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mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:04 AM
In my story, a SMALL nuclear bomb created by terrorists is set off in Washington D.C. Two students witness the explosion from across town. Here are my questions:

1. Is it realistic to say they SAW the blast? Obviously, I am planning to have them survive it, because it's a small bomb. I heard of people in Hiroshima having their retinas burned away from the brightness of the explosion they witnessed, and of course it blinded them. I could have my characters simply HEAR the blast and witness the aftermath, of course, to get around this.

2. Is it possible to set off a nuclear bomb without a launch pad? I mean, most launching facilities would attract a lot of attention, right? So it would be difficult/impossible for terrorists to set one up in their backyard etc. Or even in an open field somewhere. You have to assemble these things, they're complicated, and conspicuous, is what I gather. Do I...just google images of 'missile launch pads' and figure out how my terrorist-characters put one together without getting arrested?

ETA: Eureka! I'll just have the launch pad built/hidden underground. Solves a big problem...

3. Am I begging for lots of arguments from readers because my characters survive the blast (even though they need transfusions because their bodies are irradiated by the explosion.) Should I have them be underground in some way, just to make this more plausible? There are a lot of tunnels under Washington D.C.

Thanks for any info, websites that could help me research this, etc. Obviously I need to google some of these things, if the info is out there...

cornflake
11-15-2013, 08:28 AM
In my story, a SMALL nuclear bomb created by terrorists is set off in Washington D.C. Two students witness the explosion from across town. Here are my questions:

1. Is it realistic to say they SAW the blast? Obviously, I am planning to have them survive it, because it's a small bomb. I heard of people in Hiroshima having their retinas burned away from the brightness of the explosion they witnessed, and of course it blinded them. I could have my characters simply HEAR the blast and witness the aftermath, of course, to get around this.

2. Is it possible to set off a nuclear bomb without a launch pad? I mean, most launching facilities would attract a lot of attention, right? So it would be difficult/impossible for terrorists to set one up in their backyard etc. Or even in an open field somewhere. You have to assemble these things, they're complicated, and conspicuous, is what I gather. Do I...just google images of 'missile launch pads' and figure out how my terrorist-characters put one together without getting arrested?

ETA: Eureka! I'll just have the launch pad built/hidden underground. Solves a big problem...

3. Am I begging for lots of arguments from readers because my characters survive the blast (even though they need transfusions because their bodies are irradiated by the explosion.) Should I have them be underground in some way, just to make this more plausible? There are a lot of tunnels under Washington D.C.

Thanks for any info, websites that could help me research this, etc. Obviously I need to google some of these things, if the info is out there...

I'm confused - I'm not sure what you're proposing. A launch pad? Is this a rocket? Launched with what by whom?

I thought you meant a dirty bomb but I'm confused.

Also - transfusions?

If they're across town in D.C. from a nuclear blast, they're pretty screwed, even a dirty bomb. That's not far. There are, online someplace, charts and graphic things showing the various affected zones for various events in at least NYC and I believe D.C. and L.A. as well.

robjvargas
11-15-2013, 08:33 AM
A nuclear blast is intensely blinding, even out several diameters beyond the damage (blast) zone. So yeah, it should definitely be indirect view.

At the most basic level, a nuclear bomb takes two portions of nuclear material, uses standard explosives to smash them together tightly enough to turn the mass critical. Then the nuclear fission starts, runs away, and BOOM.

No propulsion necessary for the device as a whole. Depending on the sophistication of the device, it's going to be fairly big. It won't fit in a duffel or suitcase. It could, but probably won't. More likely, the device is going to be about the size of an office desk.

See if you can get hold of a TV movie called Special Bulletin (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086350). It's about a nuclear bomb on a boat in Charleston, SC. In the movie, the bomb goes off. It has a pretty good rundown of the more immediate effects. That should give you a good idea of the scale involved even in a "small" nuclear weapon.

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:33 AM
It's a nuclear bomb. Does it have to be on a rocket? I'm not even sure. Terrorists launch it. It's not a dirty bomb...

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:34 AM
Thanks Rob! will look for it right now. :)

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:35 AM
Why can't it be suitcase-sized? I heard of a student that did his science project on whether terrorists could create a nuclear bomb small enough to fit in a suitcase...



The Manhattan Project is an American (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States) film, released in 1986.[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manhattan_Project_(film)#cite_note-3) Named after the World War II-era program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project), the plot revolves around a gifted high school (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_school#United_States) student who decides to construct a nuclear bomb for a national science fair. The film's underlying theme involves the Cold War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War) of the 1980s when government secrecy and mutually assured destruction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutually_assured_destruction) were key political and military issues. It was directed by Marshall Brickman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Brickman), based upon his screenplay co-written with Thomas Baum, and starred John Lithgow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lithgow), Christopher Collet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Collet), John Mahoney (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mahoney), Jill Eikenberry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Eikenberry) and Cynthia Nixon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynthia_Nixon). This was the first production from the short-lived Gladden Entertainment Corporation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladden_Entertainment).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manhattan_Project_(film)

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:41 AM
aha, Special Bulletin is on Youtube. That takes care of the rest of my evening...

Helix
11-15-2013, 08:41 AM
In Clancy's book The Sum of All Fears a nuclear device explodes in a sports stadium. (It's been years since I've read it, but I think the bomb was in a truck.) It fizzles, but it still makes quite a mess.

There's a web site where you can plug in yield and have a look at blast and fall out radii. I'll see if I can find it.

ETA: Here it is -- Nukemap (http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/).

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:45 AM
awesome...thanks!

cornflake
11-15-2013, 08:45 AM
It's a nuclear bomb. Does it have to be on a rocket? I'm not even sure. Terrorists launch it. It's not a dirty bomb...

They launch it? That sounds like a rocket. I don't know what it is - it's your story!

If it's not a dirty bomb, well, where'd they get it or how'd they make it? If they got it, did they alter it?

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:49 AM
They created it themselves after smuggling uranium into the country.

Chris P
11-15-2013, 08:50 AM
There was a movie in the mid 80s where terrorists were planning on setting off an atomic (not nuclear--see below) bomb near Heathrow airport just as the US president was due to land. Damned if I can remember the name of it, though. If you can find it, it might be worth a watch since it gave some (Hollywoodized, of course) technical details.

You seem pretty well informed on your weapons, so you might already know this, but atomic bombs are what were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They rely on a critical mass of uranium starting a chain reaction that releases a boatload of energy at once. There is only so large an atomic bomb can be, which is small compared to nuclear bombs. Fat Man and Little Boy (oh, another great movie!) were dropped on parachutes so they exploded over the towns to spread out the blast radius. If they had detonated on the ground (like it sounds like yours will be) the damage would be much more limited--the blast would be absorbed by the ground and buildings or reflected up into the sky. Nuclear bombs, on the other hand, are much larger and use atomic bombs as the detonators. A nuclear blast relies on the chain reaction spreading through tritium, and the bomb can be as large as you want provided you have enough tritium. Your terrorists would have a lot easier time getting their hands on an atomic bomb than a nuclear one. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes is an awesome book and puts the technical details in everyday language.

So, to me it is entirely plausible that someone in DC could survive an atomic blast from a ground-based atomic bomb, even if they were outside when it happened as long as they were far enough away. DC has a wonderful subway system, and if you wanted to be extra sure you could put them on the subway when the blast occurs.

ETA: The Fourth Protocol! That was the movie!

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 08:55 AM
Wow, very helpful, very informative. Thanks!

Chris P
11-15-2013, 08:57 AM
Why can't it be suitcase-sized? I heard of a student that did his science project on whether terrorists could create a nuclear bomb small enough to fit in a suitcase...



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manhattan_Project_(film)

Because if you don't have the critical mass the chain reaction won't happen. It would be like not adding enough water to get the water balloon to pop. They could smuggle in the bomb components, but once assembled it would be the size of a desk, as was mentioned. The uranium itself is (I think) about the size of a slow-pitch softball. It's been a while since I read up on this stuff, so I might be wrong on some of the finer details. In the name-forgotten movie I mentioned above, the terrorists construct the bomb in a hotel room near the airport.

ETA: Just to clarify, although the uranium itself is not very large, all the hardware needed to make the uranium go boom is quite a bit larger.

Helix
11-15-2013, 09:12 AM
I don't know the movie about Heathrow that Chris P mentioned, but it might be worth having a look at a range of movies to get an idea of the aftermath -- not just the physical damage to buildings, but the chaos that would ensue.

This looks as though it might be handy: The Dirty War. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War_%28film%29) According to that fount/font of knowledge, Wikipedia:

The film is considered an accurate portrayal of a potential radiological terrorist attack with subsequent emergency response. As such, the film has been used to train American first-responders who may be called upon to respond to similar incidents.

robjvargas
11-15-2013, 09:37 AM
Guys, a ground blast is WORSE than an air blast. Depending on altitude. Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't radioactive early as long because of it. A ground blast generates literally tons of fallout. Long term, decades kind of fallout.

A nuclear weapon that can fit in a suitcase is possible, but requires some very sophisticated technology. Someone mentioned the Manhattan Project, a TV movie (actually an afterschool special if I recall correctly). In it, the small device becomes unstable because the boy didn't adequately shield his electronics against gamma radiation.

The particulars vary, but that's the idea. Small weapons require electronics and controls that are hardened against the inherent radiation of the device.

blacbird
11-15-2013, 11:49 AM
A "launch pad" is part of a delivery system involving a rocket, which has nothing to do with the bomb itself. The very first nuclear device ever detonated was mounted on a tower.

caw

King Neptune
11-15-2013, 05:24 PM
You probably should read up on the varities of nuclear weapons. The Soviets and the U.S. built "suitcase" bombs in the 1960's, and I assume that there were successful tests of those. They would have been low power plutonium bombs (I believe), and it is conceivable that a terrorist could build one, but it would require a great deal of knowledge and equipment. Pu 239 has a critical mass of just 11 kg, a sphere 4 inches in diameter. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium-239

If you can acquire the best switches, some excellent machine tools, and various remote controlled machinery for forming and assembling the bomb, then it isn't all that difficult. If you can only get minimal machinery and the necessary fissionable material, then you can make a dirty bomb.

It would be a different novel, but you could have a small group of terrorist kill themselves with radiation poisoning or heavy metal poisoning while they were trying to build a bomb.

TheNighSwan
11-15-2013, 07:25 PM
There's a web site where you can plug in yield and have a look at blast and fall out radii. I'll see if I can find it.

ETA: Here it is -- Nukemap (http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/).

Hah, this kind of website is always amusing (in a creepy way). There was one where you could enter "Chicxulub impact" as the "weapon" (that's the meteor that killed the dinosaurs), which is 2 million times more powerful than the most powerful nuclear bomb ever designed; centered on Paris, it destroys everything between the US and Kazakhstan~

asnys
11-15-2013, 07:33 PM
Building nuclear weapons - which is an umbrella term that includes both atomic weapons such as were used in WW2 and thermonuclear weapons developed later - is a highly non-trivial task, technically speaking, even if you can obtain the nuclear material.

The simplest type of atomic weapon is a "gun-type" bomb fueled by uranium-235. Little Boy was an example of a gun-type bomb. This is the kind of weapon were two chunks of fissile material are slammed together. Gun-type weapons are relatively simple and easy to build, but are very inefficient - relatively little of the nuclear material actually reacts, so they require much more than their critical mass to produce an explosion. In addition, they can only be built using uranium-235. Plutonium has a high spontaneous fission rate which means a gun-type plutonium bomb would fizzle.

Very few nuclear weapons are gun-type weapons. Most atomic bombs are implosion weapons: their nuclear material is in the form of a (usually hollow) sphere which is smashed into a small ball by high explosives. Implosion weapons can use both uranium-235 and plutonium-239 and can be much more efficient than gun-type weapons, requiring much less nuclear material and producing a larger explosion. However, they are much more difficult to build. In particular, the implosion needs to be perfectly symmetric or the bomb will fizzle. An implosion weapon is probably out of reach of a terrorist group without significant state support.

(This is leaving aside even more advanced concepts such as linear implosion, fusion-boosted fission weapons, and thermonuclear weapons based on the Teller-Ulam Principle/Sakharov's Third Idea.)

In general, a miniaturized weapon - small enough to fit in a suitcase - is going to be beyond the reach of terrorists to build. These weapons require considerable scientific and technical sophistication to build; you can't make them in a standard machine shop. A terrorist-built device is likely to be extremely bulky and heavy. Take a look at the pictures on wiki of Little Boy for an idea. A terrorist weapon won't need the steel casing, so it won't be quite as big, but it's definitely going to weigh tons and require machinery to move. There's also a significant chance it will be a partial fizzle, failing to develop its full yield.

As for whether your protagonists could witness the blast and survive without being killed or blinded, sure, if they're far away enough. Also, they'd better pray they're upwind. A weapon detonated on contact with the surface will produce significant amounts of local fallout: the vaporized dirt is sucked into the fireball, mixes with the radioactive fission products from the explosion, and then falls back out of the cloud as it recondenses. Fallout shouldn't be too horrible with a low-yield device of this sort, but that's very much a relative term here.

Actually, this might be a perfect solution for your desired effects mix. They might be far enough away from the blast to avoid the direct effects, but close enough and downwind enough to receive a radiation dose from fallout before they manage to evacuate.

asnys
11-15-2013, 08:02 PM
Assuming you want them to survive, they should probably absorb about 2 Gray (=200 rad = 200 REM) of radiation. That's a high enough dose that they will have a strong chance of developing acute radiation sickness but, as long as they're in reasonably good health to start with, it's very plausible they would survive. I'm not sure if blood transfusions are recommended at that dose range in a mass disaster, but a) few doctors are actually trained in handling radiation injuries, so they probably won't know either; and b) the doctor is not going to know how much radiation they received, just that they're visibly ill. One thing you should bear in mind, though, is that blood for transfusions is likely to be in extremely short supply, so you might want to examine why they receive transfusions and not someone else. Actually, I suspect most blood would be reserved for people with bleeding injuries, not treatment of radiation casualties.

I'm looking at the map on NUKEMAP generated by a 10 kt surface detonation. The green circle on NUKEMAP is the radius to receive 500 REM from the initial radiation pulse. I don't remember off the top of my head how to figure the 200 REM radius, but if you put them a bit beyond the orange radius you should be okay. At that distance they may receive second-degree burns and are at risk of flying glass, but it's plausible they would not be killed or seriously injured by direct effects. I can dig the formula for the 200 REM radius out of Effects of Nuclear Weapons if it's really important, but that would take a while. Unfortunately, I forget what the blinding radius is; that may be too close for them to be looking directly at the explosion.

I don't think fallout will work here as a contributor to the dose. I'd forgotten how this scales. Even in the red-orange fallout contour (100 rad/hr) it will take them at least two hours to receive a 200 rad dose, and significantly longer if they get under any kind of cover (even just getting inside a building - any building - can cut your dose by a fair amount). It's possible they might be trapped in the fallout zone for that long, but unless you want that to happen, I don't think it will work.

Edit to Add: Actually, now I'm wondering if the radiation contour is really accurate in NUKEMAP. I suspect that doesn't take into account the shielding effects of buildings between the protagonist and the detonation point.

WeaselFire
11-15-2013, 08:44 PM
It's a nuclear bomb. Does it have to be on a rocket? I'm not even sure. Terrorists launch it. It's not a dirty bomb...
Google the term "Suitcase Nuke."

By the way, an atomic weapon is incredibly easy to build. The only problem is that WalMart doesn't have an aisle for fissionable material...

Jeff

Trebor1415
11-15-2013, 09:04 PM
They created it themselves after smuggling uranium into the country.

Someone else said making a nuke is a "non trivial" task and I think that's the understatement of the year.

To actually make a nuclear weapon would require a very sophisticated operation with considerable resources. And, the make a small one ("suitcase nuke") would be even more difficult.

Do they have to *make* the bomb for your story to work?

No one is 100% sure that all the USSR's nuclear weapons were accounted for after the fall of the Soviet Union. The official line is that "none are missing," but that may not be true.

There's enough wiggle room there that a plot were someone gets an old Soviet bomb from a source in Eastern Europe and smuggles it into the U.S. would work for a story.

As to smuggling it in, the easiest way would be in a cargo container. Only a very small percentage of those are searched.

As to the size of the bomb and how it gets to where it gets set off. Easy, just him them put it in a rental van. No need to stretch credibility even more by having it be handheld.

Park the van in the city, set the timer, walk away...

Oh, and as far as witnesses the blast, have them see the mushroom cloud after the blast, not the actual detonation itself.

EDIT: And yeah, Transfusions? I don't see how that would help if they have been irridiated or, more likely, are suffereing from flash burns and/or radiation burns.

asnys
11-15-2013, 09:20 PM
Someone else said making a nuke is a "non trivial" task and I think that's the understatement of the year.

I'm a mathematician (though not one working in anything related to nuclear weapons), and "highly non-trivial" is math slang for "really freaking hard". :tongue


No one is 100% sure that all the USSR's nuclear weapons were accounted for after the fall of the Soviet Union. The official line is that "none are missing," but that may not be true.

Unfortunately (for story purposes, not for the real world), any missing weapons are probably inoperable by now. Nuclear devices require a surprising amount of maintenance. Refurbishing an old weapon might be easier than building one from scratch, though.


EDIT: And yeah, Transfusions? I don't see how that would help if they have been irridiated or, more likely, are suffereing from flash burns and/or radiation burns.

That actually is a treatment for acute radiation sickness. I don't know why - I would guess to replenish the white blood cells killed by radiation, but I'm not a doctor.

Trebor1415
11-15-2013, 09:23 PM
That actually is a treatment for acute radiation sickness. I don't know why - I would guess to replenish the white blood cells killed by radiation, but I'm not a doctor.

I wasn't aware of that. Good to know.

GingerGunlock
11-15-2013, 10:04 PM
Perhaps late to the party, but many (using this as a blanket term, I don't know the numbers) of the tests carried out at the Nevada Test Site were just via the "bomb on a stick" approach, not air burst, not launched. And actually, when you look them up by series name on Wikipedia, it'll tell you whether something was a tower shot or an air drop. (so you're looking at delightful names like Operation Tumbler-Snapper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Tumbler-Snapper) and Operation Buster Jangle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Buster-Jangle), to name a couple)

You can also look at the Nevada Test Site via Google Maps and see the craters left behind. This link is to the Sedan Crater (https://maps.google.com/maps?q=sedan+crater+nevada&hl=en&ll=37.176868,-116.046181&spn=0.016362,0.023947&sll=36.806536,-116.420059&sspn=0.526129,0.766296&t=h&hnear=Sedan+Crater&z=16) specifically, which is viewable from space (http://ndep.nv.gov/boff/photo02.htm) and was the result of an underground shot during Operation Plowshare (https://archive.org/details/Plowshar1961). (and I see now in your first post you've decided to go underground blast)

People surviving the blast is not implausible. Many people survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many people survived all of the nuclear testing that varying nations carried out, including having troops within two miles (was it two miles? I can't remember what they ended up with (http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/radiation/dir/mstreet/commeet/meet8/brief8/tab_f/br8f1c.txt). But that was Tumbler-Snapper again, but there is at least one video on Youtube of Chinese testing with similar goals) of Ground Zero in order to do maneuvers to practice for tactical nukes on the Battlefields of the Future™. Now, depending on how close they were/what dose they got/how acute their sickness is is where my problem would be, but I'm also not up to date on the varying levels of radiation dose and how they would be taken care of (but I did find a CDC radiation emergency physician fact sheet (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/arsphysicianfactsheet.asp)!)

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 10:06 PM
Do they have to *make* the bomb for your story to work?



Yes. They are supposed to smuggle the uranium into the country. I don't see how anyone could really smuggle a missile - considering how large they are - into the country without detection.

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 10:08 PM
Wow, I've gotten a ton of info in this thread. You all are so helpful.

This is what I've read at 3AM Magazine about ground-level blasts:



A ONE-MEGATON BOMB DETONATED AT GROUND LEVEL


If the bomb exploded at ground level instead of high above the city, the main difference would be an enormous crater four hundred metres across and seventy metres deep. All the dirt, rock, or masonry excavated would be made into radioactive dust and small debris. The larger particles would quickly descend in the immediate vicinity, and the finer particles and dust would descend in minutes or hours, mainly downwind from the site of the explosion.
The radiation dose to people exposed to this fallout would depend upon many factors, and would be enough to be lethal to anyone in the open or in a frame house for several hundred kilometres downwind. A simple basement "fallout shelter" would afford good protection. It would be necessary to spend a week or more in a fall-out shelter, and it would be impossible to judge when it would be safe to leave without a radiation survey meter or advice from public health authorities.The area of blast damage would be smaller by perhaps a half, compared with an air-burst, though an earthquake effect would add to structural damage to buildings. The number of immediate deaths might be about half of those from an air-burst, but unless survivors could find protection from fall-out there would be many deaths from radiation sickness days or weeks after the bomb.



Reference: http://www.3ammagazine.com/magazine/issue_4/articles/nuclear_bomb_effects_2.html

They don't cite their sources though.

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 10:10 PM
This actually might be more like the scenario in my novel:



A TEN-KILOTON BOMB DETONATED AT GROUND LEVEL


If a bomb in the 10- to 20-kiloton range (the likeliest terrorist bomb) were to be exploded near ground level or in a ship in the harbour, the areas of blast, heat, and burn damage would be much smaller, perhaps reaching out to only one-tenth of the distances estimated for the one-megaton air-burst. The numbers of immediately killed and severely injured people would be counted in thousands, not hundreds of thousands.
Exploded on land, the bomb would vaporize all people and buildings in the immediate vicinity, and make a crater that might be as much as one hundred metres in diameter. If in the harbour, there would be a crater in the harbour floor and a tidal wave. The outstanding feature would be a radioactive downpour because much of the water in the harbour would be made radioactive and thrown high into the air as fine and coarse spray.
The explosion at ground level of this type of bomb would probably not cause a firestorm, so rescue operations for the injured might have some degree of success.In either case, radioactive fallout would be serious, and might make the city, and an area of countryside stretching tens of kilometres downwind, uninhabitable for weeks or years. There would be a number of deaths from radiation sickness, for which there is really no effective medical treatment. The total amount of radioactivity might be comparable with the Chernobyl disaster, more or less depending on many circumstances.

http://www.3ammagazine.com/magazine/issue_4/articles/nuclear_bomb_effects_2.html

asnys
11-15-2013, 10:10 PM
Yes. They are supposed to smuggle the uranium into the country. I don't see how anyone could really smuggle a missile - considering how large they are - into the country without detection.

Not all nuclear weapons are mounted on missiles. For example, check out the W54 warhead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W54), manufactured by the US in the 60s - in particular, scroll down until you see the picture of the "Special Atomic Demolition Munition" backpack. The SADM's were actually built to be used as demolition charges by special forces teams. The SADM's had miniscule yield - less than a kiloton - and could not plausibly be built by terrorists, but they could perhaps be stolen.

blacbird
11-15-2013, 10:15 PM
They created it themselves after smuggling uranium into the country.

Understand here that you're not talking about just "uranium". You're talking about the fissionable isotope U-235. The vast majority of natural uranium is in the form of the non-fissionable isotope U-238. It takes a lot of sophisticated equipment and work-time to concentrate the minor fraction of U-235 present in natural uranium. It's done by centrifuging the gaseous compound uranium fluoride, separating by the slight difference in weight between the lighter U-235 and the heavier U-238. That takes big centrifuges and many iterations. The gas is extremely toxic and dangerous, and handling the concentrated U-235, once you get it, is also a huge technological problem.

Then, of course, you have to construct the bomb. In theory, it's a simple device. To make one? Not so much.

One of the great security worries in the U.S. and elsewhere is cargo shipping containers carried on freighters. Any big port has hundreds or thousands of these things stacked up, and next to impossible to inspect them all. A lot of human trafficking uses such shipping containers, and for every one that gets detected, you can bet that ten go undetected. Certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that a nuke could be concealed and transported in one of those.

caw

caw

mfarraday
11-15-2013, 10:21 PM
Understand here that you're not talking about just "uranium". You're talking about the fissionable isotope U-235. The vast majority of natural uranium is in the form of the non-fissionable isotope U-238. It takes a lot of sophisticated equipment and work-time to concentrate the minor fraction of U-235 present in natural uranium. It's done by centrifuging the gaseous compound uranium fluoride, separating by the slight difference in weight between the lighter U-235 and the heavier U-238. That takes big centrifuges and many iterations. The gas is extremely toxic and dangerous, and handling the concentrated U-235, once you get it, is also a huge technological problem.

caw

Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

I can see how a bomb would get by on a shipping container (kind of...with all the radiation detection equipment that I understood they use at ports like Long Beach, I'd hope that they would find one before it got by the officials)...but right now, I prefer to have it smuggled in as pure uranium and converted later. That way I can concentrate on my characters. If it's just too unbelievable, however...

*getting tied in knots*

asnys
11-15-2013, 10:26 PM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

Just have them steal some U-235 and smuggle it into the country if you want to have them build the bomb themselves. It's not plausible they could enrich the material themselves, but it's unfortunately disturbingly plausible that they might be able to obtain weapons-grade U-235 from the former Soviet Union and other places. Back in the 50s, the US actually handed out research reactors fueled by weapons-grade U-235 to third-world countries as a form of international aid! As far as I know the material from that particular program is all accounted for, but it's totally believable that they might be able to get hold of some weapons-grade material through theft. Or even just finding it abandoned in an ex-Soviet nuclear facility.

Trebor1415
11-15-2013, 11:04 PM
Yes. They are supposed to smuggle the uranium into the country. I don't see how anyone could really smuggle a missile - considering how large they are - into the country without detection.

Stop thinking "missle." They don't need a whole missle. All they need is a warhead (designed to fit on a missle) or a device (bomb) that wasn't designed to be used on a missle in the first place.

Things like tactical nuclear weapons, or so-called "suitcase nukes" would work well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suitcase_nuke

As to smuggling something in using a cargo container, our screening isn't nearly as good as it's supposed to be.

http://www.hstoday.us/blogs/the-kimery-report/blog/dhs-ig-finds-22-ports-not-adequately-screening-cargo-containers-for-radiation-former-port-security-official-provides-insight/b7c57fc60ca972b37e87d55c26087c81.html


“From the day this example port RPM was put into place, CBP personnel watched as large delivery trucks, rental trucks and vans left the port with no examination,” the former CBP port security official added, noting that “The only things examined are sea containers.” So, “Again, using a risk model, let’s look at it through the eyes of a terrorist. A favorite saying of CBP officers is, ‘they know what we know.’ The terrorists are going to do their homework. If they have the skills and financing to procure a nuclear device or construct a dirty bomb, they are going to do their logistical homework and would not send a device through a port of entry that had an RPM. Just look how many years Al Qaeda planned 9/11. However, if it were imperative that they use a port with an RPM, they would put their device in general cargo and have it picked up by a box truck and moved directly out of a port without examination by an RPM.”

GingerGunlock
11-15-2013, 11:09 PM
If the characters don't know how it got built or processed, you don't need to spell it out. But you should have a general grasp on how they got it done, whichever route you choose.

blacbird
11-15-2013, 11:45 PM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

As a reader, I would have a serious interest in finding out how people get from "yellow cake" to a critical-mass quantity of U-235 and construct a bomb from that, somewhere in the United States. And if you're having security authorities chasing after this plot, I guarantee they'd be highly interested in that, too.

You don't have to get extremely technical, but somehow you'd need to have a secret lab facility with sophisticated equipment for this purpose, and it wouldn't be small. Nobody is going to do this in a garage workshop. Remember also that, in addition to the stuff being fissionable, it's also radioactive, which makes the issue of handling it a matter of concern.

Personally, I think it's far more feasible for the bomb to be constructed/stolen from some sloppy-security place abroad, and smuggled into the U.S.

Fission bombs, by the way, are also triggered by a conventional explosive like TNT. That, too, would need to be supplied to anyone fabricating a bomb, although less of a problem than the actual nuclear material.

caw

benbradley
11-15-2013, 11:54 PM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this.
You don't necessarily have to explain it, but you should account for how much it costs and how long it takes.

The following site has "early" figures for how much it cost to do the first time - current figures (such as what Iran is doing) would likely be lower, as people have learned from what has gone before, but not a lot lower, as a lot of the details for "efficient" (if there is such a thing) uranium isotope separation are surely classified:
http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/archive/nucweapons/manhattan
There are lots of challenges on how to hire that many employees to do that much stuff and without too much "intelligence" leaking out.

There's also this:
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/173917?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-iranian-nuclear-program-has-cost-170-billion


...$40 billion were "invested over the past 20 years in the construction and operation of nuclear infrastructure," the sources told AFP.
I'm not sure how much of that goes to Iran's nuclear power (electric) generation program and how much to its nuclear bomb program, but there's a lot involved either way.

So, how many billionaire terrorists are there, anyway?

King Neptune
11-16-2013, 12:16 AM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

I can see how a bomb would get by on a shipping container (kind of...with all the radiation detection equipment that I understood they use at ports like Long Beach, I'd hope that they would find one before it got by the officials)...but right now, I prefer to have it smuggled in as pure uranium and converted later. That way I can concentrate on my characters. If it's just too unbelievable, however...

*getting tied in knots*

Why bother with yellow cake? Several warheads disappeared from the Soviet stockpiles while the USSR was coming apart. I believe they disappeared from some place in the Ukraine. They have not been located, and there is a possibility that they were actually bookkeeping errors, but it is likely that some fissionable material is somewhere outside of the control of any government.

blacbird
11-16-2013, 12:44 AM
So, how many billionaire terrorists are there, anyway?

James Bond seemed always to run up against them. Remember Blofeld?

caw

robjvargas
11-16-2013, 01:03 AM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

I can see how a bomb would get by on a shipping container (kind of...with all the radiation detection equipment that I understood they use at ports like Long Beach, I'd hope that they would find one before it got by the officials)...but right now, I prefer to have it smuggled in as pure uranium and converted later. That way I can concentrate on my characters. If it's just too unbelievable, however...

*getting tied in knots*

The process of enriching uranium is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a nation becoming a so-called "nuclear power." The technology is pretty tightly controlled. Making fissile material, weapons grade stuff, is not something a random terrorist organization would do.

Stealing it is still unlikely, but far more believable than making it. I'm not certain of it, but think it very likely that no private entity could go from yellowcake uranium to a weapons-grade sample.

asnys
11-16-2013, 01:10 AM
The process of enriching uranium is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a nation becoming a so-called "nuclear power." The technology is pretty tightly controlled. Making fissile material, weapons grade stuff, is not something a random terrorist organization would do.

Stealing it is still unlikely, but far more believable than making it. I'm not certain of it, but think it very likely that no private entity could go from yellowcake uranium to a weapons-grade sample.

There are a few private groups, but they're organizations like General Electric. The facilities are far too large to hide without the support of a state - it's not just the amount of space that's required, it's the enormous quantities of electricity. At one point in the 50s, Oak Ridge - site of the United States' main enrichment plant at the time - was using more electricity than New York City.

Just have them steal already enriched uranium, or even a fully-assembled weapon. Simpler and more believable.

Russell Secord
11-16-2013, 01:16 AM
I'm not a rocket scientist, but I believe ChrisP has confused some terms. "Atomic" and "nuclear" are practically interchangeable. What he calls a nuclear bomb is actually a hydrogen or fusion bomb, that is, the nuclear blast is only a trigger to fuse the hydrogen nuclei. It's like pulling a chunk out of the Sun.

What your terrorists may have (and much more feasible) is a dirty bomb. It's not a nuclear weapon except in the sense that it contains radioactive material. A conventional explosive spreads this material over a wide area, kills everyone in range, and leaves the area uninhabitable. As long as your characters are outside the blast radius and not downwind, they'll survive.

cornflake
11-16-2013, 03:54 AM
Also, don't nuclear weapons have to be detonated by nuclear triggers? That might trip me up as much as the part where they went from raw materials to a workable device.

benbradley
11-16-2013, 04:52 AM
The process of enriching uranium is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a nation becoming a so-called "nuclear power." The technology is pretty tightly controlled. Making fissile material, weapons grade stuff, is not something a random terrorist organization would do.

Stealing it is still unlikely, but far more believable than making it. I'm not certain of it, but think it very likely that no private entity could go from yellowcake uranium to a weapons-grade sample.
+1 on what I bolded.

There probably ARE private entities that have the money (see Planetary Resources), but they'd have to have a really huge motive to do so (like saving the Earth from invading aliens from outer space) else their ass(etts) would be frozen and they'd be run out of the Western World like no one's business.

Also, don't nuclear weapons have to be detonated by nuclear triggers? That might trip me up as much as the part where they went from raw materials to a workable device.
Nuclear (fission) bombs mainly need 1. mostly-pure fissionable material, uranuim 235 for plutonium. 2. a way to crunch enough of it into one area FAST to get a good yield (high (chemical) explosives, often shaped charges).

Fusion bombs, usually called thermonuclear bombs, are the above bomb with a vial of tritium (an isotope hydrogen, thus they're sometimes called a hydrogen bomb) placed near the fission core. The fission bomb by itself makes enough heat and neutrons (millions of degrees) to cause nuclear fusion, and this makes a bomb that's maybe 10 or 100 times bigger than an "ordinary" nuclear bomb.

"Atomic" and "nuclear" appear to be used interchangably, but it doesnt much bother me as both processes (fission and fusion) involve the nuclei of atoms, so technically both words are applicable.

blacbird
11-16-2013, 07:05 AM
Also, don't nuclear weapons have to be detonated by nuclear triggers? That might trip me up as much as the part where they went from raw materials to a workable device.

No. What's done is to detonate a conventional high-explosive charge that implodes the fissionable material into a critical mass that sets off the nuclear chain-reaction.

caw

blacbird
11-16-2013, 07:09 AM
I'm not a rocket scientist, but I believe ChrisP has confused some terms. "Atomic" and "nuclear" are practically interchangeable. What he calls a nuclear bomb is actually a hydrogen or fusion bomb,

No. A fission chain-reaction bomb is a device using nuclear energy, thereby being a nuclear device. A fusion bomb is a higher-level nuclear device that takes the energy of a fission charge to set off the even greater energy of a fusion reaction involving heavy isotopes of hydrogen.

But both are derived from nuclear (as opposed to chemical) energy. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were nuclear fission devices.

And, as an aside, there's another major fissionable isotope used in nuclear bombs: Plutonium-239. It doesn't occur as a natural product, but must be produced in nuclear reactors. For a terrorist stealing a bomb, it probably won't matter if it's a U-235 or Pu-239 bomb.

caw

robjvargas
11-16-2013, 08:13 AM
Also, don't nuclear weapons have to be detonated by nuclear triggers? That might trip me up as much as the part where they went from raw materials to a workable device.

There *are* nuclear triggers, but that doesn't refer to the process. In order to get fissile material to achieve critical mass, it's basically crushed into a high density mass. That generates the runaway reaction.

That's done with conventional explosives. If the explosion is not precisely controlled, the material can break up rather than implode to the proper density.

A nuclear trigger is used to control the conventional explosive and achieve critical mass. It's a very precisely timed trigger.

mfarraday
11-16-2013, 08:13 PM
What about tactical nuclear weapons?



A tactical nuclear weapon (or TNW) also known as non-strategic nuclear weapon[1] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon#cite_note-fas-1) refers to a nuclear weapon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon) which is designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations. This is opposed to strategic nuclear weapons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_nuclear_weapon) which are designed to produce effects against cities and other larger-area targets, to damage the enemy's ability to wage war, or for general deterrence. Tactical nuclear weapons were a large part of the peak nuclear weapons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon) stockpile levels during the Cold War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon

1.) Wouldn't terrorists be more likely to steal something like this and be able to use it, even though the article cited above says there aren't very many around anymore:



For these reasons, stockpiles of tactical nuclear warheads in most countries' arsenals have been dramatically reduced c. 2010, and the smallest types have been completely eliminated.[14] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon#cite_note-14)

2.) It seems like this scenario fits my story exactly. I want my characters to be in the city when the bomb is exploded, to survive the blast/witness it, to be exposed to the radiation a bit, and for the bomb to be exploded by terrorists who stole or created the weapon. It seems almost perfect.

Trebor1415
11-16-2013, 09:57 PM
What about tactical nuclear weapons?



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon

1.) Wouldn't terrorists be more likely to steal something like this and be able to use it, even though the article cited above says there aren't very many around anymore:



2.) It seems like this scenario fits my story exactly. I want my characters to be in the city when the bomb is exploded, to survive the blast/witness it, to be exposed to the radiation a bit, and for the bomb to be exploded by terrorists who stole or created the weapon. It seems almost perfect.

Well, yeah, that's what I suggested that earlier.

mfarraday
11-16-2013, 10:11 PM
Oops. (But it seemed like such an original idea at the time...LOL.)

ETA: I will go back and read everything again.

GingerGunlock
11-17-2013, 02:04 AM
Call me paranoid (yeah, I totally am), but to me a "tactical nuke" isn't really what the phrase seems to suggest it is. A nuke is a nuke, n'est-ce pas? As a result, the explosion will result in fallout and destruction, variable based on where it is placed/where it detonates, the payload, etc.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both airburst, and people operated in those crippled areas thereafter, trying to help the wounded, deal with the wreckage, all of those.

Pertaining to the underground detonation of the Sedan nuclear test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(nuclear_test)), according to Wikipedia (lazy, I'm sorry),
The radioactive fallout from the test contaminated more US residents than any other nuclear test.

(and you can watch a video on/of the test here on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-f_buPFqoc), with Roentgen doses not seeming to match up, quite, with what was later reported.)

So, ultimately, it's up to you which you want. If you want an airburst, you could also consider whether you want it to be at an altitude such that it produces a nuclear EMP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_electromagnetic_pulse).

asnys
11-17-2013, 02:21 AM
Call me paranoid (yeah, I totally am), but to me a "tactical nuke" isn't really what the phrase seems to suggest it is. A nuke is a nuke, n'est-ce pas? As a result, the explosion will result in fallout and destruction, variable based on where it is placed/where it detonates, the payload, etc.

A tactical nuclear weapon is mostly identical to a strategic nuclear weapon (although the average tactical is a bit smaller). The difference is how they're delivered and their intended purpose. A strategic nuclear weapon is used to target cities, factories, major military bases, missile silos, and other "strategic" targets and is generally delivered by bomber, ICBM, SLBM, or cruise missile. A tactical nuke is used to target enemy military formations in the field and is generally delivered by fighter aircraft, short-range missile, or artillery, or the like. As a result, tacticals tend to be easier to steal because they tend to be a) not attached to gigantic ICBMs and b) deployed in forward bases close to potential enemy lines rather than deep inside secure military preserves.


Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both airburst, and people operated in those crippled areas thereafter, trying to help the wounded, deal with the wreckage, all of those.

Pertaining to the underground detonation of the Sedan nuclear test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(nuclear_test)), according to Wikipedia (lazy, I'm sorry),

(and you can watch a video on/of the test here on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-f_buPFqoc), with Roentgen doses not seeming to match up, quite, with what was later reported.)

SEDAN is a weird case and not really representative of the sort of scenario the OP has in mind. It was set off some distance underground to contain the fallout - deeper than a terrorist group could (or would want) to reach. The reason it tops the charts, so to speak, is that it was one of the very, very few AEC tests in Nevada that were high-yield and that breached the surface. Other AEC tests were either detonated high above the ground, were detonated deep below ground, were very low-yield, or were set off out in the Pacific.


So, ultimately, it's up to you which you want. If you want an airburst, you could also consider whether you want it to be at an altitude such that it produces a nuclear EMP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_electromagnetic_pulse).

To generate a large-scale EMP, you need a rocket to loft it into the upper atmosphere. I am extremely skeptical that any terror group could procure and launch a rocket. Even if they could, it would have to be set off at such a high altitude that blast effects would not reach the surface, so it doesn't really meet the OP's requirements.

GingerGunlock
11-17-2013, 02:57 AM
A tactical nuclear weapon is mostly identical to a strategic nuclear weapon (although the average tactical is a bit smaller). The difference is how they're delivered and their intended purpose. A strategic nuclear weapon is used to target cities, factories, major military bases, missile silos, and other "strategic" targets and is generally delivered by bomber, ICBM, SLBM, or cruise missile. A tactical nuke is used to target enemy military formations in the field and is generally delivered by fighter aircraft, short-range missile, or artillery, or the like. As a result, tacticals tend to be easier to steal because they tend to be a) not attached to gigantic ICBMs and b) deployed in forward bases close to potential enemy lines rather than deep inside secure military preserves.



SEDAN is a weird case and not really representative of the sort of scenario the OP has in mind. It was set off some distance underground to contain the fallout - deeper than a terrorist group could (or would want) to reach. The reason it tops the charts, so to speak, is that it was one of the very, very few AEC tests in Nevada that were high-yield and that breached the surface. Other AEC tests were either detonated high above the ground, were detonated deep below ground, were very low-yield, or were set off out in the Pacific.



To generate a large-scale EMP, you need a rocket to loft it into the upper atmosphere. I am extremely skeptical that any terror group could procure and launch a rocket. Even if they could, it would have to be set off at such a high altitude that blast effects would not reach the surface, so it doesn't really meet the OP's requirements.

It seemed to me that they had a bunch of tower detonations at the NTS, but digging around, it looks like there were only 56 ("only"). I guess it's just that a lot of the videos I watched were towers! (I pulled the number from this DOE document (http://www.nv.doe.gov/library/publications/historical/DOENV_209_REV15.pdf), which states it's a list of all American Nuclear Tests from 1945-1992)

Really, I know about this stuff only as a layperson in comparatively general terms, it's just a topic of interest. However, nobody I know ever wants to talk about nukes, nor do they know anything about them, so I've been loving this thread and the input of people actually seem to know what they're talking about.

asnys
11-17-2013, 03:21 AM
It seemed to me that they had a bunch of tower detonations at the NTS, but digging around, it looks like there were only 56 ("only"). I guess it's just that a lot of the videos I watched were towers! (I pulled the number from this DOE document (http://www.nv.doe.gov/library/publications/historical/DOENV_209_REV15.pdf), which states it's a list of all American Nuclear Tests from 1945-1992)

Yeah, the tower shots - and the underground shots that were shallow enough to breach the surface - make much better video than the deep underground tests.

56 was a lot of shots, proportionally, at the time - the US stopped atmospheric testing in, if I recall correctly, 1962, so at the time this was a large percentage of the total number of tests. But most of the tower shots were low-yield, and the towers high enough that the fireball didn't touch the surface. It's only when the fireball kisses the earth - or you get really unlucky with weather - that you get significant local fallout.

In the case of the OP, this will probably be a surface burst with negligible burial, which is the worst of all possible worlds in terms of fallout. The only good thing is that the yield will probably be relatively low.


Really, I know about this stuff only as a layperson in comparatively general terms, it's just a topic of interest. However, nobody I know ever wants to talk about nukes, nor do they know anything about them, so I've been loving this thread and the input of people actually seem to know what they're talking about.

I know what you mean. Nuclear history is a hobby of mine, but nobody I know in real life is interested in talking about it. :o

King Neptune
11-17-2013, 04:16 AM
What about tactical nuclear weapons?



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon

1.) Wouldn't terrorists be more likely to steal something like this and be able to use it, even though the article cited above says there aren't very many around anymore:



2.) It seems like this scenario fits my story exactly. I want my characters to be in the city when the bomb is exploded, to survive the blast/witness it, to be exposed to the radiation a bit, and for the bomb to be exploded by terrorists who stole or created the weapon. It seems almost perfect.

Terrorists might be interested in tactical nuclear weapons, but I think those would be harder to steal, because there aren't many left. I believe that the shelf life of an atomic bomb is about twenty years, and I don't believe that the U.S.A., at least, has made not replacements for some time. "No new nuclear weapons have been produced in this country in 10 years. In fact, the average age of a stockpile weapon is now 19 years, and some of the weapons are over 35 years old."
http://www.lanl.gov/quarterly/q_w03/shelf_life.shtml

There is a good chance that an over aged bomb would fizzle into a dirty bomb, enough power to spread a lot of radioactive isotopes, but not enough power to make a good explosion.

I can't find the relative ages of tacticle nukes, but I don't think they would have long a lif as large bombs.

blacbird
11-17-2013, 07:18 AM
In the real reality we face today, the likelihood of a non-nuclear "dirty bomb", one that spreads radioactive material via a conventional explosive blast, is far greater than an actual nuke, tactical or otherwise, being used. Non-fissionable but highly dangerous radioactive material is widely available. Hell, it's a good thing Timothy McVeigh didn't think of getting some, or his Oklahoma City bomb might have made a big swath of that area uninhabitable for many decades.

caw

mfarraday
11-17-2013, 07:26 AM
This is what I'm watching tonight:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOFDFogc6Gk

This is certainly not fun to consider.

I may actually go the dirty-bomb route.

asnys
11-17-2013, 07:36 AM
The damage caused by dirty bombs is severely over-stated. Simulations show that the casualties from the blast would exceed casualties from the radioactive material; the effect would be primarily psychological and financial, not physical. Unless you're right up close, your protagonists are extremely unlikely to receive enough radiation dose to suffer from radiation sickness.

asnys
11-17-2013, 07:39 AM
Terrorists might be interested in tactical nuclear weapons, but I think those would be harder to steal, because there aren't many left. I believe that the shelf life of an atomic bomb is about twenty years, and I don't believe that the U.S.A., at least, has made not replacements for some time. "No new nuclear weapons have been produced in this country in 10 years. In fact, the average age of a stockpile weapon is now 19 years, and some of the weapons are over 35 years old."
http://www.lanl.gov/quarterly/q_w03/shelf_life.shtml

There is a good chance that an over aged bomb would fizzle into a dirty bomb, enough power to spread a lot of radioactive isotopes, but not enough power to make a good explosion.

I can't find the relative ages of tacticle nukes, but I don't think they would have long a lif as large bombs.

Pakistani tactical nukes are brand-new. And the US does maintain its nuclear weapons.

King Neptune
11-17-2013, 08:18 PM
Pakistani tactical nukes are brand-new. And the US does maintain its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. hasn't replaced any nuclear weapons in at least ten yeas. Theaverage age of warheads is something like 20 years, and the typical life span of a warhead is 25 to 35 years. That suggests that there may be warheads that will not function propoerly in the U.S. arsenal.

King Neptune
11-17-2013, 08:19 PM
This is what I'm watching tonight:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOFDFogc6Gk

This is certainly not fun to consider.

I may actually go the dirty-bomb route.

There's a very good chance that terrorists would end up building a dirty bomb whether they wanted to or not.

asnys
11-17-2013, 08:30 PM
The U.S. hasn't replaced any nuclear weapons in at least ten yeas. Theaverage age of warheads is something like 20 years, and the typical life span of a warhead is 25 to 35 years. That suggests that there may be warheads that will not function propoerly in the U.S. arsenal.

They're refurbished on a regular basis. As in, taken apart and rebuilt.

I don't think we in the unclassified world can know what percentage of US weapons would function properly in a war. From what I've read, I suspect the percentage of duds is higher than we would expect, but still low enough to do the job.

For that matter, there's no guarantee even with brand-new weapons. The Polaris SLBM's were deployed for years with defective warheads, many of which would have failed to function in a war.

In any event, Pakistani tac-nukes are more plausible than American ones for this scenario.


There's a very good chance that terrorists would end up building a dirty bomb whether they wanted to or not.

That much is true.

mfarraday
11-17-2013, 08:41 PM
I watched a BBC documentary on dirty bombs last night. It really seems like the dirty bomb is oriented towards long term effects - rendering a section of a city unusable, for instance, and causing cancer rates to jump - rather than immediate effects. So it doesn't seem to fit my scenario. I'm back to using tactical bombs as my plot device.

King Neptune
11-18-2013, 12:21 AM
They're refurbished on a regular basis. As in, taken apart and rebuilt.

I don't think we in the unclassified world can know what percentage of US weapons would function properly in a war. From what I've read, I suspect the percentage of duds is higher than we would expect, but still low enough to do the job.

For that matter, there's no guarantee even with brand-new weapons. The Polaris SLBM's were deployed for years with defective warheads, many of which would have failed to function in a war.


Apparently you didn't read this linked document http://www.lanl.gov/quarterly/q_w03/shelf_life.shtml
Nuclear weapons deteriorate fairly quickly. I don't know the ages of Pakistan's weapons, but I would be willing to bet that many are duds.

It is impossible to determine whether a nuclear weapon is a dud until one tries to set it off, but I think that we can be reasonably confident that they (regardless of whose) would be duds about as frequently as surface to air missiles are (averaging Russian and American models). Which almost means that I would be willing to play Slim Pickens, if I had a parachute.

asnys
11-18-2013, 12:32 AM
Apparently you didn't read this linked document http://www.lanl.gov/quarterly/q_w03/shelf_life.shtml
Nuclear weapons deteriorate fairly quickly. I don't know the ages of Pakistan's weapons, but I would be willing to bet that many are duds.

It is impossible to determine whether a nuclear weapon is a dud until one tries to set it off, but I think that we can be reasonably confident that they (regardless of whose) would be duds about as frequently as surface to air missiles are (averaging Russian and American models). Which almost means that I would be willing to play Slim Pickens, if I had a parachute.

Let me quote from your own source:


The nation's nuclear weapons were originally designed to last for 20 to 25 years. Each year, the directors of the Department of Energy's three nuclear weapons labs must certify that the stockpile weapons will perform as designed. If the performance of an older weapon becomes questionable, lab scientists must decide how to replace its aging parts in order to restore its peak performance.

Aging weapon parts are a major topic for materials scientists Paul Dunn, Rusty Gray, Dave Teter, and Dan Thoma, who are working to extend the lifetimes of stockpile weapons in two of Los Alamos' highest-priority programs. The goal of one of these programs is to extend the lifetime of a 25-year-old weapon system to 75 years, which will guarantee its performance until at least 2042. Materials science is key to these efforts because, as Thoma says, "The only things that change in a stockpiled nuclear weapon are the materials." These scientists must determine how the materials are changing so they can predict when a part will fail.

They don't just leave these things in a warehouse, you know. They are regularly maintained.

As for Pakistan, they only started making nuclear weapons at all in the mid-90s, and tactical nukes in the last decade or so.

mfarraday
11-18-2013, 07:42 AM
This is what I'm currently looking at:
http://www.nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

I apologize if someone recommended that I visit this page beforehand and I am re-posting the same info.

I entered in my criteria - downtown Washington D.C. and a crude nuclear terrorist weapon and got a good idea of how the characters in my story would be affected.

I think this particular blast would be survivable and my characters could get in a car accident in the ensuing hysteria. Hence their needing blood transfusions later on (and furthering my plot.)

asnys
11-18-2013, 08:03 AM
This is what I'm currently looking at:
http://www.nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

I apologize if someone recommended that I visit this page beforehand and I am re-posting the same info.

I entered in my criteria - downtown Washington D.C. and a crude nuclear terrorist weapon and got a good idea of how the characters in my story would be affected.

I think this particular blast would be survivable and my characters could get in a car accident in the ensuing hysteria. Hence their needing blood transfusions later on (and furthering my plot.)

Makes sense. A few notes, in case they might be helpful to you:


The crude nuclear terrorist weapon setting on NUKEMAP is just 100 T (= 0.1 kT). That's tiny by nuclear weapon standards, and indicates the weapon was a partial fizzle - the terrorists were probably expecting it to produce about 10 kT, 100 times as much. A partial fizzle under these circumstances is very plausible, but you'll have lots of talking heads on CNN saying how it could have been so much worse.

Damage effects at these low yields scale weirdly. If you look at NUKEMAP, you can see the green circle - representing the 500 REM radiation dose contour - is much bigger than all the other circles. With a weapon this small, if you still want your protagonists to suffer from radiation poisoning, it's plausible they could suffer radiation injury despite not being anywhere near the area damaged by the explosion. If you want this to happen, put them a bit further than the green radius. More generally, for a weapon of this yield, you'll probably have more radiation injuries than burn and blast injuries.

You may have seen this already, but just in case: if you click on Advanced Options, there are a bunch of extra settings you can have it display, such as the radius at which windows will be broken. And if you click on "NUKEMAP 3D" in the upper right corner, the program will give you a visual of the mushroom cloud (I'm told - I don't have the Google Earth plugin, so I haven't tried it myself).

The guy who created NUKEMAP has a blog, Restricted Data (nuclearsecrecy.com/blog/), which is amazingly awesome.


Good luck with your writing!

mfarraday
11-18-2013, 08:08 AM
Thanks, I'll check all of that. I mostly switched to a car accident because someone commented earlier that radiation poisoning isn't alleviated with transfusions. Will be looking into that...I need the transfusions to occur because my villain won't be able to donate blood to his daughter in the presidential fallout shelter. He'll think she's not his daughter.

mfarraday
11-18-2013, 08:10 AM
I'm planning for the terrorists to strike the Pentagon. The White House is out of the blast range according to NukeMap.

asnys
11-18-2013, 08:12 AM
Thanks, I'll check all of that. I mostly switched to a car accident because someone commented earlier that radiation poisoning isn't alleviated with transfusions. Will be looking into that...I need the transfusions to occur because my villain won't be able to donate blood to his daughter in the presidential fallout shelter. He'll think she's not his daughter.

Blood transfusions are used to treat radiation poisoning (see, e.g., this abstract (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15197022): "Therapy includes treatment with hematopoietic cytokines; blood transfusion; and, in selected cases, stem-cell transplantation").

mfarraday
11-18-2013, 08:15 AM
Ok awesome. Wow.

King Neptune
11-18-2013, 04:58 PM
This is what I'm currently looking at:
http://www.nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

I apologize if someone recommended that I visit this page beforehand and I am re-posting the same info.

I entered in my criteria - downtown Washington D.C. and a crude nuclear terrorist weapon and got a good idea of how the characters in my story would be affected.

I think this particular blast would be survivable and my characters could get in a car accident in the ensuing hysteria. Hence their needing blood transfusions later on (and furthering my plot.)

Neat site. With a "crude terrorist" bomb they could watch from outside the blast area and leave before the radiation got to them. It's perfect for planning a party for one's enemies.;)

robjvargas
11-18-2013, 05:36 PM
Just out of curiosity, who says they can't get radiation sickness from handling the bomb. They don't use proper radiation protocols when arming it or some such.

Experts might snicker. But I think the vast majority of people could buy that.

Then you don't have to worry about the exact distance the terrorists are at when it goes off. Doctors, with so much else going on, probably wouldn't notice the difference, if any, with those sick by the explosion itself.

Helix
11-18-2013, 05:46 PM
This is what I'm currently looking at:
http://www.nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

I apologize if someone recommended that I visit this page beforehand and I am re-posting the same info.


That was me upthread at #8. But it's always handy to have the info reposted, especially when the threads run over several pages.

Nivarion
11-22-2013, 09:49 AM
Will my story not be plausible if I don't explain how they went from 'yellow cake' which is the smuggled substance (as I have currently written it, via an underground tunnel at the U.S.-Mexico border) to the refined U-235 of which you're speaking? I wasn't planning to explain this. I just was going to go from 'they have uranium' directly to 'the terrorists have a bomb now' and leave all the tech stuff out. I was going to leave that up to the terrorist's scientists, who never play a role in the story.

I can see how a bomb would get by on a shipping container (kind of...with all the radiation detection equipment that I understood they use at ports like Long Beach, I'd hope that they would find one before it got by the officials)...but right now, I prefer to have it smuggled in as pure uranium and converted later. That way I can concentrate on my characters. If it's just too unbelievable, however...

*getting tied in knots*

The equipment to refine Uranium into a weapons grade material is far too costly for a small group to have access to it. Unless they have a prodigy who finds a cheaper methood they would need to have it pre-refined.

The cost is prohibitive to countries.

The radioactive output of uranium is fairly low, and inside of a steel shipping container it might not even tick on a Geiger counter.