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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


In the gun device, two pieces of fissionable material, each less than a critical mass, are brought together very rapidly to forma single supercritical one. This gun-type assembly may be achieved in a tubular device in which a high explosive is used to blow one subcritical piece of fissionable material from one end of the tube into another subcritical piece held at the opposite end of the tube.

Manhattan Project scientists were so confident in the performance of the "Little Boy" uranium bomb that the device was not even tested before it was used. This 15-kt weapon was airdropped on 06 August 1945 at Hiroshima, Japan. The device contained 64.1 kg of highly enriched uranium, with an average enrichment of 80%. The six bombs built by the Republic of South Africa were gun-assembled and used 50kg of uranium enriched to between 80 percent and 93 percent in the isotope U-235.

Compared with the implosion approach, this method assembles the masses relatively slowly and at normal densities; it is practical only with highly enriched uranium. If plutonium -- even weapon-grade -- were used in a gun-assembly design, neutrons released from spontaneous fission of its even-numbered isotopes would likely trigger the nuclear chain reaction too soon, resulting in a "fizzle" of dramatically reduced yield.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 03:45:09 ZULU