As we begin the semester discussing nuclear weapons, we are first tasked with understanding how they work. In The Physics of a Nuclear Explosion, Tsipis explains that atoms like Uranium are less tightly bound around the nucleus and have more kinetic energy, so they can be fissioned by a colliding neutron, which sets off a chain reaction. The result is a fireball of superhot matter and energy, which, once cooled, becomes a shockwave of heat and pressure, and soon reaches the breakaway point. Tsipis highlights that the small size of a nucleus obscures the enormous power of its effects. I’d like to focus our discussion on these effects.
Both Tsipis (in chapter 4) and Sartori discuss the fatal effects of nuclear weapons, including nuclear radiation, airblast overpressure and dynamic pressure, and fallout from ground-level explosions. When discussing the effect of ozone layer depletion, Tsipis writes, “[it] places an upper limit to the number of weapons that can be used in a nuclear war before the ecosystem of the earth collapses” (93) – that the world could not survive sustained nuclear war. How do you think policymakers weigh this concern in times of war? How would it “rank” among more tangible wartime goals like defeating the enemy and/or demonstrating power?
Lastly, we see in Sartori’s writing greater attention to the problems that surface immediately after a nuclear explosion. He mentions that the care of burn victims would be “one of the most taxing medical problems” (33) and that “supplies of food, water, and medicine might not be adequate” (58). Most of the articles/videos this week have implied that a nuclear attack is inevitable, and if that is the case, should policymakers shift some of their resources from preventing a nuclear attack to developing better response measures if one occurs? Does your answer depend on how you judge the inevitability of a nuclear war?
I would like to frame that question with a poignant quote from Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: “Once a workable bomb was built, was there really any chance that it wouldn’t be used?” (53). — Melissa