Wednesday, January 15, 2003

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:

Monday, January 13, 2003

@ the Movies

Lord of the Rings -- the Two Towers: A-

I read the trilogy back in high school so details are faded but I've really enjoyed the 2 films so far. I think the first film was a tad better in that the pacing was better. In Two towers, they have to follow 3 threads and the jumping around though done very well, at times the momentum seem to wane. 2 nit picks... perhaps the scenes wound up on the cutting room floor... but the Ents deciding to fight Sauraman seemed sudden and uncharacteristic of the Ents. The change of heart of Boromir's brother seemed sudden. I've been told by Tolkein fans that those two episodes indeed were altered in the film. Overall, the action and adventure and the scenary and good versus evil themes had me riveted.

ST- Nemesis: B

The even number good, odd number not so good continues... the visual effects do indicate they have a lower budget... compared to the frantic space battles of Star Wars, ST's battle looks pretty tame. Also, I don't know if it was our theater or it was intentional but the movie seemed dark -- literally, it seemed like everything was underexposed! The story was a bit predictable but still fun and interesting and the characters are true to what we have grown to love... hard to believe the pilot "Farpoint" episode was in 1987.... 15 years ago!!

007 -- Die another day: B+

What can you say? They got the formula down and do it well. Beautiful women, fast cars, exotic locales, icky villians, and an outlandish dominate the world plot and a wink and a nod from the Bond actor -- Connery, Moore and Bronsnan have it down; while Dalton and Lazenby just didn't quite get that tongue in cheek flavor.

Harry Potter--Chamber of secrets: B+

Not having read the books may or may not be a plus but it is pleasant entertainment. The films have the "mechanics" of magic like LoR but the "good vs. evil" subtext isn't as strong as LoR. I suppose that may be driven by the fact that the story is about a teenager where issues of identity and finding a place in the world and companions for the journey are stronger issues. Nonetheless, good fun and a bit scarier than the first installment. If you get whigged out by spiders and snakes beware! 8-)

Clancy--Sum of all Fears: B

I read the book many years ago and I wondered how they would adapt the story to having Ryan early in his career and nixing the Islamic terror angle. That bit of PC was annoying. The neo-Nazi movement though troubling is nowhere nearly as insane or as powerful as the Jihadist. Current events have shown the neo-Nazi (or nativist/racist/facist flavored policital parties) are in decline... France's lePenn was beaten badly and Austria's Haider has self-destructed so using them as the villians was a stretch. But leaving that aside, enjoyed the story line overall. There was one Ryan having to slug it out scene which is not in the spirit of the character in the books. In the film, there was an earlier scene where he has to take up a gun and that was handled more consistently. The whole Ryan as the James Bond type who slugs it out with the bad guys is one of the big nitpicks I had with Patriot Games finale where the final fight was way too Hollywood. Anyway, hope Afleck will get to run with the role a couple more times. Wonder which book will they try to develop a screenplay for?