Welcome to our modern nuclear age, where even the smallest terrorist group can launch a Nuclear Attack.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading…because in this article I’ll be covering:
- Our Cold War Past
- Our Current Modern Nuclear World
- The 3 Nuclear Bombs and The Mess Each Can Make
- The Dirty Bomb
- The Fission Bomb (Atomic Bomb)
- The Thermonuclear Bomb (Hydrogen Bomb)
- My Best Guess On How A U.S. Nuclear Attack Scenario Would Play Out
Our Cold War Past With Russia
The Cold War started heating up (pun intended) back in the late 1940s when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb.
A few years later they detonated their first thermonuclear bomb.
Thus began years of Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
At one point, both sides had in the neighborhood of 20,000 thermonuclear warheads pointed at each other.
This ridiculously high number of warheads ensured no significant attack by one side would leave the other side unable to prosecute Armageddon-level destruction on the other.
The one thing that brought stability to the world was the notion that both sides operated in their respective nation’s own best interests.
We could count on the Soviets only doing what was in their best national interest. Incurring the wrath of 20,000 thermonuclear warheads was, by definition, not in their “best” interest.
So although there were a lot of nuclear weapons pointed at each other over a long duration of time—the more weapons, the more unlikely either side would use them…So there was peace.
Today we have a very different strategic nuclear warfare structure. Thanks to the fall of the Soviet Union and the various nuclear disarmament treaties that followed, today our deterrent force is a small fraction of what existed in 1985.
To the laymen, and naïve, Liberal politicians who believe the US is the greatest threat to world peace, our reduction in nuclear forces is hailed as a grand achievement toward a sustainable peace.
In reality, the fewer the nuclear weapons in the world, the less unthinkable their employment becomes.
If a full nuclear exchange scenario destroys all life as we know it—most rational nations won’t prosecute such an attack. However, if that exchange is viewed as somehow manageable, if losses seem acceptable, suddenly the unthinkable becomes a tactic to be employed.
During the Cold War, our enemy was a communist, authoritarian, atheistic society. The Soviet Union always put the State before the individual, before the family, before God.
In fact, communist nations removed all reference to God from the public consciousness. It is essential for an authoritarian government to deny the existence of God and forbid the worship of any deity.
All trust must be in Government, and there can be no deity that muddles with the people’s priorities.
The State must come first.
Or as Vladimir Lenin once said:
While the State exists there can be no freedom; when there is freedom there will be no State.
Since the Soviets denied the existence of God, their nuclear doctrine was not based on religious beliefs—not at all. The United States’, although a nation with freedom of religion, did not inject God into their defensive nuclear doctrine, either.
The New Nuclear Attack Scenario
Today, our newest, most formidable enemy—radical Islam—DOES interject religious doctrine into their war-fighting strategy.
Today, if a radical Islamic state, such as Iran, is allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, they have publicly indicated they would use it against their enemies, namely Israel and the United States.
They are not afraid of retaliation, of taking losses in their nuclear struggle. Their citizens are taught every person who dies in defense of Allah will be rewarded in the afterlife.
They do not fear death…for them it is a doorway to a greater existence. This concept effectively stands traditional nuclear warfare doctrine on its ear.
Suddenly, nuclear retaliation is no longer feared. It may even be desired as a means of martyrdom.
The deterrent effect that worked so well with the Soviets (and to a lesser extent with the Chinese) is reduced to insignificance.
For those who believe thermonuclear weapons are too advanced for a Third World nation to develop, I would say this:
Nuclear weapons were invented before color TV, before the garage door opener, before the microwave oven, before micro-electronics—even before the transistor.
They were invented a full decade before we even put a satellite in orbit. We’re talking 1940’s technology.
So let’s examine the three main nuclear weapons we could face.
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1 – The Dirty Bomb—this is the easiest, most foolproof bomb a terrorist could employ.
It’s not expensive or technologically daunting. Damn near anyone could build one of these—if you have access to the radioactive waste.
In this device, a conventional explosive bomb is wrapped in layers of radioactive waste. We’re not talking plutonium here. We’re talking radioactive waste that comes from medical and industrial waste streams.
These substances are radioactive. They are dangerous.
They can make one very ill and even kill with prolonged exposure. They can cause cancers and leukemia and all sorts of nasty maladies if exposed to them.
The explosives detonate and essentially blow the radioactive waste into billions of tiny fragments which can be carried by the wind and cover an area as large as several city blocks.
This area will be hot – otherwise, know as contaminated.
Anyone passing through this zone could have long-term health implications.
If the radioactive material used is highly radioactive, say waste fuel elements from a commercial or research nuclear reactor, then we’re talking serious and immediate radiation poisoning for all those in the immediate area.
Death in hours or days due to massive cellular damage versus years with cancers.
The good news about the Dirty Bomb is it has a very limited range.
It can only cover a few city blocks and, after extensive decontamination, the area can be safe again in a relatively short time.
Also, since it has very localized effects, the best thing to do in the event of a Dirty Bomb detonation somewhere in your city is to hunker down, stay indoors, do not travel, do not go outside.
Go into your basement and listen to the radio and TV for reports of where the contamination is located. Don’t try to flee the city without any information.
Murphy’s Law says you will leave the safety of your home and walk right into the “Hot Zone” trying to save yourself…So Stay Put.
2 – The Fission Bomb (also known as our friend the Atomic Bomb)
The Fission (or Atomic) Bomb is of the type that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Fission bombs are generally not large nuclear weapons.
Although a couple hundred thousand people died in Japan at the hands of fission bombs, they were firecrackers by thermonuclear standards (We’re talking thousands of tons of TNT versus millions of tons of TNT).
The Fission bomb derives its name from the process of nuclear fission or the splitting of atoms.
Nuclear fission occurs when a sufficiently large mass of enriched and highly radioactive isotopes, such as Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239, reach what is known as critical mass.
At critical mass, the radioactive decay taking place within the atoms of the fissile material causes what is known as a chain reaction. Radioactive particles from the decay of one atom slice through several other atoms, splitting them and releasing a cascade of more particles, which split even more atoms.
The chain reaction grows and the result is heat, light and nuclear radiation in the form of beta, alpha and gamma rays.
So how does the bomb reach critical mass?
The Hiroshima bomb, called Little Boy, used two separate masses of U-235, one to act as a projectile, the other the target.
This is called the Gun-tube configuration.
An explosive charge detonates and drives the projectile mass of uranium down the tube at high velocity where it strikes the target mass with so much kinetic energy that they essentially “melt” together due to the heat produced in the collision.
This combined mass is above critical mass and a chain reaction begins.
The Nagasaki Bomb, called Fat Man, was of the implosion configuration.
Two hollow half-spheres of Plutonium-239 are surrounded by explosive “lenses.” In the middle of the sphere is a small mass, called the initiator, made of polonium and beryllium. The initiator assists in starting the chain reaction.
There is also a layer of uranium-238 between the plutonium and the initiator to act as a sort of radioactive insulator and neutron reflector. The mass of plutonium, with the initiator inside is enough for critical mass, but not in the hollow spherical configuration.
The density of the plutonium is too low and the uranium shielding prevents the passage of neutrons. During detonation the shaped charges force the explosive force into the “core”, squeezing and compressing it equally on all sides to drive the sphere into itself, increasing the density, so the resultant mass becomes critical—thus the chain reaction begins.
It is a more complex design than the gun tube, but is more efficient, generating a larger explosive force.
This overall design also is critical for the next type of weapon.
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3 – The Thermonuclear Bomb (also called the Hydrogen Bomb or Fusion Bomb)
This weapon uses the energy released during nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion occurs when atoms of a substance are fused together to form more complex atoms—such as hydrogen into helium. The fusion process requires heating these elements to millions of degrees to start the fusion reaction.
When nuclear fusion begins, the energy released is many times again larger than the energy required to initially raise the elements to the initiation temperature. Since there are very few ways to heat a substance to ten million degrees, at the heart of a thermonuclear bomb is a small fission bomb.
The fission bomb detonates, releasing heat, radiation, and neutrons. These bombard a special container of deuterium/tritium—heavy isotopes of hydrogen.
The deuterium/tritium is heated and bombarded with neutrons. At the right temperature and neutron flux, the fusion reaction begins—and a whole lot of energy is released—a whole lot.
The interesting thing about both the fission bomb and the fusion bomb is that they are simply heaters.
When they detonate they generate millions of degrees of heat. This is unlike regular explosives where the production and expansion of high-pressure gas are what cause the explosive power.
Nukes don’t produce gas in any significant quantity—but they do produce heat, light, and radiation.
The light will instantly blind you if you are looking at the detonation – you can’t blink fast enough to shut it out.
In fact, the heat is so intense—and so sudden—it raises the air temperature around the bomb from 70 degrees F to 10,000,000 degrees F in milliseconds.
The air, like any gas, expands due to the high temperatures. It also ionizes, turning into energized plasma.
This superheated gas expands rapidly outward creating a shockwave moving at nearly the speed of sound—a shockwave still several tens of thousands of degrees F. This shockwave and the heat it carries is what levels cities and digs craters into the ground.
In fact, once the shockwave has used up most of its energy a vacuum is left at the center of explosion and now the air races back at near supersonic speeds from all directions to fill that vacuum, stirring up debris and soil as it moves and when it reaches the dead center of the explosion the whole mass rises upward to form the mushroom cloud.
Now here’s what’s interesting—if the bomb were to detonate in the vacuum of space, there would be nearly no shockwave or mushroom cloud.
Here’s a video from Modern Marvels “Deadliest Weapons” that does a great job providing an overview of nuclear bombs. Worth the 7 minutes to watch it in its entirety.
For even more information on Nuclear Physics and Atomic Theory read this.
Electromagnetic Pulse — The Side Effects Of Nuclear Bombs
One other interesting phenomena of a nuclear detonation – fission or fusion – is Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP).
EMP is a pulse of electromagnetic energy that is generated at the time of detonation. It races outward at near the speed of light in a line of sight fashion – so if it occurs high in the atmosphere it can cover a very wide area.
This blast of electromagnetic energy will induce voltages in an electric or electronic circuit that is not shielded. It is just like the voltage induced in the windings of a generator – but many, many orders of magnitude more powerful.
These voltages and the induced amperages will burn out any electronic components in the line of sight that are not shielded from EMP.
So what would a nuclear attack scenario by some Third World Islamic State look like?
Well, it would not look like an attack the Soviets might have mounted.
The Soviet attack would have been a coordinated affair, using submarine based SLBMs to quickly take out our missile fields, command control assets, ICBMs to take our localized defenses and military bases, then bomber sorties to pound our remaining forces and major cities into rubble.
Thousands of warheads would have rained down on us in a matter of thirty to forty minutes, with bombers mopping up the remnants over the next 24 hours. Of course, we would have been doing the same to them – which is why it never happened.
No. Today’s nuclear attack scenario is likely to come from nowhere – out of the blue, with no warning.
Most likely the delivery vehicle will not be an airplane or missile.
If I were guessing how a terrorist nation would launch a nuclear attack on US soil, I’d bet on either a Ford F-150 with a camper shell over the bed (or Chevy Silverado – for those Bowtie fans) or a cargo container ship.
If the target is a large port city, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Houston, Miami, San Fransico or New Orleans, delivery of a nuke would be easy.
Just plant the device in the cargo of a large ocean-going container ship and wait for it to dock. The terrorists could detonate the bomb before anything is even unloaded and well before customs inspect the hundreds of containers on the ship.
The same goes for Great Lakes ports as well, such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.
If the target is in-country, such as Atlanta, St Louis, Memphis, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento, then the pick-up truck option is the most likely—driven to and parked at the center of its target—and remotely detonated from a distance or by a timer.
I truly believe if a nuclear attack scenario is ever prosecuted by a terrorist organization, the first indication something is wrong is when the ambient temperature hits 10 million degrees.