Nuclear

How Scientists Actually Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb

Written by Benjamin Plackett

There are enough nuclear weapons in the world to cause atomic Armageddon many times over, according to scientists, who estimate that no country could fire more than 100 nuclear warheads without wreaking such devastation that their own citizens back home would be killed.

Most nuclear nations recognized by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — namely, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — have set about reducing their arsenals. China is a notable exception. The exact number of the country’s warheads is unknown, but many analysts say its cache is slowly growing in size. North Korea, on the other hand, while notoriously difficult to predict, could eventually scale back its nuclear program if its diplomatic rapprochement with the West continues.

Negotiations on nuclear disarmament are politically tricky. But when agreements are reached, scientists and engineers can provide a variety of tools to take apart some of humanity’s most deadly weapons and store or repurpose the dangerous nuclear material. It’s a long and complex procedure, but experts say it’s one worth doing.

Nuclear disassembly is a coordinated process, which involves politicians, scientists and engineers working together.

It all begins with the blueprints that designers used to build the weapon in the first place, according to experts.

“It’s like any other kind of machine,” explained Robert Rosner, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board. “It’s a case of taking it apart piece by piece.”

To unpick a nuclear device, engineers need to know the exact sequence in which the pieces were originally put together.

“The design of atomic bombs is what I’d call an open secret. There aren’t that many ways of designing them and so if the Americans had to deal with the North Korean bombs, for example, it wouldn’t be much of a mystery to them,” said Rosner.

But the more sophisticated and destructive hydrogen bombs that the Americans, British, Chinese, French and Russians possess is a different story.

Read more at Discover

About the author

Benjamin Plackett