiles at once. Our President. Biden will have 7 minutes to order the counterfire.
Everyone in the Northern Hemisphere who is not on a nuclear fallout shelter will die from radiation poisoning.
BTW Russia had nuclear shelters for 60% of its population and they are currently conducting evacuation drills. They are ready to go.
What nuclear shelters is Biden preparing for you?
It’s simple as the s: if they work I won’t be holding my breath waiting to read your next article.
But when two super powers are at war like like the U.S. and China is gonna be in by 2030 over taiwan then what happens do they mutually agree no nukes or will there be a who strikes first mentality
What he said was that if they entered Russian territory nukes would get into play.
Now the question is if he really views the new areas as russia proper, and another question is if a incursion by non-NATO neighbours would count.
But anyway, if you for the sake of argument imagine tanks rolled into Russia and he used nukes to stop them (neutron bombs?) then as long as it was on Russian territory (and possibly border areas in the war zone?) it would not trigger a continental missile exchange.
And if a NATO and/or US incursion happened could you blame them even? I don’t think I could TBH.
I figured from the topic it was Lewin Day article.
I always thought the story surrounding FOGBANK to be fascinating.
I think that the most likely threat would be High Altitude EMP, and it is an interesting subject.
While I do not hope for that (HEMP) to happen, it is in “their” doctrine, and I think a look must be had at possible outcomes.
Those of you that own an old Cessna with magnetos might still be able to get around.(I think, I’m not a EE)
I disagree. If you launch an ICBM to detonate a nuke in orbit to create an EMP a la project starfish, you are getting detected and you are going to have a return salvo coming in less than twenty minutes. Nobody is going to do such a limp-dick infrastructure attack with a guaranteed response of civilization-ending thermonuclear exchange. If the choice is ever made, it will be nukes landing in every major city. Any other option doesn’t make strategic or game theoretical sense. That’s the elegance of MAD and the only reason we haven’t had a repeat of WWII yet.
So… don’t do it with an ICBM? Wasn’t it only a few weeks ago that something the size of a bus floated over most of the United States? Submarine launches are possible too. Something that’s already in orbit. We live on a ball and our borders are only in our minds.
Delivery by balloon won’t be necessary at least in the US. There used to be rumors that Russia had sneaked in small, low-yield bombs via diplomatic seal, and hidden them in a few places it would make for a big no warning first strike. If they blew up a chunk of Washington, the US side would fall into chaos trying to figure out what happened, much less who did it, and might not be able to retaliate. That’s the moment the backups and chain of command are supposed to handle, but someone will have to definitively declare who was responsible for the attack. That’s doable but not quickly.
Balloon launched warheads is the funniest idea I’ve heard in a while. Slowest but least-detectable ICBM ever.
Question is will they launch 99 of them and will they be red?
Some Russian guy hinted they could set off a nuke off the coast of England and cause a tsunami.
It is an interesting scenario since if a nuke exploded in international waters and caused such a flood, would it trigger a nuclear response? I think not (not enough reason for global suicide), although the response might be of a similar nature, a very weird and scary and unwelcome nuclear ‘proxy’ war.
Most of the gobshite from the Russians is just that. The people spouting it seem to be ignorant of the laws of physics, know nothing about “sea”waves and are a bit short on geography.
Some of them should be encourage to continue writing Sc-Fi. Areas off the coast of “England” include France, The Netherlands, and all the way up to Norway. To the West, of course is Ireland. Compared to the power expended by Gaia when hurling large lumps of seawater around (ask the Japanese about Tsunamis) a 100 Megaton Nuke is like trying to stop a gale by farting into the wind.
Last I saw, we fire “Bananas” out of Vandenburg every so often just to see if we can. I suppose they have a way to test the firing process minus the uranium for the warheads. That leaves the silos untested in Wyoming, but the silos at Vberg could use Wyoming recycled test parts. Guessing all this works just fine.
I seem to recall reading about a fiber optic system used to get data out of a warhead as it impacted down range. Explosive system intact but radioactive stuff missing of course. Designed to check that the implosion was as symmetrical as required.
Might have read it on Hackaday even.
Yep, full-up missiles regularly conduct full mission tests (launch, separation, bus manoeuvres and warhead and penaid deployment, and impact) with inert mass substituted for the fissile material. The Pacific Test range exists for exactly this purpose.
“fallout of a global pandemic”
Let me correct you there, “fallout of a global governmental over-reaction to a pandemic”. Sweden has gotten over most of the damage, except the damage caused to their economy where Swedish companies depend on customers or suppliers abroad and in countries where lockdowns were implemented. It isn’t the pandemic which did the bulk of the harm, it was the over-reaction of governments who shutdown (non-vulnerable) society as a whole whilst failing to provide focused protection for the elderly (the only ones significantly vulnerable to the virus).
Isn’t it great knowing who is going to write that history book?
I’ve stayed home for three years, and I’m not old. I was out of the hospital and rehab for four months when the pandemic began. I wasn’t afraid, just didn’t want to land back in the hospital.
I never asked others to limit themselves, but most of it was about people like me. I have little immune system, and the vaccine doesn’t do much for me. Yet the immuncompromised get barely a mention.
Protecting you is exactly what Sunetra Gupta’s focused protection methods would have done. No government did it correctly, Sweden came very close, but even they didn’t do quite enough in regards to protecting the most vulnerable (they made the same stupid mistake so many other places made and shifted infected hospital patients to carehomes at the start). Sweden atleast got the “don’t panic and do keep most of society running” part right, but they failed on the other part of focused-protection, they never did much in terms of setting up special services to make it easier for the vulnerable to protect themselves (like easy deliveries for the vulnerable so they could reduce going out to just special occasions like seeing family rather than having to go out for all their shopping), and nor did anywhere else. Its insane how most countries were willing to destroy civil liberties and the economy, but couldn’t find a couple of hundred million to pay for people to run errands for the vulnerable.
Sweden’s policy was a great experiment. Comparing their results to their direct neighboring countries, which have similar healthcare and wealth, is very informative. I’ve attached a graph so that you can evaluate for yourself how well that policy worked.
Countries like Finland and Norway will still climb, because they haven’t built up herd immunity to the newer variants and the vaccinations are less effective for those.
They managed to isolate early and thought they got away with it, but they’re still making new high record weekly death numbers while Sweden has pretty much leveled out.
Sweden had the highest death rate in Europe by a long shot.
I am baffled why you would bring them up as an example to make your point? Seems more like act irresponsibly pay the consequences. Kinda like red states did here.
Indeed, let’s just shout things and not bother with actual data.
Let’s also say the NHS in Britain did great while we are at it.
I saw three friends commit suicide and wasn’t able to attend a funeral. One was a therapist, another afterward was his client. And nobody who came close to death from disease. It cuts both ways.
A moral panic is still a moral panic even if the morals in question are legitimate.
That is why he said “significantly”. The CDC death certificate data showed form the beginning who was actually at risk and it was the elderly with comorbidity like lung problems or heart failure and the obese and diabetic. And naturally those with conditions like cystic fibrosis or lupus or on chemo (though most on lupus are taking hydroclorporcupine that the news readers made such fun of). The government officials and various governors ignored the data and got high on the power.
The most recent meta-studies indicate masks were worthless. Hand washing and not touching the face and eyes or nose without washing are very effective.
Lol, Sweden was one of the deadliest places in the world for a while there. Probably not a good example to use.
If Russia’s “general arms” stockpiles and capability are anything to go by, their nuclear arsenal is probably at a poor state of readiness and capability, not to mention is vastly over exaggerated in both performance and quantity.
Nuclear weapons are fantastically expensive to maintain and they quite literally have a shelf life due to the radioactive decay of the materials used.
Also, warheads failing to detonate won’t cause great harm. A bit of an inconvenience to the local population, but that’s about it.
They are surrounded by a vast alliance of countries that hate them (deserved or otherwise—this is a statement of fact, not of value). If anything in Russia works at all, it’s the nukes. Count on that. They have been the umbrella sheltering them and keeping them on the world stage for a very long time.
They are surrounded yes, but by no one with any interest in invading. The place runs on corruption. All the good stuff has been sold. Trucks are being delivered to the front by train that have no engines. A fleet of the latest Su-wisbang jets are probably 3 that are finished and a bunch of shells for parades.
But eh submarine service is probably different. They have to live in those things and I would bet their missiles have a reasonable success rate. Functional warheads? That is harder to determine. I know for sure they made a lot of dummy warheads in the 80’s and 90’s as part of a plan to overwhelm SDI systems. (Plane mounted SDI IR systems could track 3,000 incoming vehicles and MIRV projectiles and provide the orbits/trajectories in close to real-time. 747 mounted LASER systems were supposed to wreck them in flight. Dummies had to have the mass to match speed in the atmosphere and IR signature. It was fun times.) Dummies are a lot cheaper and are what you actually see in photos. Nobody knows how many real ones there are.
Please, tell us more about the Russian “general arms and capabilities”. The western media reprints of Ukraininian propaganda are getting scarce these days and we love to hear how incompetent and backward the Russians are.
“The enemy is simultaneously weak to the point of ridicule and strong in a way which inspires terror.”
The desperate are strong in a lot of things. Few of them admirable.
Very much related to the topic I recommend the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser for further reading. Interesting insight to the safety of nuclear weapons and how engineers developed a “wooden bomb” that could be safety left on a shelf for extended periods and still be reliable enough to go bang when necessary.
While the article is technically correct that no live warhead ICBM test has been done, the distinction between an ICBM and a SLBM (sub-launched) is quite small, and the US did a live test of those… once. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/W47#:~:text=oz)%20of%20tritium.-,Live%20fire%20testing,of%20the%20Dominic%20test%20series.
That is referenced in the link in the second paragraph.
The US tests ICBMs all the time with every single component except the nuclear material. There’s literally a minuteman 3 test scheduled for April 19th and there was one on Feb 9th. It follows that if the rocket works, the reentry vehicle works and the fuse works all together and integrated if you add the nuclear material the whole thing will work… I think you’ve missed some serious considerations before writing this.
It got lots of reader interest and comments, and isn’t that what counts?
This comment might contain traces of..
Minuteman III tests which includes every single component (including fuse) except the nuclear material are conducted all the time, there’s one scheduled literally days from this article posting. What are you talking about? That’s like saying we aren’t sure gun powder will explode if you hold it to a flame because we haven’t tested it recently.
Yeah this article is about the most “fun” anyone could hope to pursuit on this topic. If one country actually launched something from a nuclear weapons facility it would start WWIII regardless of whether it exploded the way they wanted it to. I wasn’t born till the ass end of the cold war, but as long as the technology evolves faster than society we’ll never really be out of it will we?
Nice image of NIKE missiles at the top of the article. I grew up outside Boston and there was a launch site near my house. When I was a teen, it was still partially intact (gutted buildings, covers welded over the underground magazine).
Now remediated into soccer fields.
They have an ability to test the Uranium via powerful lasers. Russia is currently behind, but planning on building a new one called the tsar Lazer as described in the link
Another aspect I was reading about is the rampant corruption in the political, military, and industrial spheres of the unnamed country. Some analysts speculate that on many military equipment and infrastructure procurements and maintenance, money may get siphoned off at several levels along the way.
Those at the bottom may not know what they were supposed to get, or may just stay silent to avoid financial or judicial repercussions from the influence of those they might out… Or repercussions to their health.
Those at the top may either not be aware of what actually ended up arriving at the bottom, or it could be an unspoken knowledge that funding will get skimmed, just as they had done in the past.
Bro remember when the Pentagon “lost” two trillion dollars and then the part of the building holding the records got destroyed like a week later? Rampant political, military, & industrial corruption apparently does not hobble a military that much.
Russia and the US are fun-house mirror images. Like two people who bitterly hate each other because they are too much alike and thus cramping each other’s style. Two girls who wore the same dress to the party.
And yes the nukes 100% still work. It’s not a good sign when media starts speculating, “well what if they DID press the button, it’ll probably just be a dud!”
I said nothing about absence of corruption elsewhere. Just simply what I felt was interesting to ponder.
War is a racket, after all. The skim is the point. Sometimes collateral damage happens, sometimes a whole lot, but the skimmers never care. A conflict will probably go nuclear eventually.
It’s just frustrating to see some people react like they did in Iraq. A few years later, another proxy war pops up, and boom the black-and-white morality and jingoism appears again. And people forget (or never knew) who Victoria Nuland is or what a color revolution implies.
People criticizing the obvious long track-record of the US setting up conflicts through careful subversion and provocation for decades just to get in on the payday are smeared as if they are Russia supporters by default—vatniks, Putin bots, whatever. “You are either with us or against us.” It’s all the same every time yet every time everyone seems to develop amnesia. It’s tiresome. This is diffuse, not aimed directly at you. I apologize for that.
Well, I am 61, and had many old associates that worked on them, so did I, most fission material has a 1/2 life of one year, then 12,000 years to dissapate, then it is gone, through the law of thermal dynamics. If the, fission material is not infused with active, radioactive material, all are turning onto, lead bullets. An example is our nuclear electric generators, they only last 40 years until decomission. Platonim is not a natural element in the universe, it has to be created. Just like the fake currency goverments make. Sorry if I misspelled some words, no longer in this business, but collected many books on the subject that collect dust.
Uranium 235 half-life: 703800000 years
Wikipedia uranium 235: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-235
Plutonium 239 half-life: 24110 years
Wikipedia plutonium 239: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium-239
The half life of both of the primary fissionable materials used in nuclear bombs is very much longer than your claimed “one year.”
I seriously hope you were never “in this business.”
Nuclear power plants use fissionables faster than the natural half life because they force the fission to occur. At that, the fuel rods are “spent” at least in part because of build up of fission products. The fuel rods can be reprocessed to remove the waste products that slow the reactions.
Yes but….. There is a concentration of the isotope that is needed for the bomb to work. The plutonium is decaying faster in concentrated form because of the increased neutron flux. The question becomes not the half-life of a few million scattered atoms, but how long before a concentrated blob can not be made to go boom? Bomb plutonium has a good percentage of Pu240 which is more fissile and produces cascades of neutrons easier. Pure 240 will glow red hot. Pure 239 is warm to the touch. Weapons on submarines use very low percentages to cut down on radiation.
The bombs also have tritium triggers with a half-life of about 12.5 years.
All of these are known factors, and nuclear devices are modular in construction. The amount of fissile material used is calculated to account for both variations in materials and decay over the weapon system’s lifetime. Triggers are removable, so that weapons can be transported safely, which means that they are also replaceable, so half-life isn’t a problem there, either. Seriously, they thought of these things.
The majority radiation and fallout from a nuclear detonation is not from Uranium or Plutonium. It is from the byproducts of the fission of Uranium or Plutonium. The thing about radiation is, elements with long half-lives don’t produce a great intensity of it; if they did, they would decay much faster. That’s how radiation works. It’s the elements that produce high-intensity radiation you have to worry about, and these naturally have much shorter half-lives.
Sir, you are talking broken biscuits in several respects.
Plutonium is around 1 part in 10^11 in pitchblende.
If the nukes ever worked, they work now. You don’t hold power like that and then ever let it go, because having it and then losing it implies death. We will have nukes up until the point that is physically impossible to have them, e.g. we use them and thus no longer have any way to mine and refine fissile elements. This is our Pandora’s curse.
Or till sci-fi shields become available. Conveniently solving that meteorite problem as well.
Not quite. You hold power like that because your opponents believe you do. Losing the power doesn’t imply death, unless you are foolish and allow this to become public knowledge.
The real deterrent in the nuclear deterrent, is that if your weapons don’t work, but your opponents’ do, then you lose biggly. Not knowing for sure if your OWN weapons work makes a first strike much more risky.
Here is the proof the author of this article is wrong. A SLBM was test launched from the USS Ethan Allen with a live 600 Kt warhead which was exploded 120 miles downrange.
If you follow the link he included in the second paragraph, that is stated.
The claim is not that the linked articles are wrong, but rather, this article.
Nuclear weapons will be around as long as something more powerful comes along. If it’s one thing humans are good at, it’s creating deadlier weapons over time.
Exactly. The genie ain’t going back in the bottle. Look at the countries which achieved nuclear arsenals and those that didn’t, then cross-reference with counties undergoing “regime change.” They know exactly what is maintaining their sovereignty and keeping their leaders from a noose or being sodomized by a bayonet, to name two very recent examples. The nukes are immaculately maintained, even if nothing else in the entire country is maintained.
“If it’s one thing humans are good at, it’s creating deadlier weapons over time.”
Bio-engineer better idiots.
FOGBANK is almost certainly tritium gas. The “one production facility” was a leaky reactor at Oak Ridge that was optimized for its production and which they realized wasn’t safe to run any more. At the start of the war I raised the issue on another board that it would be really, really easy to grift the tritium needed for regular bomb service, it’s USD$30K per gram, and you probably need at least 8 grams to service a bomb. Intercept a couple of those a day and you can upgrade to teak on your superyacht. There was a lot of skepticism at first but after a few months even the serious war watchers were qualifying their statements about Russia’s nuclear threat with phrases like “however many of them actually work.”
Tritium is used to boost the yield of the primary. Fogbank is by most accounts, a low density polymer that fills the channel between primary & secondary. Anyone with a better grasp of the physics pleases jump in – my understanding is that when it gets turned to plasma by the radiation escaping the primary it glows evenly and exerts a nice symmetrical radiation pressure on the lithium deuteride & gubbins in the secondary.
It’s an impedance matching cylinder and sphere for primary generated x-rays focusing and amplification. Or at least it was, when I was working with it, and made it up right now.
This sounds like misdirection to me. If Fogbank was a polymer, there’s no reason for it to decay and for a continuous supply to be required to service bombs. Decay is something radioisotopes do. And now that we don’t use polonium for initiators any more there’s really only one candidate that has the qualities described for Fogbank.
All materials degrade. Even high quality electronics degrade. In the case of nuclear weapons, along with normal environmental agents (oxygen being a big one), you have a significant mass of explosives off-gassing radicals, and a steady supply of helium and hydrogen isotopes throughout the physics package leaking from the tritium bottle and the secondary. Presumably there are further issues known to the nuclear weaponeers.
Tritium production is no great secret. Hell, you can buy it commercially.
The U.S. actually did conduct a single full scale test of a Polaris SLBM in 1962.
Seconding this. The only operational, live warhead, shot was from submarine USS Ethan Allen as part of the Frigate Bird test of Operation Dominic
Which by my calculations was over sixty years ago. Oh, and that was with a Polaris missile, a weapons system that was retired over 25 years ago. Not sure how this is relevant.
> The behavior of atoms undergoing fission and fusion is the same today as it was back in 1945.
Yes and no. It’s true that the physics are still the same. What’s different is the fissile material. Unlike stable elements, the nuclear material used in atom bombs is highly unstable, and that means that it changes quite significantly over time. Little Boy style nuclear weapons are probably still viable, as the uranium isotope used has a fairly long half life. Fan Man style warheads use plutonium, which decays very rapidly. Warheads using this would need to have the plutonium replaced every few years to maintain viability. This is more complicated than it sounds, because the detonation mechanism is extremely complex. You can’t just take out the plutonium ball and toss in a new one. You would basically have to rebuild most of the warhead from scratch.
Of course, newer warheads might be easier to maintain, but I have my doubts there as well. I’m still not convinced that we even have many of the warheads we claim to have, because the physics don’t make any sense. The shear quantity of fissile material needed to make a viable warhead is bigger than most warheads the government has bragged about since the late 60s. The reason the Fat Man mechanism is so complex and requires such incredible engineering is that it uses less fissile material than is sufficient for critical mass. It works by compressing the metal itself and simulating critical mass by reflecting radiation back into the fissile mass. The problem is, even this isn’t scalable. There’s a point where no amount of compression will cause fission, regardless of the reflection of radiation. In addition, compressing metals requires incredible energy. Somewhere between the actual size of the Fat Man fissile mass and the mass below which fission cannot be initiated by any combination of compression and reflection, there is a mass where the energy of the conventional explosives used to compress the mass is equal to the energy emitted by the fission reaction. I don’t know exactly where this threshold is, but I suspect it is fairly close to the mass of the Fat Man, because the more you have to compress the mass, the stronger the rebound when the compression force is released, and the less time the fissile mass spends compressed sufficiently to maintain the chain reaction. Basically, as the fissile mass gets smaller, the power it can produce decreases exponentially. This means you literally can’t reduce the size of the warhead very much before it is no longer as powerful as a conventional bomb of the same size.
Is it possible they’ve discovered technology that allows these limits to be passed? Maybe, but physics is physics. There’s nothing we’ve discovered in terms of modern physics that would allow this. It’s possible they’ve discovered better conventional explosives, such that the volume of explosives needed is less, but it seems very unlikely that they’ve managed to decrease the size by as much as they claim, as chemical energy density only really tends to increase with volatility, and that means massively increased risk of spontaneous detonation. Basically, more energy means less stable, and that means more likely to explode when you don’t want it to. My math suggests that anything smaller than maybe 75% of the size of the Fat Man is very unlikely, and anything smaller than 50% may well be entirely impossible without such enormous risk that we would definitely have seen accidental nuclear detonations if they were actually trying it.
My assessment, based on actual nuclear physics and what I know of explosives (which is considerable though not complete), is that a significant number of the nukes we “have” are show pieces designed to make us look bigger than we are. Of course, the same applies to everyone else. Russia claims to have small nukes as well, but the same physics and chemistry applies to them equally. In fact, it’s entirely possible that no one actually has ICBM nukes. Consider, the Fat Man and Little Boy are both very large and very heavy bombs. You can’t get much smaller, and even using more energetic conventional explosives isn’t going to reduce the weight by a whole lot. It’s certainly possible to make ICBMs big enough and powerful enough to deliver the size and weight of legitimate nukes, but the cost would be enormous, and I’m talking NASA rocket enormous. I don’t doubt that our government can afford it. And the USSR probably could have as well. But there’s a point where doing something is so incredible expensive that you could do something else far more effective instead, at the same price. Why built enormous nuke delivery ICBMs, when you can spend the same money to buy and arm a whole fleet of bombers capable of doing around the same amount of damage, multiple times over? Is our government dumb enough to do it anyway? Probably. Did they though? That’s the real question. The whole thing could just be a misinformation campaign to make us look more intimidating. Of course, if that’s the case, then the USSR would have had to reciprocate with their own misinformation, to keep us on our toes. This would put both sides in a situation where they know their own tiny nukes and nuke ICBMs are fake, but they can’t ever completely know that the other side hasn’t figured it out, even if they suspect.
Anyhow, hopefully we never have to find out if I’m right or wrong. There’s no point worrying about things we can’t know.
Plutonium isn’t that unstable; it has a half-life of 20,000 years. What are unstable are some of the other elements that are necessary to trigger and sustain the reaction. Fat Man and Little Boy’s initiators had to be changed every 100 days or so because the polonium decayed, and tritium is used both in the initiator and to boost the fission trigger of all modern bombs. There are no actual Fat Man or Little Boy style bombs any more unless they are prototypes made by wanna-be nuclear powers. All modern nuclear bombs — every single one of them — are boosted so that they can small and lightweight enough to be delivered by air.
Boosting means that their fission triggers can have a lot less fissile material than even Fat Man, because instead of just one neutron to start the reaction fusion of the boosting tritium generates billions in a very short time. Modern cores are “levitated” having a tiny sphere of fissile material suspended by wires at the center of a larger hollow sphere of fissile material, and the space between charged with tritium. This arrangement generates tremendous pressures — “like using a hammer on a nail instead of pushing on it.” This is the technology pioneered by Ted Taylor’s team to “miniaturize” the nuclear arsenal in the 1960’s. Bombs of this style were actually tested before the Test Ban Treaty and the technology is known to be sound. And when you can build a bomb like that, whether it is the fission trigger of a city-buster or an atomic field artillery shell like the Davy Crockett, there’s no point building anything else.
These bombs are indeed much smaller than fat Man. The fission trigger of a MIRV hydrogen warhead is about the size of a bowling ball and the entire warhead weighs about 300 kg. This was all worked out by Howard Morland working with publicly available information in the 1970’s. There is a good description of the whole process in Richard Rhodes’ Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.
Boosted devices are also safer and more reliable. Deuterium/tritium injection is another step which can be interlocked by PAL mechanisms and the weapon will be much less susceptible to pre-detonation if a Russian ABM warhead lights off high in the atmosphere and bathes your RV in neutrons.
That’s an interesting thought experiment. If it were indeed possible to rule out small plutonium warheads at home (and I admit I’ve wondered at the numbers myself), then every alleged nuclear power would know it for a fact, and they’d know their enemies knew it. At least, if the US nuclear arsenal was entirely fake, they can’t have assumed the USSR would be fooled about something that big for 50 years. The only people that could reliably be deceived about such a thing would be the general public. But then, say India wanted to gaslight its citizens about having nukes, they’d have to count on Pakistan, China, France etc. all playing along. It’s the kind of conspiracy where you have to assume so many supporting conspiracies that it becomes pointless to even wonder.
I think it’s a matter of risk. What if they did figure out a way? Physics isn’t exactly a closed field, and nuclear physics is especially not. Additionally, the government officials making the decisions don’t actually know the physics. So a nuclear physicist might tell you that smaller nukes can’t be made, but if Russia says they have one, are you going to take the risk that your physicist is right, or are you going to at least pretend to be keeping up, just in case?
There is certainly a possibility that tiny nukes are possible, but it would require nuclear physics that I’ve never heard of. And I started studying this when I was 8 years old, and I’ve done my best to keep up with every new discovery in nuclear physics since. Is it possible that the government discovered something that they are hiding? Sure, but the odds are very low. The government has far fewer people working on this than academia. The vast majority of new breakthroughs come from private research institutions, not the government.
So my assessment on this is that our government has nuclear physicists tell them that this is impossible, but they aren’t willing to take the risk that Russian physicists have discovered something new that ours aren’t aware of. Russia would, of course, be in the same boat. They probably have their nuclear physicists telling them that this is impossible, but they aren’t willing to take the risk that we’ve discovered something they haven’t, so they are putting on their own front, just in case. As long as mutually assured destruction is on the line, no one is likely to launch, but if one side has clearly superior technology, and knows they do, that upsets the balance of power, and neither side wants to be seen as the one lagging.
Basically, I suspect at this point it’s about the politics not the physics. Both sides know that the other probably does not have tiny nukes, but they aren’t willing to admit that they don’t, just in case they are wrong.
I challenge you to ask any military “test subject” survivors still alive from the 40’s – 60’s if the detonations they experienced were phony. Either US military, Soviet, or civilians in Kazakhstan or the South Pacific, say to their faces that you have serious doubts about the veracity of nuclear arsenals and that your own math shows it just doesn’t pencil out. Then let us know their reactions. Thanks!
The 1950’s “miniature nukes” were almost certainly nothing more than high yield conventional explosives, because engineering used to make the Fat Man was well beyond cutting edge, and it would have taken completely new physics (that the government knew about back then and that the rest of us still don’t know about over 70 years later) to make actual nukes that small. Faking tiny nukes isn’t that hard, in a large part because of the efficiency curve. Even if you can get below critical mass detonations, the efficiency drops exponentially (technically, you also need exponentially more conventional explosive to achieve the necessary compression, which means the smaller you make the nuclear core, the bigger the bomb gets; and no, increasing the size of the nuclear core doesn’t work either, because once you reach critical mass, the thing detonates spontanously, making it crucial to make it a good margin of error smaller than critical mass). A “miniature nuke” with actual nuclear detonation would actually have a smaller yield than the conventional explosive needed to set it off, on the off chance that you could even get it to start a chain reaction. So instead, you use a cutting edge, high yield conventional explosive, with just enough radioactive material mixed in to produce a little bit of fallout, to simulate a nuclear explosion.
Did those military “test subject” survivors actually see the bombs being constructed? Were they nuclear physicists? Because if they didn’t or weren’t, they wouldn’t know the difference between a real nuke and a conventional bomb with a bit of plutonium or uranium dust mixed in. I’m sure the detonations they experienced were completely real. They just weren’t nuclear detonations.
And I don’t care how national governments would respond to me telling them that. They have strong political reasons to keep up the charade. Fact isn’t democratic, nor is it determined by governments. Fact is fact, regardless of how others respond or what they choose to believe. If you want to know their reaction, you can try telling them yourself. I don’t care what their reaction is.
Well when it comes to high failure rates in complex machines nuclear weapons concern me the least.
Oh really, do you know just how lucky we have been to this point, that it’s akin to have won the powerball 10 times consecutively? You should read up on nuclear close calls, just the ones we know of, it’s quite enlightening.
I meant failure in the actual detonation of the bomb itself, everything else should be 100%.
“it’s akin to have won the powerball 10 times consecutively”
This is not a rational claim.
“You should read up on nuclear close calls, just the ones we know of, it’s quite enlightening.”
Don’t be credulous of narratives presented in the media you consume. The narrative writers are incentivized to maximize the import of the narrative. Any narrative that feels enlightening has misled you. Study of history can be informative, but it is very incremental.
Here’s the problem: The warheads themselves have been tested fairly well, and they will probably detonate without a problem. What hasn’t been tested is the complete missiles. Any good engineer can tell you that integration testing is extremely important. You can’t just test components independently and then expect them to work together without bothering to test. And this is especially true when the systems in question are over half a century old.
Here’s the real danger: The delivery mechanisms fail but the warheads don’t. I don’t know where all of the U.S. nuclear silos are. How do you feel about the risk that you live near one of them, when we try to launch a nuke, and it just detonates in the silo?
The danger isn’t that we try to launch a nuke and nothing happens. The danger is that we try to launch and something does happen, but that thing isn’t the missile transporting the warhead to the target before it goes off. We could end up accidentally nuking any country between us and the target, and that includes us.
ICBMs are regularly pulled from service at random and fired at Kwaj. Navy boomers do the same with Trident missiles. The reliability with which they’ll both fly is well understood. On the other hand, the CEP of their guidance systems can only be an estimate. Nobody’s fired a missile along their SIOP trajectories — for obvious reasons.
> “Two things give military commanders confidence that their weapons will still set enemy cities aglow if ever called upon.”
I think you meant to write “will still senselessly murder billions of people” here.
I’m a little confused by the idea that nukes need to be delivered via ICBM. Lil Kim could smuggle a warhead into Long Beach harbor in a container, to be used at his whim. A small model would sink a bunch of ships and wreak container cranes, really wiping out 40% of US commerce. Look how bad a strike was there.
But would the US respond in kind? Without knowing who is responsible? Nine countries have nukes, all which could be on the suspect list, as well as the possibility of rogue actors. I think the US would focus on rebuilding the port and getting the economy going, and put revenge on the back burner.
Actually forensics teams in the DOE as their specialty have very specific ways of sniffing out where the atomic particles were developed and originated from, and payback would be very hard to just ignore as the public would clamor for retribution multiplied. A state actor knows this, and likely wouldn’t be dumb enough to risk a devastating counterstrike threatening their very abillity to function as an ongoing country such as NK. One would think.
There are radiation detectors in place at harbors and such to detect attempts of shipping radioactive materials. Containers are also x-rayed to check for smuggling people and contraband. You’d have to be fairly lucky to ship a nuclear bomb and not get caught immediately.
Nuclear weapons are actually more effective when they’re detonated up in the air rather than on the ground. The pressure wave goes a lot further.
Glad some of you are not in any decision making or strategic planning operation capacities in the Pentagon or SAC, we’d be in worse shape than we already are! Really though, nuclear war is a lot greater threat than the apathetic media will tell you. A rogue Russian commander could fire off a few low explosive warheads say over Ukraine, and when NATO retaliates massively, conventionally, Russia would certainly retaliate… and we are off to the races. Repeated simulations and war games don’t paint a pretty picture. It didn’t need to be this way either, right after East Germany fell Secretary James Baker promised Gorbachev “We will not gloat in victory, NATO will not move 1 inch eastward.” Dozens of countries later now Finland at the worst possible time….. yeah, the native Americans could relate to that kind of promise also. Next. No, Taiwan can’t stave off a Chinese attack for years. Their very own Foreign Minister just told Australian Sky News that in March, in his words: “We aren’t ready.” China could very well start huge, massively attacking US bases in Guam, Hawaii, Japan, South Korea… and the odds it cout turn nuclear would be uncomfortably high. These are the truths, warheads haven’t gone stale, they aren’t fake, there would be very little warning if any, accidents and glitches can and do happen especially in times of high emotion and crisis, and having a series of demented leaders leaves us in a very disadvantanged situation to say the least. Oh, and don’t let the media confuse you about radiation if Russia does set off a few, there is a vast difference in airburst and grounburst exposure. For example, Hiroshima/Nagasaki were both airburst, and fallout did not travel to Tokyo whatsoever. Radiation was from thermal exposure, very little from fallout. If it’s from a ground burst, that’s a different story of course. Ground bursts in the US would be on Minuteman silos, military bases of all types, airports, production facilities, and maybe the worst…. nuclear power plants with spent plutonium rods making Chernobyl look like a birthday candle inside of a Costco in comparison. Airbursts would certainly detonate over cities in countervalue strikes. Bottom line: Should one believe those who have concocted their own reality that we can just shoot down most or all enemy ICBM/SLBM’s, that enemy nukes won’t work or it would all just magically stay civil and conventional haha hee hee, that there won’t be nuclear winter, famine and all the rest, or should we go with those in the millitary that have spent their entire careers studying this and all concur. Hmmmm, tough choice. Underestemating and disrespecting your adversary is the quickest route to failure, that’s taught in the military and business.
Thank you Sir. Someone with real information, not wishful thinking.
There is all kinds of really fascinating stuff on this topic to find online if you know what to look for. They are, although they usually don’t come out and directly say it, acquiring the data to entirely simulate nuclear warhead detonations in their supercomputer code. What do you think is the primary purpose of the US National Ignition Facility, that huge laser pumped nuclear fusion facility? You know, the one they started building right after the comprehensive nuclear test ban that banned all nuclear weapon tests. At least on the Wikipedia page for the smaller French facility of the same kind they come right out and say it.
Los Alamos National Lab
National Security Science
But Will It Work? – The Nuclear Weapon Stockpile Stewardship Program
That is also why they’re restoring old nuke test films, NOT just for our entertainment. My GUESS at the reason why they need to do this is to make more accurate measurements of the tests (which the guy in the video below says is the point of the restorations) to check by comparison the accuracy of simulations in supercomputer code of known warhead designs with the actual detonations. “The goals are to preserve the films’ content before it’s lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.”
Weapon physicist declassifies rescued nuclear test films
For more, search for “stockpile stewardship” on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s YouTube channel.
You are partially right. Different plutonium isotopes have different half lives. The Fat Man mainly used Pu-239, which does indeed have a half life a little over 24,000 years. It also contained some Pu-240, which has a much shorter half life. Here’s the problem though: The Fat Man starts with less Pu than is necessarily for critical mass. The way critical mass is achieved is an outer beryllium shell that reflects radiation back into the sphere, essentially simulating additional plutonium outside of the center ball, and by compressing the ball, forcing the atoms closer together, increasing the odds of collisions between radiated particles and plutonium atoms. This was an incredible careful balance. Technically, it was only barely enough to make it go off. Even with a 24,000 half life, 40 to 50 years of decay could easily reduce the radiation emitted to a low enough amount that it could no longer detonate. And that’s not even considering the faster decay of the Pu-240 (with a half life of only 6,500 years).
So, yes, I did underestimate the half life of plutonium (I was probably thinking of the half life of polonium, as you implied), but it doesn’t actually make a lot of difference. The tolerances required just to make a bomb that would be viable but not detonate spontaneously were so fine that odds are pretty good a 50 year old Fat Man would go off today.
Pine Gap sits there alllllllll day every day listening for telemetry codes and those kinda fun things in addition to every other airbound transmission. Pretty much a shotspotter for five eyes. Then there are the geo and magneto sats that can detect such concentrations of emissions that keep a keen eye out for us. As another mentioned, the subs probably have well maintained nukes because you kinda have to have them in your back pocket and cant have a radiated and sick crew manning it. I really hope against all hopes no one ever does but I feel like it is almost an assured outcome at some point. Maybe not big but it will be problematic nonetheless. When oh when are we going to be attacked by aliens so we can come together as a planet lol.
Not sure about hardware but as someone who works on updating very old digital infrastructure I can say that may be a big issue. I don’t work in military but arguably something even more scrutinized: financial haha.
Some of the bugs, degraded physical media and just outdated systems is insane. I know for a fact large amounts of military systems are powered by horrendously old hardware and software. In fact, I know personally people who implemented algorithms for ancient guided missiles and they say the same code is used. If it’s not broken don’t fix it. However, after 60 years mechanical hard drives and media tend to degrade. Computer code doesn’t hold up so well either.
Just a thought.
“Furthermore, no live test of an nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile has ever taken place.”
I’ll leave this here. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Operation_Dominic_-_Frigate_Bird_nuclear_explosion.jpg
On Howard Morland’s Wikipedia page (thanks localroger) there is a link to his article “The Holocaust Bomb: a Question of Time.”
It took me hours to read it. It is intensely interesting. Plenty of technical details along with the political story of nuclear weapons.
I learned that most “hydrogen bombs” are mainly fission weapons. A small fission-type primary causes a small fusion reaction in a secondary which results in a much larger fission explosion of the main bomb fuel, U235 and/or U238.
The small fusion reaction makes the large fission explosion nearly 100% efficient. The high efficiency allows a smaller device, easier to put it on a missile, even dozens on one missile, MIRV.
A true hydrogen bomb would produce far less radioactive poison than the bombs we call hydrogen bombs would. Uranium creates the worst fallout. But a true hydrogen bomb would not be as effective as the current uranium-in-fact weapons are. Morland explains it all in a fascinating article
The reason no one’s ever test fired an ICBM with a live warhead had nothing to do with potential safety risks or negative impacts on people, the environment, or anything else. Being good global citizens or acting responsibly has never weighted into the decision making of nuclear armed countries. We’ve irradiated entire island chains, created debris minefields in Earth orbit by using satellites for target practice, turned arid deserts to glass, intentionally created poisonous lakes using nuclear craters…Hell, the US spent decades flying bombers in the sky 24/7 loaded with live nukes.
The real reason that not a SINGLE country has test fired a nuclear tipped missle in the entire 80 years since the beginning of the atomic age is simple…. ALIENS
The little bastards keep swooping in their little flying saucers and shooting the tips off our missiles any time we try to have even a little fun and load a live warhead on the things. Every time, never fails. Complete party poopers. Everyone just gave up eventually and quit trying. Sucks.
(Only half joking)
Might be half joking, but just as accurate as all the other BS posted here
I don’t really understand the problem here. Best case scenario: none of the nukes works in case it’s ever deployed. In fact, were I tasked with making sure, they are in working order I would percieve it as my ethical duty to work towards the opposite goal as subtly as possible.
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