RogerBW's Blog

Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Effects and Survivability, Charles S. Grace 31 May 2015

1994 non-fiction, volume 10 of the Brassey's New Battlefield Weapons Systems and Technology series. A practical primer on the design and operation of nuclear weapons, their effects, and their simulation.

This book is clearly aimed at the moderately-educated non-expert. It begins with a very simple introduction to the nucleon-as-ball model of the atom, not unlike that which I got in school physics in the 1980s, then rapidly moves on to binding energy, decay, and nuclear fission. The second chapter deals with the essentials of nuclear weapon design, an excellent layman's introduction to some of the design considerations such as efficiency, and going as far as the basics of fission-fusion-fission designs.

While there's no study of delivery mechanisms, those being essentially the same as conventional shells, missiles and bombs, the book progresses to the effects of nuclear detonation: first a high-level consideration of thermal, blast and irradiative effects, in the context of exospheric, air, surface and subsurface detonations, then more detailed recapitulations and expansions of each of these. If you are curious about the double flash, Mach stems, or how semiconductors are malaffected by neutron bombardment, it's all here. Fallout and its spread are also covered, as are electromagnetic pulse effects.

The final chapters deal with standards for survivability of equipment designed to be exposed to nuclear weapon effects, and with the simulation of those effects for testing purposes – blast tunnels, aluminium-oxygen jets, small-scale irradiators, and non-nuclear EMP generators.

This is an excellent short introduction to most of the salient points of nuclear weapons. It doesn't cover anything in great depth, but it deals with the basics; I'm not aware of any declassified sources on weapon design, but Glasstone and Dolan's The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (1977, and in the bibliography here) covers post-detonation effects at rather greater length.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 04:55pm on 31 May 2015

    Excellent source, saved for future reference.

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