Tuesday, November 19, 2002
It's not brain surgery, it's an atomic bomb, silly!
[NTI's page] on Russian nuclear security is a good resource. Here is a [specific case] of the diversion of Russian naval reactor fuel from 1995 - note the the quantity and quality of the fuel stolen would have been a significant boost to the uranium enrichment program of a rogue nation such as Iraq.
Now this is a very different scenario than the use of that fuel for a terrorist "improvised nuclear explosive device". Low-enriched uranium (below 80% U235 content), such as that stolen in the case above, is essentially useless to a terrorist group. Unless they had covert access to extensive uranium enrichment infrastructure (such as that of Pakistan, which is possible but unlikely), the low enriched uraniun would not be of any use for a bomb. But other Russian reactor fuel is considered weapons grade, enriched to as much as 90% U235. While the fuel is often diluted with other metals such as aluminum, processing it into the components of a gun-assembly weapon such as the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945
Anyone with access to a personal computer and off-the-shelf machinery such as [simple CNC hardware] and commercially available software such as AutoCAD can design and fabricate a gun-assembly atomic bomb, once they have the uranium required. This type of weapon does not require anywhere near the level of sophistication in design and engineering of an implosion design such as Iraq is pursuing (though an implosion weapon requires much less fissile material). Some people seem to think that constructing an atomic bomb is an insurmountably difficult challenge, and that it isn't possible for "a country like Iraq" to have the level of expertise necessary to build one. Unfortunately, the physics are very straightforward and the engineering required is not that difficult. Even an implosion design only requires the level of precision that is regularly used by opticians to make prescription lenses.
It's simply not that difficult. Arguably, the anthrax used in last year's US mail attacks was more of an engineering challenge.
[ 11/19/2002 01:39:00 PM ] [