Nuclear War Science Making And History Essay

Nuclear War: Science, Making, And History Essay, Research Paper

The nuclear bomb is the most destructive weapon that is possessed by the human race at this time. It is important to the world that we live on and all if its inhabitants that nuclear bombs are controlled and managed properly so that they will not be used accidentally or unnecessarily. A grasp of the principles behind them and the events that have happened in the past is necessary for predicting possible future situations. From the inception of the idea of the atomic bomb until the present, nuclear weapons have caused a fear of nuclear holocaust; in the future they may be less of a threat of total destruction.

An understanding of the basic principles and work behind the scenes of nuclear weapons is necessary to understand much of the situation with nuclear weapons throughout the past and continuing into the future. Before any of the theory can be understood, a basic comprehension of the structure of the atom is necessary. Atoms are composed of neutrons, electrons, and protons. Neutrons and protons are found in the nucleus of an atom, which is the compact mass in the center that the electrons orbit around. The protons and neutrons are thousands of times more massive that the electrons. Neutrons have no charge, protons are positive, and electrons are negative. The similar charges repel each other, but the protons are held together in the nucleus by a force similar to gravity. In normal chemical changes the nucleus of an atom remains unchanged; in a nuclear reaction, however, nuclei of the atoms combine or split, forming other elements (Fusion 2).

Iron is the most stable element, because it has the perfect balance of repulsion between protons and attraction due to gravity. Elements with lower atomic numbers tend to undergo fusion, or combine, if put under the right circumstances. This is similar to the process on the sun, where hydrogen combines to form helium. An identical process is used in thermonuclear weapons. Atoms with higher atomic numbers tend to fission, where the atom splits. Fission is the process used in bombs like Hiroshima. The two elements that have been found to be unstable enough for nuclear weapons are U-235 (uranium-235) and Pu-239 (plutonium 239). When the nuclei are hit by stray neutrons, they will divide into several different elements and more neutrons. Protons and electrons will not hit the nucleus and break it up because protons are repelled by the positive charge of the nucleus and electrons are repelled by the other electrons orbiting the nucleus. If enough mass of fissionable material is present, a self-sustaining chain reaction is produced that releases much energy in the form of heat and light in a very short time. This reaction is called an atomic bomb (Fusion 1).

U-235 has many disadvantages for use in weapons. The large critical mass required for a chain reaction is very difficult to obtain. For every 25,000 tons of uranium ore that is mined from the earth, only 50 tons of uranium metal are produced. Only seven-tenths of one percent of this metal is U-235, which is equal to .35 tons. The rest of the metal is composed of U-238 and U-234, both of which are too stable for use in weapons. One large advantage to a uranium bomb is that it can be detonated easily. Detonation can be caused by two different methods. The first is by firing a bullet of U-235 into a large sphere of it, forming critical mass. The other method is to surround a sphere of U-235 that is not critical mass with high explosives, so that it will be compressed enough to form a critical mass. Plutonium is much more difficult to detonate but requires less critical mass. It can not be found in nature, but can be created by putting U-238 in a nuclear reactor where it picks up extra particles. Thermonuclear bombs that use the fusion process are much more devastating, and the hydrogen needed is fairly inexpensive and simple to make. Fusion is initiated in the hydrogen by placing it around a normal uranium or plutonium bomb (Shepley 12-13).

When an atomic bomb detonates, the uranium or plutonium changes into several other chemicals, many of which are radioactive and stay in the human body forever. One dangerous product is strontium. Because of its chemical similarity to calcium, it is absorbed into bones and stays there forever. Cesium, another dangerous product, is distributed evenly throughout the body. Both are radioactive, and can cause damage in future generations, cancer, and other genetic mutations. After the initial shock of the blast, there is a gust of wind that can reach over five hundred miles per hour. Several hours after detonation, there is nuclear fallout, a rain of radioactive particles. These include cesium, strontium, and many other products. The electromagnetic pulse that is generated by an atomic bomb at high altitudes scrambles all electronics over a large area. This is devestating, because most communications and all computers in a city would are scrambled. Any weapons, businesses, homes, or government facilities relying on computers are rendered nonfunctional (Fission 5).

Several events led up to the testing of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. First, nuclear fission was discovered by Otto Llahn and Lisa Meitner in 1938. Many important scientists including Albert Einstein told the United States government that a nuclear bomb might be possible. The first self-sustaining nuclear reaction was presided over by Enrico Fermi. Without informing the administrators of the possible consequences, scientists set up the first nuclear pile on the University of Chicago campus under the stadium of Stagg Field in a doubles squash court. Experimenters placed many layers of graphite and uranium into a giant pile. Slowly, giant cadmium rods that were keeping the reaction from talking place were taken out. The pile was allowed to run for four minutes before it was shut down with cadmium solution and rods. Had the pile been allowed to run unchecked, deadly neutrons from the reaction would have killed much of the population of Chicago (Beyer 33-35).

The Manhattan Project was the code-name for the United States’ first atomic bomb program. Physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer was the administrative director of the project. From 1939 to 1945, the project used over two billion tax dollars. The most people employed at one time during the six years was 215,000. One hundred sixty thousand of these worked in twenty-five labs; fifty thousand more worked in a plutonium separation plant. The first atomic bomb created by the project was nicknamed “the Gadget,” and was created in 1945 (Nuclear 1-2).

The setting up, detonation, and observation of the first atomic bomb was code-named Trinity. Observers were stationed five and thirty-two miles away from ground zero in a desert by an Air Force base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. At the station five miles away the observers were required to wear suntan lotion to protect them from the heat and radiation of the blast. Everybody that did not believe that the atomic bomb would work was proved wrong on July 16, 1945, when the Gadget detonated with a force of 17,000 tons of TNT. The test bomb produced heat four times greater than the sun, made night into day for two seconds, and the blast of air knocked people down stationed five miles away. People as far as one hundred miles away heard the bomb, and others one hundred eighty miles away saw the nuclear weapon explode. This extremely secret project in the deserts of New Mexico ushered this world into the atomic age (Beyer 13).

After several hours the smoke cleared; the official story was released that a stockpile of explosives accidentally went off at the Air Force base, nobody was hurt, and it was nothing to worry about. Less than a month later, several bombs were ready for use against Japan; they were approved for use by President Truman. The rationale for using them was that if the United States troops had to invade Japan, over one million American lives would be lost, and more Japanese. Thus the atomic bomb could actually be considered a life saver. Americans had a good idea of how devestating the atomic bomb would be. On August 6, 1945, the first military atomic bomb was loaded into the Engola Gay, a B-29. At 7:30 a.m. during the flight to Hiroshima, the bomb was armed by inserting the necessary explosives. At 8:16 a.m., the atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy exploded at 1,900 feet with a force equal to twelve to fifteen thousand tons of TNT (Beyer 69-70)

Sources differ as to the amount of destruction in Hiroshima. Karl Bruckner, in his book The Day of the Bomb, said that the blast was one hundred times brighter than the sun, and a ball of fire at several million degrees was created. Eighty-six thousand people were burned to death instantly, and seventy-two thousand were severely injured. Six thousand eight hundred twenty houses were blown to pieces and sucked several miles into the air. Three thousand seven hundred fifty buildings collapsed and burned with the gale force winds. Deadly neutrons and gamma rays were dispersed over a three-quarter mile area. One article, “Fission Principles,” said that 66,000 people were killed and 69,000 were severely injured.

On August 9, 1945, only three days after Hiroshima, the second military atomic bomb was loaded into the Bock’s Car that was piloted by Charles Sweeney. After being switched from the primary target, Kokura, to Nagasaki due to bad weather, the bomb detonated at 11:02 a.m. at 1,650 feet with a yield equal to twenty-two kilotons of TNT (Beyer 76). Hills surrounding the city caused the blast to be less devastating. Thirty-nine thousand people were killed and twenty-five thousand injured (Fission 5). After the bombing of Nagasaki, Truman called off the other three planned atomic bombings, and Japan surrendered.

Many predictions were made as to how long it would take the Soviet Union to come up with its first viable atomic bomb. Major Leslie R. Groves, who supervised the Manhattan District, thought it would be fifteen to twenty years. The navy predicted twenty, the army fifteen, and the air force, with the most conservative prediction, guessed seven years. In actuality, the Soviet Union created a working bomb in three to four years. This threw many military planners off track because they had retired most of the American armed forces on account of the American atomic monopoly. However, the public took the announcement of Soviet atomic power without panic (Shepley 3-5).

An Air Force plane studying cosmic radiation first picked up the traces of the Soviet Union’s first test bomb. The photographic plates mounted on the plane were overexposed, alerting scientists. Special flights were taken to analyze the atmosphere, and American scientists concluded that the increased radiation did come from an atomic bomb. The Soviet bomb, nicknamed Joe One, was six times as powerful as Hiroshima and was a plutonium bomb. The Soviet Union did not admit to using a bomb for a long time, but American scientists determined the information about Joe One from atmospheric samples (Shepley 3-8).

Joe One sparked new interest in the hydrogen bomb. It would have been unacceptable for the Soviet Union to develop one and have the United States lagging far behind. An extreme power imbalance like that would make nuclear war more likely. This caused a large debate over whether the Soviets were starting a thermonuclear bomb development program. The U.S. did not want to develop this much more destructive weapon without reason because Americans considered the H-bomb a weapon of senseless mass destruction. Finally, the United States decided to start a hydrogen bomb research program. This was justified in the future when it was discovered that the Soviet Union had in fact gone right ahead to a fusion bomb program (Shepley 20-24).

Several political agencies were created after the bombing of Hiroshima to control atomic energy in the United States. First was the AEC, or atomic energy commission, which was founded to oversee all nuclear applications. One important member was Lewis L. Strauss, who always kept his position on issues even when the other four members of the committee were against him. He was later made chief of the commission. Strauss also saw to the establishment of the detection net that confirmed the existence of Joe One. The AEC saw to peaceful sides of atomic energy like medicine and power as well as overseeing military applications of nuclear power. The Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives was created to enable more government influence on atomic affairs. It oversaw the AEC and was created against the will of the members of the commission (Shepley 10-11).

It is because of MAD reasoning, or mutually assured destruction, that the only atomic bombs used in war were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. MAD reasoning assures that no nuclear power would ever initiate an attack against another. Both countries would most likely end up completely destroyed. This is the reason is why it is so important for the different countries to keep up in nuclear research. We are always increasing technology in weapons we have not used in war for over fifty years for the same reasons (Beyer 85).

Many attempts have been made to control nuclear bombs in the past, some of which have been successful. In 1963, Soviet Premier Nikati Krushchev and American President John F. Kennedy signed the first nuclear test ban treaty. To limit contamination from nuclear fallout, they agreed to stop testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. This left only underground testing legal for both countries. Many nuclear nonproliferation agreements have been signed that prevent the spreading of nuclear weapons to countries that do not yet possess them. Strategic arms limitations talks in the seventies took place to limit the number of offensive and defensive weapons held by the United States and the USSR. Strategic arms reductions talks have been taking place from 1982 until the present and enforce the same principles as the other talks (Beyer 88).

At the present time, many different countries have nuclear weapons of the capability to build them at short notice. The five declared nuclear powers that have openly announced the existence of their bombs are the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China. The three threshold states that are believed to have nuclear bombs of the capability to create them are India Israel, and Pakistan. These countries have not openly declared their nuclear capabilities. Israel is the only one of those three believed to have bombs, possibly as many as one hundred (Nuclear 3).

Other countries have had nuclear bombs in the past or may in the future. In 1993, South Africa announced their previous program in which they built seven bombs. However, they say that they destroyed them in 1989 and signed a nonproliferation agreement banning them from creating nuclear bombs in 1991. Iraq had a nuclear bomb program in its early stages that was destroyed in the Gulf War. Iran is interested, but a threat from them is far off. North Korea had been producing plutonium, but will stop soon under an agreement with the United States Government (Nuclear 3).

Several countries have conducted many nuclear tests in the atmosphere and underground. The United States has tested 1030 bombs, Russia 715, France 210, Britain 45, China 43, and India has tested one nuclear bomb as of January 1, 1996 (Nuclear 4). A test ban being proposed now in the United Nations would ban all explosive nuclear tests, including those underground. Countries would still be allowed to design and build nuclear weapons that were tested on a computer modeling system or not tested at all. However, the treaty would require the backing of all forty-four countries with nuclear installations to pass. If the test ban does not have the signatures of all countries in three years, it could be passed provisionally for only the supporting countries. Currently India, one of the threshold states, does not back the treaty so it will probably not pass (Test 1). Even though there is no binding agreement, many countries have voluntarily stopped testing anyway. Russia’s last nuclear test was in 1990. Britain stopped in 1991, America in 1992, and France quit in January 1996. India’s only test was on May 18, 1974. China is planning some more tests for this year (Nuclear 4).

In the past, many different types of nuclear bombs have been created. The production of all bombs with a yield of over ten megatons in the U.S. was stopped in 1957. They have been made for many different purposes in many different shapes and sizes, from small land mines to bombs that could wipe out an entire country. Now we have 150-pound land mines with the power of one thousand tons of TNT and missiles that are extremely deadly and can carry large warheads. There are also shells with a 100-ton yield that are fired from a 155 mm gun. However, the most powerful missiles have less power than they used to because that much destructive potential was not useful (Gray 1-7). Many warheads today are mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be launched from any place on earth to hit any other location (Stine 10).

Presently, much of the nuclear arsenal consists of hydrogen bombs. Much of the research at this time is investigating how to dismantle bombs already created without exposure to radiation or accidental detonation. Every nuclear cruise missile costs about two million dollars. The United States’ warheads are often smaller that Russian weapons but have better targeting. There is still a large chance that the U.S. or someone else will use nuclear weapons in war against a country that does not possess nuclear weapons or have an ally that does. It is much less likely that a country will attack another with nuclear capabilities, because that country would face possible total annihilation (Hellinger).

In the future, warfare may be much different because of nuclear weapons and advancements in technology. Many different devices could be used to gather information, and fewer people would be required to fight. It is possible that there would be no hand-to-hand combat, just scouting teams that would determine vulnerable targets; then missiles would be launched at those locations. If combat was required, soldiers could be provided with current maps of their situation including troop positions on a heads-up display. This is a display in the helmet of a soldier that displays any type of information. With just a glance upward, the person can learn whatever is displayed currently. Unmanned ships may be sent out into the ocean with many, many nuclear missiles. This would put no humans in danger and would give many advantages to the country in control of the submarine (Newman 34-41).

The best course for all countries would be to reduce the amount and size of nuclear weapons. There is no point in destroying the entire world in a nuclear war; therefore the United States must strive for nuclear arms reductions. However, it would be disastrous for countries to reduce their nuclear arms alone, because they might very well be destroyed on account of their inability to fight back. For situations like the bombing of Hiroshima where more people would be killed in an attack that in an atomic bombing, it is correct to launch nuclear weapons at the country if the bomb is likely to cause them to surrender.

There is no way to predict for sure whether or not there will be nuclear war in the future, yet it will probably never happen. A nuclear war would be so destructive to all of the countries involved that it would not be worth getting into one. If bombs are used, it will most likely be against countries that do not have nuclear capabilities or allies that have them, and in situations where an invasion would cause great loss of life for both countries. This is what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, in situations like that in Bosnia, nuclear bombs are not useful because both parties occupy the same general areas, and nuclear bombs destroy a larger area than necessary. A good understanding and analysis of the events in the past and present is the best way to predict what decisions in the future will create a better, safer world for everyone.

Beyer, Don E. The Manhattan Project. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Bruckner, Karl. The Day of the Bomb. Princeton, NJ: D. Van. Nostrand, 1961.

Fission Principles. Online. Internet. 10 Oct. 1996.

Grey, Ronald William. U.S. Freefall Bombs and Nuclear Warhead Designations 1943-

1989. Online. Internet. 4 Nov. 1996.

Hellinger, Daniel. Telephone Interview. 21 Oct. 1996.

Newman, Richard J. “Special Report: Warfare 2020.” U.S. News and World Report

5 Aug. 1996: 34-41.

“The Nuclear FAQ.” Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science 1996. Online.

Internet. 20 Oct. 1996.

Blair, Clay Jr. and Shepley, James R. The Hydrogen Bomb: The Men, The Menace, The

Mechanism. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1954.

Stine, G. Harry. ICBM: The Making of the Weapon that Changed the World. New

York, NY: Orion Books, 1991.

“Test Ban: Not For All.” The Economist 14 Sept. 1996.


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