What are Nuclear Weapons?

Given this is in the news of late, we ask what are Nuclear Weapons?

A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission (“atomic”) bomb test released the same amount of energy as approximately 20,000 tons of TNT. The first thermonuclear (“hydrogen”) bomb test released the same amount of energy as approximately 10,000,000 tons of TNT.

A modern thermonuclear weapon weighing little more than 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg) can produce an explosive force comparable to the detonation of more than 1.2 million tons (1.1 million tonnes) of TNT. Thus, even a small nuclear device no larger than traditional bombs can devastate an entire city by blast, fire and radiation. Nuclear weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction, and their use and control have been a major focus of international relations policy since their debut.

The basics of the Teller–Ulam design for a hydrogen bomb: a fission bomb uses radiation to compress and heat a separate section of fusion fuel.

Fusion Weapons

This type of nuclear weapon produces a large proportion of its energy in nuclear fusion reactions. Such fusion weapons are generally referred to as thermonuclear weapons or more colloquially as hydrogen bombs (abbreviated as H-bombs), as they rely on fusion reactions between isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium). All such weapons derive a significant portion, and sometimes a majority, of their energy from fission. This is because a fission weapon is required as a “trigger” for the fusion reactions, and the fusion reactions can themselves trigger additional fission reactions.

Fusion reactions do not create fission products, and thus contribute far less to the creation of nuclear fallout than fission reactions, but because all thermonuclear weapons contain at least one fission stage, and many high-yield thermonuclear devices have a final fission stage, thermonuclear weapons can generate at least as much nuclear fallout as fission-only weapons

The International Atomic Energy Agency was created in 1957 to encourage peaceful development of nuclear technology while providing international safeguards against nuclear proliferation.

Apart from their use as weapons, nuclear explosives have been tested and used for various non-military uses, and proposed, but not used for large-scale earth moving. When long term health and clean-up costs were included, there was no economic advantage over conventional explosives.

Synthetic elements, such as einsteinium and fermium, created by neutron bombardment of uranium and plutonium during thermonuclear explosions, were discovered in the aftermath of the first thermonuclear bomb test. In 2008 the worldwide presence of new isotopes from atmospheric testing beginning in the 1950s was developed into a reliable way of detecting art forgeries, as all paintings created after that period may contain traces of cesium-137 and strontium-90, isotopes that did not exist in nature before 1945.

25 Aug 2010 – “Storax Sedan” underground nuclear test – July 1962

Storax Sedan (yield 104 kt) – shallow underground nuclear test conducted by the United States on 6 July 1962 at Nevada Test Site. The main purpose of the detonation was to asses the non military dimension of a nuclear explosion.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not entered into force as of December 2012

See http://www.ctbto.org/for more details on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation

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Posted on February 15, 2013, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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