The Stuff of Nuclear Bombs
With Iraq and North Korea in the news so much, I was curious about the "manufacturing" of nuclear bombs. The DOE has a simple yet informative chart.
What follows is a quick FAQ about some of the terminology.
Just how big could the rogue nation bombs be?
They would probably be similar or smaller in destructive force to the ones used in WW2 since they are based on the same physics. The ones used in WW2 were fission bombs where the destructive energy is released by the splitting of atoms and yield explosive forces in kilotons of TNT range. Eventually, techology advanced to fission-fusion bombs where the destructive energy is derived from the fusion of atoms. These bombs can be in the megaton range. A fission explosion is utilized to provide the high energy needed for the subsequent fusion step. Rogue nuclear programs would be developing fission weapons.
Keep hearing about uranium and plutonium, what is that all about?
It turns out that there are 2 types of material that make nuclear weapons work: uranium or plutonium. Splitting (fission) either type of atom is the key to the bombs. Uranium ore is a mix of at least 2 types of uranium: U-235 and U-238. Most of it is U-238. It turns out that U-235 is the one needed for bombs hence there is a need to "enrich" the uranium. One way that is done is using gas centrifuges which is able to separate U-235 from U-238.
Then there is the plutonium angle. Nuclear reactors generate plutonium as a waste. Bomb makers have to purify the plutonium out of the waste in order to get weapon's grade material to work with. Either process is very difficult and expensive. Iraq, Iran and North Korea's dictators would rather spend billions of dollars to get bombs instead of feed their own people. Is that evil or not?
There are many web pages about nuclear technology and here are a few I came across: