Then there's also the chemical and biological variations combined with nuclear capability.
At 11:34 AM 11/09/2002 -0700, you wrote:
There's a difference, Stacy, between a true thermonuclear bomb and a so-called
dirty bomb. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive
material around. Depending on the circumstances, this can be quite deadly, and is
hard to clean up after, and its effects can be pernicious, but are relatively
small-scale, and the structural damage is largely confined to the initial
conventional explosion. Thermonuclear bombs, which come roughly in two types --
fission-based and the more powerful fusion-based -- actually obtain their very
destructive power from nuclear chain reactions, to oversimplify a bit. But the
point is they are far more destructive to property, to those in the blast zone,
and in the long run, to many others. The type of material used in true
thermonuclear devices has a longer half-life (remains radioactive longer), and
also gives off more energetic gamma radiation (which is more dangerous), and can
contaminate clouds which carry it long distances, where it falls as part of the
rain (so-called "fallout").
Thermonuclear devices depend a lot on the extremely powerful shock wave they
create (the explosion is more "intense"), so are often detonated while still in
the air, so the shock wave can travel further, not inhibited by horizontal vector
barriers like buildings. OTOH, ground-detonated bombs cause more fallout. One
interesting variant is the so-called "neutron bomb" which doesn't have much of a
shockwave, but unleashes a spray of ionizing (very energetic) neutrons. So it
spares the buildings but kills the people. It's the ultimate "clean bomb" so to
The two bombs used over Japan were small and crude by today's standards, and used
conventional explosives to drive two pieces of carefully-shaped radioactive metal
(uranium, plutonium) together, causing a fission chain reaction, which is highly
"exothermic" (releases a lot of energy in a short period of time). Fusion bombs
use the same fuel process as the sun: hydrogen is fused together by another,
initial explosion, to form helium, which is even more exothermic than fission
One substance that's unlikely to be used in dirty bombs, incidentally, is
plutonium. Plutonium is actually not that toxic (IF -- and naturally this is a big
"if") you ignore its radioactivity; mercury, lead and cadmium are far more toxic.
You could actually eat food with plutonium, and it would just pass through your
body. The problem is when it's in tiny particle form (as in fallout) and you
breathe it in. It sort of turns your lungs into radioactive organs, which can, of
course, be very destructive to body tissue, either in the short term (radiation
burns, which can be fatal if they're extensive enough) or cancer in the medium to
long term. The problem with plutonium, as far as terrorists are concerned, is that
it's a very rare metal and hard to come by, and even harder to handle without
damage to yourself. It requires very expensive facilities to treat, such as a
research or military reactor. Canada, just as an example, was a pioneer in atomic
technology*, supplying the uranium that went into the Manhattan Project, which
produced the bomb. The best known Canadian in the field was Ernest Rutherford
(although I don't think he worked on the Manhatten Project per se -- but I think
he was still at McGill by then, and might have acted as an advisor; I'd have to
check). But while we have a lot of power reactors (especially in Ontario, Quebec
and New Brunswick), the only research reactors we have that are capable of
handling plutonium are at Chalk River ON and Whiteshell MB. The former I've been
to. It's upriver of Ottawa, and I once gave a lecture there on the medical
applications of Cobalt 60. The latter is NE of Winnipeg on the edge of the
Canadian (or Laurentian) Shield.
Incidentally, one little irony that I'm not sure has been brought up, although I'm
sure Mark especially knows this, and probably many others here, is that Nagasaki
wasn't the first choice for the second bomb. The original target was clouded over
that day, so Nagasaki got hit. The irony is that Nagasaki is the historical centre
of Japan's Christian community. So I guess today's trivia question is: what was
the original target?
*we invented the cobalt machine, long a mainstay in radiation therapy in cancer,
for instance, and the world's largest supplier of medical isotopes is still a
Canadian company, Nordion, in Kanata ON (a suburb of Ottawa). They're part of MDS,
a large Canadian medical services company based in Toronto. If you hang around
Ottawa, you can see Nordion's white trucks rushing isotopes to the airport so they
can be flown on private jets directly to big tertiary care hospitals around the
world, but especially the US (many of these isotopes, made of very exotic
materials like molybdenum ("molly" for short) have very short halflifes so have
to be used within a few days). I used to watch technicians working behind
metre-thick glass (filled with mineral oil), working with remote arms to load Co60
into their canisters. There's a cooling tank where spent Co60 is stored, and some
of it is energetic enough that you can see the beautiful "Cerenkov effect," a
bluish glow that comes from the water around the canisters. Every year Nordion has
a company picnic and open house, and the public is given tours of the facilities.
We and I think Sweden are the only two countries in the world with the
*capability* of being a nuclear power but who have deliberately decided not to be
(well, aside from Japan and Germany, too, I suppose, but they're special cases).
JFK tried to get our prime minister at the time, John Diefenbaker, to accept
nuclear-armed BOMARC missiles on Canadian soil, but Diefenbaker refused. Anyone in
the Edmonton area can see a BOMARC, incidentally -- there's one on display outside
of a hangar on 123rd St, by the Municipal Airport, just as you're coming up to
Princess Elizabeth Avenue from the Yellowhead. It was developed by a Canadian
aeronautics company to replace the AVRO Arrow, which was cancelled by Diefenbaker,
almost certainly under pressure from the U.S. to use their fighters rather than
develop our own (which we've done ever since; our workhorse fighters are modified
F-18's called CF-18's).
Stacy Smith wrote:
> Then why weren't the Japanese able to overcome the effects? The key here,
> I believe, is how would we know we had been hit to take the showers? Plus,
> what if they're laced with bioweapons?
> At 01:52 AM 11/09/2002 -0500, you wrote:
> >Actually, dirty bombs are not a big deal from a radioactivity point of view.
> >If one is exposed to a dirty nuke, one only has to get to a complete shower
> >(at home will do just fine) within a couple of hours, and there will be no
> >long term effects. The cleanup will be a pain to be sure, but not a really
> >big deal either.
> >Of course, with all the hysteria over nuclear power that the envirowackos
> >have stirred up, the emotional damage would be much greater.
> >But that's a topic for another thread, one that I have begun doing detailed
> >and extensive research on. You will be the first to see the fruits of that
> >research - sort of a test market!
> >Marc A. Schindler wrote:
> >I think the most imminent threat isn't from a conventional nuke but from
> >so-called dirty bombs, which are conventional explosives packed with a messy
> >radioactive substance such as caesium (which is a powder in natural form).
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Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland
“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick
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