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Nobody Gave Us The Bomb - The Reality Of Nuclear Proliferation

Politics / GeoPolitics Aug 27, 2010 - 01:25 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleMany Internet sites, the press and media, and political leaders in some leading countries seek to maintain the myth of "atom secrets" held by a very select few countries and principally the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, which by no coincidence are also the 5 earliest countries to have developed, tested and used (in the case of the USA) atomic weapons, before moving on to their industrial production. These "declared nuclear powers", in their rush to firstly develop the fission or atomic bomb, then the fusion or hydrogen bomb, themselves repeatedly made use of so-called "atom spies". Today however they seek to maintain the myth that spies, organized crime syndicates, rogue governments, greedy industrialists and evil scientists are working to spread and use the "atom secrets" that only they invented and still own.

These secrets, we are asked to believe, can enable almost anybody to make the bomb in their garage with just a couple of screwdriver turns. To some, Dr A Q Khan, AKA "Bombs R Us" or the Father of the Islamic Bomb, would have been completely unable to develop an atomic bomb in Pakistan without the use of "atom secrets".The same highly outdated or antique thinking applies to Iran's scientific and industrial capabilities for producing an atomic bomb, despite the fact that the 1941- 1945 Manhattan Project to produce the USA's and the world's first atom bombs was carried out using the scientific knowledge and industrial capacities of more than 65 years ago.

A totally opposite theory about atomic bomb making is that nuclear physicists, weapons research experts, industrial engineers and their enablers and bosses in government have been able to "Do It Themselves" since the 1960s, that is for a minimum of 45 years. Further upstream, the scientific concept of supernovae, the biggest possible nuclear Big Bang, dates a lot further back - to the 1920s, and is basically due to the Indian atomic scientist and friend of Einstein, Satyendranath Bose. By the 1930s, although dominated by scientists from the USA, Europe, Russia and Japan, the rapidly developing field of nuclear and atomic physics was already highly internationalized.

The early "core competence" countries for nuclear weapons, the USA and the other 4 members of the UN Security Council (Russia, UK, China, France) reached the status of bomb capable and immediately translated that to industrial scale atomic weapons making, from the late 1940s, through the 1950s and into the early 1960s. All of these countries argue they did not need to steal "atom secrets" from anybody at all, despite the proof of atom spying to the contrary. This claimed capability for "Doing It Themselves" is to be sure linked with concepts of national pride and national superiority, or even racial superiority, and exactly the same quest for national pride applies to all subsequent national programmes for atomic bomb making.

For the period from the early 1950s until the mid- or late-1960s it is possible, but is no way sure to argue that only the core competent countries had the necessary scientific and industrial know-how. Certainly since the 1960s, however, the nuclear cat is very far outside the bag and freely roams the Internet, academic centres and conference circuits worldwide. At the same time, since the 1960s a number of "enabling technologies" have massively developed. These not only include Information technology and electronics but also the aerospace and mechanical engineering industries, and are globally available.


Whatever the answer to the historical conundrum of atomic weapons development in the period of about 1948-1965, and the exciting possible role of atom spying and intrigue, we can argue that for well over 40 years making a fission bomb requires no special art of spying and no special help from the Men in Black. Fast increasing numbers of reactors, and fuel processing, waste handling and related parts of the nuclear power system, worldwide, will make this even easier.

The story of bomb proliferation is a lot less James Bond reader friendly than many persons like to imagine. Conversely the story of nuclear proliferation is a lot closer to us and more frightening, when we understand the real implications of massively increasing power reactor orders, many or most in the Emerging and developing countries of the South, in what the nuclear industry calls "The Nuclear Renaissance".

So-called "atom secrets" are in fact antique - they exist for more than 70 years. The inventors of the technical, industrial and engineering processes, and the techniques needed to physically make a bomb have worked and experimented in literally dozens of countries outside, the "core competent group", for about a half century. In certain ways, the attempt by many persons - including most OECD political leaders - to maintain the popular myth of "atom secrets" is a dangerous side issue and shows "time warp" thinking: to be sure there were atom secrets, like Elvis Presley golden discs, but not in a real and practical sense for at least the last 40 - 45 years.

Atomic bombmaking dates from a long time before colour TV and pop-up toasters. It dates from an era in which the US automobile industry - a prime source of industrial technology for the Manhattan Project engineers working under Enrico Fermi to make the USA's first bomb - was still heavily using wood, animal skins, cat gut, vegetable glues, cast iron, piano wire, tin smithing and a large range of other very artisanal raw materials and handicraft techniques.

Fermi's first reactor of a few kiloWatts power, built underneath a New York football stadium in 1941, with ultra flimsy radiation protection for its workers and engineers due to ignorance of radiation danger would very surely have only elicited a contemptuous smirk from Dr A Q Khan, 40 years ago in 1970. Or from any Indian atomic weapons engineer even further back, in the 1960s, let alone those in Israel, North Korea or South Africa. The US Little Boy and Fat Man bomb technology was truly artisanal and antique relative to the industrial technology utilised worldwide, today, such as computer controlled machine tools and IT. Manhattan Project tech was so Low Tech it has no interest at all for Iran's suspected bomb engineers of today, or for those in a string of countries who will be weapons enabled by the The Nuclear Renaissance of 2010-2020.


The most fundamental of the so-called "atom secrets", we can note, are more like 80 years old and India can claim this as an Indian invention - with the supernovae theory of Bose. By at latest the end of the 1930s, atomic science had mapped out all requirements for the "Small Bang" of a fission weapon, underlined by the fact that with the industrial equipment and technology of the early 1940s it was possible to make three rustic-type, but very effective Hiroshima-equivalent bombs. Today's atom secrets, of 65 years later, only concern efficiency, bulk, weight, miniaturisation, reliability, cost and a string of industrial-type features, for mass produced industrial-type weapons.

We can be impressed about how fast ideas progressed - from the "pure physics" theory of atomic explosion and implosion, to the earliest "bomb material brewing" uranium-fuelled reactor, in the period of at most 10 years, through 1931-1941. From that stage, to building at least three functional atom bombs, to be sure under war conditions of strategic urgency, took only 4 years.

What concerns us today is that neither history nor technology stopped there, 65 years ago. From the late 1940s onwards, the postwar economic boom and the Cold War both massively accelerated and democratized atomic weapons. It is something of a surprise, today, that the poorly informed general public, despite its ability to twiddle an iPhone using "under the hood" technology based on quantum physics, is asked to go on believing that atom bombs are "Hi Tech". In fact atom bomb tech dates from the age when cars were built with piano wire and plywood.

When the atom business shifted from the quantities and volumes of deadly radioactive materials needed only to build a few hundred atom bombs every year, to the 68 000 tons of uranium a year needed to run the 439 civil nuclear reactors that supply 373 000 MW today in 2010, it also totally democratized atomic weapons.

Today's production of plutonium in these 439 civil power reactors (ignoring the world's 200-odd research and military reactors) is about 20 - 22.5 tonnes per year. While the 1945 Fat Man bomb with an explosive equivalent of about 15 000 tons TNT needed more than 10 kilograms of plutonium, Dr A. Q. Khan was able to deliver almost as much, 12 000 tons TNT equivalent in 1998, with only 4 kilograms of plutonium. We can imagine how many "Hiroshima equivalent" bombs can be manufactured with around 22 tonnes per year of plutonium !

Rather few, or no "atom secrets" at all are needed to produce the cheaper and quicker alternative of Depleted Uranium weapons, such as anti-tank and anti-building shells and missiles. About 1700 tonnes of these highly carcinogenic weapons were used by the USA and its allies in the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq.

Even less in the way of "atom secrets" is needed to attack and destroy a large-sized civil nuclear reactor, fuel fabrication plant or plutonium repository, using totally conventional military weapons, sabotage or terrorist attack. Whatever the exciting "atom secrets" of 50 or 60 years ago, still worked today by paperback writers and TV docu-drama producers, the real world of today needs none at all. It has fast-growing numbers of atomic Doomsday Weapons to hand, primed and available round the clock, every day and every night.

By Andrew McKillop

Project Director, GSO Consulting Associates

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

© 2010 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

© 2005-2019 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.

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