A nuclear weapon is a weapon that suddenly releases the energy in the nucleus of certain types of atoms. When triggered, these devices release a huge amount of energy in the form of an explosion. Nuclear weapons are also known as "atomic bombs", "atom bombs", or "A-bombs". Nuclear weapons are very powerful, and one nuclear weapon can destroy a city. They get their energy by changing some of their matter into energy. This is called a nuclear explosion. Nuclear explosions are difficult to ignite and control, and require uranium or plutonium that has been enriched for reactive isotopes. These isotopes are not concentrated enough in natural uranium to cause explosions.
The first nuclear weapons were created by the United States during World War II and used against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This is the only time in history when nuclear weapons have been used in combat. This development was called the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project took place in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity site at White Sands in southern New Mexico.
Nuclear weapons are made from the elements uranium or plutonium. Certain forms of these elements can be made to undergo nuclear fission and have a nuclear chain reaction. This produces a very large amount of energy and radiation, and will kill any people or animals within several kilometers. Much of the radiation is X-rays, which heats air to produce a huge nuclear fireball. The rapid expansion of the fireball produces a dangerous shock wave that destroys houses or buildings even several kilometers away. It will eventually kill people farther away than several kilometers depending on how much radiation the person received. The mutations in the DNA cause cancer and radiation poisoning. Nuclear bombs release fallout, which is nuclear material and dust that has been irradiated and became radioactive. This poisonous dust is blown by the winds for tens or hundreds of kilometers, and can remain dangerous for several years.
A hydrogen bomb, or fusion bomb, is a nuclear weapon which utilizes hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) as another type of fuel. Hydrogen bombs can be many hundreds of times more powerful than fission bombs. Despite the name, in hydrogen bombs in use, the hydrogen is only there to produce enough neutrons to also detonate a casing made of natural uranium. The fuel in hydrogen bombs is thus mostly unrefined uranium.
The delivery of the nuclear weapon to its target is as complex as making one. A nuclear explosive device can be placed in a bomb, or into a missile, which is called a nuclear missile. Nuclear bombs can be carried by aircraft. Nuclear missiles can be carried by aircraft, submarines, or trucks, or they can be placed into underground missile silos. Strategic bomber aircraft like the B-36 Peacemaker, B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit are used to carry nuclear weapons. They are also carried by missiles, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM's). Some missiles travel to the border of space, and then launch a number of separate nuclear weapons back toward the ground, and each one can travel to a different target. This is called a MIRV Warhead, or Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles. Very large nuclear bombs have been produced, by in practice a MIRV can produce as much damage from several smaller explosions.
Nuclear weapons cost a lot of money to make, because the materials they are made of are very rare and it takes many scientists to make them. But many countries have managed to create nuclear weapons. Many countries in the world possess nuclear weapons today. In the order that they first made nuclear weapons, they are: United States (1945), Russia (1949), United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), and Pakistan (1998). Israel is thought to also have nuclear weapons, but the government says they do not. Many people said that North Korea had nuclear weapons, and they have said that they do but now they say that they will not make any more. In (2006), North Korea held their first official nuclear test. South Africa once had nuclear weapons, but now says that it has destroyed them all. Iran is believed to be making nuclear weapons, but they say they are just making nuclear energy. When countries get or try to get nuclear weapons, it is called nuclear proliferation. Some of those countries may have lost their nuclear weapons. There are 92 atom bombs lost at sea from all countries with a nuclear arsenal. The bombs were lost in 15 different cases. However, there could be more lost bombs.
- "Map of 15 Known Lost Nuclear Bombs". genecurtis.com. 2011 [last update]. http://www.genecurtis.com/LostNuclearBombs.htm. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- "About Facts Net". aboutfacts.net. 2005 [last update]. http://aboutfacts.net/Weapons36.htm. Retrieved August 31, 2011. "92"
- "Lost nuclear bombs". didyouknow.org. 2011 [last update]. http://didyouknow.org/nuclear/. Retrieved August 31, 2011. "92"
Other websites [change]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Use of nuclear weapons|
- WW2DB: Operation Trinity and the Manhattan Project
- WW2DB: Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- The natural voice of A-bomb victims. VOSHN.com