Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s), such as nuclear bombs are one of the modern sub-genres of chemical warfare that have been in development since the early 1900’s, with the discovery of nuclear energy. Before nuclear weapons could become refined, a lot of research relied on previous findings, until we eventually ended up with the weapon known as the atomic bomb.
In 1789, the weakly radioactive, Uranium was discovered by Klaproth. Uranium has various isotopes, with the most abundant in nature being 238U. Throughout history, many developments had been made in physics and chemistry which contributed to the nuclear weapons industry 1. In 1895, ionising radiation, the energy released when an electron is removed from an atom, had been discovered by producing a continuous x-ray 1. Uraninite, a mixture of radium and uranium, was found to emit alpha (helium nuclei) and beta radiation (electrons), which caused photography plates to darken, in 1895. Later, a third type of radiation called gamma was discovered, and soon after in 1898, a new highly radioactive element, called Polonium (Po) was isolated from Uraninite 1. With the help of Rutherford (1902) and Bohr (1940), the understanding of atomic arrangement and radioactivity further developed, allowing understanding of the spontaneity of the emission of alpha and beta particles from a nucleus 1. Alongside these findings, Soddy (1911) uncovered that other elements also possessed radioactive isotopes, namely radionuclides. Artificial radionuclides were found by Curie, Joliot and Fermi, by using neutrons and protons to bombard atoms. Fission had finally been completed in 1938 by Hahn and Strassman, producing 200 million electron volts of energy in splitting the nucleus into two uneven parts. This experiment was historically famous, as it finally proved the theory of energy and mass (E=mc2), by Einstein, had been correct 1.
Bohr harnessed the knowledge that nuclear fission produced a large amount of energy by realising that if Uranium-235 (0.7% abundant) was used instead of Uranium-238 (99.3% abundant) then the likelihood of the event occurring would increase. Finally, in 1939, Perrin fitted the last piece of knowledge into the atomic bomb, by finding a self-sustained amount of energy that allowed a chain reaction 1.
Figure 1: Fission of U-2352
The Manhattan Project, started in 1940’s America, was put into action to construct a nuclear weapon, later known as the atomic bomb 3. The team consisted of various refugee scientists that had previously worked with radioactive substances. The Office of Scientific Research and Development later took over the project to have more control over the direction of research conducted 1. Soon after, president Roosevelt had been in conversation with Churchill, and an agreement had been made to make a nuclear power plant which had only the intention of creating the atomic bomb, costing $1,000 million 1. Physics denotes that nuclear fission is the process of bombarding a large nucleus (Uranium-235/Plutonium-239) with a thermal neutron, causing it to break apart into smaller masses 4. As these smaller masses, do not completely add up to the net mass of the original nucleus, the remaining mass is released from the reaction as energy. The nuclear bomb was created by harnessing this knowledge into creating a reaction so violent that large amount of energy would be released 4. The method chosen for the deploy of the atomic bomb was the “implosion” method for Plutonium-239 and the “gun” method for Uranium-235 5.
Figure 2: Bomb Explosion Methods 5
For the following 5 years’, research was conducted into the Uranium-235 and the Plutonium-239 bombs, until eventually in 1945 the first atomic Plutonium bomb was tested successfully on the 16th of July, in New Mexico for the Trinity test 1. At the end of World War II, the Americans used the atomic bomb twice against Japan – in the hope that they would surrender – causing the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The first bomb to be used in warfare was the Uranium-235 bomb that was detonated the Japanese called “Little Boy”, harnessing the force of 15,000 tons of TNT 2. Destroying 5 square miles of Hiroshima. 92% of the city structures, and 63% of the buildings were left in ruins from this attack, and over 180,000 deaths were estimated (over half of the population) 6. However, this was not enough for Japan to pull out of the war, so a 2nd bomb made from Plutonium-239 called “Fat Man”, harnessing the force of 22-kilotons of TNT, was dropped on the valley town of Nagasaki 2. The bomb landed in the Urakimi Valley, which limited the casualties and avoided damaging the city-centre. Nagasaki saw 27% of its buildings left in complete devastation and over 100,000 people were left injured 6. Due to the power behind Fat Man, the Urakimi Valley was not so lucky, being destroyed entirely, leaving a 2.6 square mile blast-site. It was later announced that Japan had pulled out from the war and celebrations began across the USA 1.
However, this was not the case for those who had been involved in the attack, those who survived were called Hibakusha. Of those survivors 1% suffered from radiation related illnesses 7. After the bombs detonated most survivors suffered from severe burns and broken bones. Others weren’t as lucky, appearing completely uninjured, some people began to die. Initially it was suspected that a virus or disease had broken out and was infecting the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that was not the case. In fact, the radiation had caused people to have a delayed onset of symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, hair loss, skin blistering and cysts 8. Unfortunately, many people who suffered with these symptoms never recovered and soon passed away, increasing the death toll from the bombings.
Since these events in World War II, atomic bombs have not been used as a WMD. It is widely known that the USA and Russia hold most of the world’s nuclear weapons 9, and since the presidential election in 2016 it has been made more apparent that one of the USA’s main focuses it to be expanding their nuclear capability 10. For future prospects, we can only wonder what might happen if the advances in technology allow for more nuclear bombs to be detonated, when we have only seen a glimpse of the trauma it creates.
Figure 3: Weapons Locations 10
Written By Amber McMorrin
 “Outline History of Nuclear Energy”, World Nuclear Association, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/outline-history-of-nuclear-energy.aspx
 “Nuclear Fission”, Nuclear Power, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.nuclear-power.net/nuclear-power/fission/
 “Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, History, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki
 “Nuclear Fission”, Hyper Physics, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/NucEne/fission.html
 “The Atomic Bomb”, Boundless, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: https://www.boundless.com/chemistry/textbooks/boundless-chemistry-textbook/nuclear-chemistry-19/nuclear-fission-137/the-atomic-bomb-544-3501/images/fission-bomb-assembly-methods/
 “The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/global-abolition/hiroshima-a-nagasaki
 “Who are the Hibakusha?”, Hibakusha Stories, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.hibakushastories.org/who-are-the-hibakusha/
 “The Fallout”, Hiroshima, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://hiroshima.australiandoctor.com.au/#c4
 “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at A Glance?”, Arms Control Association, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat
 “Donald Trump: US must greatly expand nuclear capabilities”, BBC, 02/04/2017, [Online] Accessed: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38410027#
One thought on “Nuclear Warfare”
A fascinating read about a distrubing subject. We as human beings should only use this knowledge for the good of society and not as a threat or to destroy each other