Nuclear weapons

From dankwiki

Basic Physics

  • Energy-mass equivalence - electron-volts - curve of binding energy - energy scales (chemical vs nuclear vs annihilative)
  • Pressure - temperature - ideal gases - brownian motion - radiative ablation - ionization - plasmas
  • The atom - the nucleus - periodic table - size scales (electron vs proton vs neutron vs alpha particle vs large nucleus vs atomic radius vs molecular size)
  • Electodynamics - strong nuclear force - weak nuclear force - quantum tunneling - radiations (alpha, beta, gamma) - transmutations (there are many!)
  • Liquid drop model - superdeformation - hyperdeformation

Reactor Physics

  • Neutron moderators - fueling - MOX - breeders - inherently safe designs
  • Intertial confinement fusion - hydromagnetic confinement fusion - cold fusion - bubble fusion
  • Etienne Parent (2003). "Nuclear Fuel Cycles for Mid-Century Deployment".

Fission Weapons

  • Criticality - subcritical - supercritical - prompt criticality - critcial insertion time - insertion (gun-type) method - spontaneous fission - implosion method
  • Th233 - U233 - U235 - U238 - Pu249 - Pu240 - minor actinides - transuranics
  • Enrichment levels - enrichment methods - degradation - downblending
  • Neutron sources - prompt neutrons - delayed neutrons - initiator design
  • High explosives, Taylor-Releigh instabilities - assembly geometry

Fusion Weapons and Boosting

  • Layer-cake model - sparkplugs - Teller-Ulam design - stage chaining
  • Core boosting - enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs)
  • Pure fusion weapons

Delivery Systems, Effects, and Defense

  • Blast theory - shock front - double flash - optimum delivery altitudes
  • Miniaturization - MIRV's - penetration aids - neutron fluxes

Missile Defense


  • Project Plowshare - Project Orion - Atoms for Peace
  • Testing - test detection - treaties

See Also


The following textbooks range from introductory to advanced material, and all require some basic physics and associated mathematical sophistication. For obvious reasons, textbooks on actual weapon design, testing, engineering and maintenance are difficult to come across. There's a wide variety of excellent books on political theory of nuclear weapons, which I'm neither qualified to rate nor interested in becoming expert with; see blogs like Arms Control Wonk and Total WonKerr for more information, or your local university's political science department.

There's pretty much an endless line of popular-audience books about nuclear weapons, especially their early design and the characters behind them (I've got about a dozen biographies of J. Robert Oppenheimer alone). These require no particular scientific or mathematic background. Of them, the best include: