This paper looks into the issue surrounding Nuclear weapons. How are they created? What are the dangers involved with their use? These are among the questions answered in this paper. It also looks into the Nuclear Weapon Programs that various countries around the world have been pursuing. For a better understanding of Nuclear weapons, they are those weapons that derive their destructiveness from nuclear reactions, either by fission or a combination of fusion and fission. The two reactions release a large amount of energy from small amounts of matter. These weapons are considered to be weapons of mass destruction; hence their use and control is tightly monitored. Different statesmen have advocated for their reduction worldwide.
As stated earlier, nuclear weapons are devices that derive the destructive nature from nuclear reactions (Rhodes, 1986). In essence, there are two types of nuclear weapon. The first one produces explosive energy through nuclear fission reactions (Rhodes, 1986). They are referred to as atomic or atom bombs. However, their energy is entirely from the nucleus of the atom. In these weapons, a mass of fissile material is put into a supercritical mass. (The fissile material can be plutonium or enriched uranium, while the supercritical mass is the material for starting a growing nuclear chain reaction).
The process of assembly can be done through two means. First is by gun method; shooting a piece of subcritical material into another. The second method is the implosion method, which involves the compression of a sub-critical sphere of material by use of chemical explosives that are many times the original density. The gun method is sophisticated and can be used in cases where the fissile material is plutonium.
In designing nuclear weapons, one has to ensure that a good amount of fuel is consumed before the weapons could destroy themselves. Moreover, fission bombs can release a large amount of energy ranging from less a ton of TNT to five hundred (500) kilotons of TNT.
The second type of nuclear weapon produces its energy through nuclear fusion reactions (Rhodes, 1986). They are called thermonuclear weapons or hydrogen bombs since they rely on reactions between deuterium and tritium. However, there are no limits on the energy that can be released by these types of nuclear weapons. Moreover, hydrogen bombs use the energy created by a fission bomb for the purpose of compressing and heating fusion fuel. A fission bomb and fusion fuel are placed in proximity with a radiation-reflecting container that is special. After the detonation of the fission bomb, x-rays and gamma ones that are emitted compress the fusion fuel and heat it to reach the levels of thermonuclear temperatures.
This will result into a fusion reaction, which then creates a large number of high-speed neutrons that are capable of inducing fission in material not prone to it. Other types of nuclear bombs include a boosted fission weapon. It is a fission bomb that increases its explosive yield through small fusion reactions. In these boosted fusion bombs, the neutrons from fusion reactions are meant to increase the fission bomb's efficiency.
Other types of nuclear weapons like neutron bombs are thermonuclear weapons, which yield a small explosion but large amounts of neutron radiation. These types of bombs could be lethal but harmless to infrastructure. In the detonation of a nuclear weapon, it is accompanied by neutron radiation. A salted bomb can be created from surrounding a nuclear bomb with materials such as gold or cobalt. It produces a large amount of radioactive contamination. The variations in the design of nuclear weapons are meant to achieve different results for different situations or minimizing weapon size.
There are numerous countries that have pursued nuclear weapon programs. The United States and the USSR (now Russia) were among the first to engage in nuclear programs in the arms race. The United States, together with the United Kingdom and Canada, developed the first series of atomic weapons. It first tested it in 1945 and also used it against Japan; the United States became the first and only country to use a nuclear weapon against another country (Jim, 1982). It was also the first to develop the hydrogen bomb. From then onwards, it has continued to modernize and stock its nuclear arsenal.
The Soviet Union tested its first in 1949. It became the second to develop and test a nuclear weapon in desperation to balance power during the cold war (Jim, 1982). Its first hydrogen bomb was tested in the year 1955. The Soviets tested the most powerful explosive known as the Tsar Bomba. However, when it was dissolved, the weapons came under Russia.
The United States made and tested its first nuclear in the year 1952. It became the third to develop and test a nuclear bomb. It was to act as a deterrent against the Soviets, in addition to maintaining the status, of being a great power. They now have a fleet of ballistic missile submarines equipped with bombers. On the other hand, France tested its nuclear in 1960. It also tested its first hydrogen bomb in the year 1968 referred to as Operation Canopus. It has currently modernized its arsenal and evolved it to a dual system.
China developed and tested its first nuclear in 1964 as a deterrent against the Soviet Union and the United States (Jim, 1982). Moreover, it hurriedly tested its hydrogen bomb in 1967. There are also other nations that have engaged themselves in nuclear programs, for example, India, South Africa, North Korea, and Pakistan.
It is important to note that North Korea was a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but withdrew in 2003 and pursued a nuclear program. By 2005, they claimed to be in possession of an arsenal of functional nuclear weapons. Other states like Israel have not confirmed to be in possession of nuclear bombs although it is widely believed to be having a number of warheads.
The United States, under NATO nuclear weapons sharing, has enabled other nations like Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands to deploy and store nuclear weapons. South Africa had pursued a nuclear program and developed six of them by 1980. However, they disassembled them afterwards. Currently, nations like Iran and North Korea are facing international pressure to discontinue their efforts of making nuclear weapons. Iran claims that it is pursuing a peaceful nuclear use; however, they might as well be pursuing to develop and test various nuclear warheads.
Nuclear weapons are catastrophic; if all of them were used in the event of a World War, then nearly all of humanity will be destroyed. All major cities could be destroyed by warheads. Although other areas will not be touched by the explosions, radioactive fall-out probably blown by wind will spread faster to these areas (Glasstone, & Dolan, 1977). This would translate to immediate, dangerous results.
The world would then get into Nuclear Winter. The amount of sunlight that reaches the earth's surface, as well as, global temperatures would drop significantly. Nuclear warheads would raise dust, which could then bottle out the sun. Moreover, this dust would be radioactive and hence lead to a nuclear Holocaust. Chances of humanity surviving in it would be very minimal. There could be damaging climatic effects on earth, in addition to starvation, as a result of agriculture being destroyed.
The effects of atmospheric nuclear testing or nuclear fallout should be avoided since the repercussions could be overwhelming. By eliminating or reducing nuclear weapons, humanity will be guaranteed security and long term health safety.
Nuclear weapons can inflict unprecedented damage over a short period of time. The damage would be on an immense scale and destroy the basis of civilized life (Glasstone & Dolan, 1977). A large scale nuclear explosion could inject a large amount of nitrogen oxide. This gas destroys the ozone layer. There could also be genetic abnormalities among children born by parents who have been exposed to nuclear radiations of a high magnitude. Food and water that has been exposed to radiation can be dangerous if there are no measures taken to purify them.
In case of air bursts, danger could arise from heat radiation, blast effects, as well as, thermal pulses of intense light and heat radiation. There could also be a penetrating nuclear radiation from the fireball. On clear weather, thermal pulses from an airburst could easily set fire to ignitable materials over a large area. This could cause skin burns to those around the blast sites.
In conclusion, it is important to note that, nuclear weapons derive their destructiveness from nuclear reactions by fission or a combination of fusion and fission. They are weapons of mass destruction and so, getting rid of them will be beneficial to humanity in case of an accidental nuclear war. Many developed countries have had nuclear weapons and tested them. Many have argued for or against abolition, disarmament and arms control (Jerry & Rinaldo 1997). In my own view, states should learn using nuclear only for peaceful means. However, nations in possession of these nuclear warheads cite security reasons as their reasons. According to them, having a nuclear bomb is the guarantee to a secure nation. On the other hand, statesmen should ensure that these nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda; the consequences could be massive.