Nuclear reactions can result in a destructive force that constitutes a nuclear
weapon. This reaction can be fission or fusion, both of which release vast quantities
of energy from relatively small amounts of reactants. Several tons of energy
(usually measured in comparison with the amount of energy released by a unit
of trinitrotoluene, TNT) are released by both atomic (fission) and hydrogen
(thermonuclear) bombs, as tested nuclear weapons. A thermonuclear weapon of
about 1,100 kg can produce an explosive force comparable to the detonation of
about 1.2 million tons of TNT. No wonder, a little explosive device can devastate
a city by blast, fire and radiation. Hence, nuclear weapons are weapons of mass
destruction, spoiling for mans annihilation. Their use and control constitute
a major concern of international relations (FAS, 2007).
The United States of America (USA) has released the two nuclear weapons ever
used in the course of warfare. The one was detonated near the end of World War
II (WW II) on August 6, 1945 over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The other was
exploded three days later on August 9, 1945 over Nagasaki, Japan. About 200,000
Japanese people (mostly civilians) died from acute injuries sustained from the
nuclear weapons. Although, the ethical status of the bombings remain a subject
of debate, the delivery of the warheads led to Japans surrender in the
war (FAS, 2000).
Subsequently, over two thousand nuclear weapons have been detonated for testing
and demonstration purposes. The literature lists (chronologically by date of
first test) the countries that have detonated and acknowledged possessing nuclear
weapons (FAS, 2007). They are the USA, the Soviet Union
(succeeded as a nuclear power by Rusia), the United Kingdom, France, the Peoples
Republic of China, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel is widely believed to possess
nuclear weapons, though it does not so acknowledge. Other States suspected of
having a nuclear weapons programme are Iran and Syria. South Africa admitted
to having previously fabricated nuclear weapons, which it denounced after it
has disassembled the arsenal and submitted to international safeguards. A number
of former Soviet republics-Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine-formerly possessed
nuclear weapons, returned soviet nuclear arms stationed in their countries to
Russia after the collapse of the USSR.
The havoc worked on human life and environment by use of nuclear weapons is
inestimable (Eneh, 2011a-d;
Eneh and Agunwamba, 2011; Eneh and
Agbazue, 2011). Since, the existing literature on nuclear weapons contains
materials that are fragmented and often dated, this review is aimed at harmonising
and updating existing literature on various important aspects of nuclear weapons.
TYPES OF NUCLEAR WEAPON
Two types of nuclear weapon are identified on the basis of the chemical reaction from which the energy is derived. Majority of the energy may come from nuclear fission reactions alone, or use fission reactions to begin nuclear fussion reactions to produce a large amount of the total energy output. Weapons whose explosive output is exclusively from fission reactions are commonly referred to as atomic or atom bombs (A-bombs). This is actually a misnomer because their energy comes specifically from the nucleus of the atom. In fission weapons, a mass of fissile material (enriched uranium or plutonium) is assembled into a supercritical mass-the amount of material needed to start an exponentially growing nuclear chain reaction-either by shooting one piece of sub-critical material into another (the "gun" method) or by compressing a sub-critical sphere of material using chemical explosives to many times its original density (the "implosion" method). The latter approach is considered more sophisticated than the former and only the latter approach can be used if the fissile material is plutonium. The amount of energy released by fission bombs ranges from the equivalent of less than a ton to upwards of 500,000 tons (500 kilotons) of TNT. A major challenge in all nuclear weapon designs is ensuring that a significant fraction of the fuel is consumed before the weapon destroys itself.
The most commonly used fissile materials for nuclear weapons applications are
uranium-235 and plutonium-239, while uranium-233 has been less commonly used.
Also, Neptunium-237 can be used (Albright and Kramer, 2005).
The fusion weapons are generally referred to as thermonuclear weapons or hydrogen
bombs (H-bombs) because they rely on fusion reactions between isotopes of hydrogen
(deuterium and tritium). However, all such weapons derive a significant or a
majority portion of their energy from fission to "trigger" the fusion reactions,
which can themselves trigger additional fission reactions.
Thermonuclear weapons are much more difficult to successfully design and execute
than primitive fission weapons. Thermonuclear bombs work by using the energy
of a fission bomb to compress and heat fusion fuel. A fission bomb and fusion
fuel may be placed in proximity within a special, radiation-reflecting container.
When the fission bomb is detonated, gamma radiation and X-rays emitted first
compress the fusion fuel, then heat it to thermonuclear temperatures. The ensuing
fusion reaction creates enormous numbers of high-speed neutrons, which can then
induce fission in materials not normally prone to it, such as depleted uranium.
Each of these components is known as a "stage", with the fission bomb as the
"primary" and the fusion capsule as the "secondary". In large hydrogen bombs,
about half of the yield and much of the resulting nuclear fallout, comes from
the final fissioning of depleted uranium (Albright and Kramer,
2005). By chaining together numerous stages with increasing amounts of fusion
fuel, thermonuclear weapons can be made to release an energy equivalent to over
50 million tons (50 megatons) of TNT.
Other types of nuclear weapon include boosted fission weapon-a fission bomb
which increases its explosive yield through a small amount of fusion reactions,
but it is not a fusion bomb. In the boosted bomb, the neutrons produced by the
fusion reactions serve primarily to increase the efficiency of the fission bomb.
A neutron bomb is a thermonuclear weapon that yields a relatively small explosion,
but a relatively large amount of neutron radiation to cause massive casualties,
while leaving infrastructure mostly intact and creating a minimal amount of
fallout. A salted bomb is created by surrounding a nuclear weapon with suitable
materials (such as cobalt or gold), to produce exceptionally large quantities
of radioactive contamination. Most variation in nuclear weapon design is for
the purpose of achieving different yields for different situations and in manipulating
design elements to attempt to minimize weapon size.
NUCLEAR WEAPON DELIVERY
The technology and systems used to bring a nuclear weapon to its target is
called nuclear weapons delivery. It relates to both nuclear weapon design and
nuclear strategy. Deployment may cost as high as 57% of the total financial
resources spent in relation to nuclear weapons (Albright
and Kramer, 2005).
The actual delivery method used in warfare is dropping the gravity bomb from
bomber aircraft. The method does not place many restrictions on the size of
the weapon and weapon miniaturization requires considerable knowledge of weapons
design. But, it limits the range of attack, the response time to an impending
attack and the number of weapons which can be fielded at any given time. With
miniaturization, nuclear bombs can be delivered by both strategic bombers and
tactical fighter-bombers, allowing an airforce to use its current fleet with
little or no modification (Albright and Kramer, 2005).
A nuclear weapon mounted onto a missile, which can use a ballistic trajectory
to deliver the warhead over the horizon is preferable, from a strategic point
of view. Short-range missiles allow for a faster and less vulnerable attack,
while the development of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)
and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) has given some nations the
ability to plausibly deliver missiles anywhere on the globe with a high likelihood
of success. Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) allow
multiple warheads to be launched at different targets from one missile, reducing
the chance of a successful missile defence (Albright and
Tactical weapons involve a variety of delivery types, including not only gravity
bombs and missiles, but also artillery shells, land mines and nuclear depth
charges and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. Atomic motar was also tested
at one time by the USA. Small, two-man portable tactical weapons (somewhat misleadingly
referred to as suitcase bombs), such as the Special Atomic Demolition Munition
(SADM), have been developed, although the difficulty of combining sufficient
yield with portability limits their military utility (Albright
and Kramer, 2005).
NUCLEAR WARFARE STRATEGY
A set of policies that deal with preventing or fighting a nuclear war is known
as nuclear warfare strategy. The policy of trying to prevent an attack by a
nuclear weapon from another country by threatening nuclear retaliation is called
the strategy of nuclear deterrence. The goal in deterrence is to always maintain
the ability of a country to respond to a nuclear attack with one of its own
(a second strike capability) and potentially to strive for the ability to completely
destroy an enemy's nuclear forces before they could retaliate (first strike
status). During the Cold War, policy and military theorists in nuclear-enabled
countries worked out models of what sorts of policies could prevent one from
ever being attacked by a nuclear weapon (Creveld, 2000).
Different forms of nuclear weapons delivery allow for different types of nuclear
strategies. The goals of any strategy are generally to make it difficult for
an enemy to launch a preemptive strike against the weapon system and difficult
to defend against the delivery of the weapon during a potential conflict. Sometimes,
this has meant keeping the weapon locations hidden, such as deploying them on
submarines or rail cars whose locations are very hard for an enemy to track
and other times this means protecting them by burying them in hardened bunkers.
Other components of nuclear strategies have included using missile defense
(to destroy the missiles before they land) or implementation of civil defense
measures (using early-warning systems to evacuate citizens to safe areas before
an attack) (Creveld, 2000).
Weapons designed to threaten large populations or to generally deter attacks
are known as strategic weapons. Those designed for a battlefield in military
situations are known as tactical weapons (Creveld, 2000).
Since, a nuclear war between two nuclear powers would result in mutual annihilation,
the significance of nuclear weapons is purely to deter war because any nuclear
war would escalate out of mutual distrust and fear, resulting in mutually assured
destruction. This threat of national, if not global, destruction has been a
strong motivation for anti-nuclear weapons activism, which question the usefulness
of such weapons in the current military climate. The use of (or threat to use)
such weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable
in armed conflict. But, there is the need to reach an opinion as to whether
or not the threat or use would be lawful in specific extreme circumstances,
such as if the survival of the state were at stake (Creveld,
Perhaps, the most controversial idea in nuclear strategy is that nuclear proliferation
would be desirable. This view argues that, unlike conventional weapons, nuclear
weapons successfully deter all-out war between states and they are said to have
done this during the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union (Creveld,
The threat of potentially suicidal terrorists possessing nuclear weapons (a
form of nuclear terrorism) is of enormous international concern, since the prospect
of mutually assured destruction may not deter an enemy who expects to die in
the confrontation. If the initial act is from a rogue group instead of a sovereign
nation, there is no fixed nation or fixed military targets to retaliate against.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, this complication is seen as the sign
of the next age of nuclear strategy, distinct from the relative stability of
the Cold War (Creveld, 2000).
NUCLEAR WEAPONS: GOVERNANCE, CONTROL AND LAW
In 1957, seven years after WW II, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
was created under the mandate of the United Nations in order to encourage the
peaceful development and applications of nuclear technology, while providing
international safeguards against nuclear proliferation and misuse and facilitating
the application of safety measures in its use. The political control of nuclear
weapons in most countries dictates that the use of nuclear force can only be
authorized by the head of government. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 restricted
all nuclear testing to underground nuclear testing, to prevent contamination
from nuclear fallout, while the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 attempted
to place restrictions on the types of activities which signatories could participate
in, with the goal of allowing the transference of non-military nuclear technology
to member countries without fear of proliferation. In 1996, many nations signed
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits all testing of nuclear weapons
that would impose a significant hindrance to their development by any complying
country. However, till now, it had not entered into force (Richelson,
Additional treaties and agreements have governed nuclear weapons stockpiles
between the two countries with the largest stockpiles, the United States and
the Soviet Union and later between the United States and Russia. These include
treaties such as SALT II (never ratified), START I (expired), INF, START II
(never ratified), SORT and New START, as well as non-binding agreements, such
as SALT I and the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991. Even when they did
not enter into force, these agreements helped limit and later reduce the numbers
and types of nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia
Beside, agreements between countries oppose nuclear weapons. Through the use
of treaties, many nations have been declared Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones-areas
where nuclear weapons production and deployment are prohibited. The Treaty of
Tlatelolco of 1967 prohibited any production or deployment of nuclear weapons
in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Treaty of Pelindaba of 1964 prohibits
nuclear weapons in many African countries. Recently, a Central Asian Nuclear
Weapon Free Zone of 2006 prohibits nuclear weapons among the former Soviet republics
of Central Asia (DeVolpi et al., 2004).
The highest court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice,
ruled in mid-1996 that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would violate
various articles of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, the
Hague Conventions, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of human rights.
The International Committee of the Red Cross calls on states to ensure that
nuclear weapons are never used, irrespective of whether they consider them to
be lawful or not. Other specific actions meant to discourage countries from
developing nuclear arms include economic sanctions (temporarily) levied against
India and Pakistan for nuclear weapons tests in 1998. One of the stated casus
belli for the initiation of the 2003 Iraq War was an accusation by the United
States that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear arms (though this was soon discovered
to be false, as the programme had been discontinued). In 1981, Israel had bombed
a nuclear reactor being constructed in Orisak, Iraq in what it called an attempt
to halt Iraq's previous nuclear arms ambitions. In 2007, Israel bombed another
reactor being constructed in Syria (DeVolpi et al.,
Nuclear disarmament refers to the act of both reducing or eliminating nuclear
weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons
are completely eliminated. Beginning with the 1963 partial test ban treaty and
continuing through the 1996 comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, there have been many
treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons testing and stockpiles. The 1968
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has, as one of its explicit conditions, that
all signatories must "pursue negotiations in good faith" towards the long-term
goal of "complete disarmament" (Richelson, 2006).
There have been numerous campaigns to urge the abolition of nuclear weapons,
such as that organized by the Global Zero movement. The goal of a "world without
nuclear weapons" was advocated by the USA President Barack Obama in an April
2009 speech in Prague. A CNN poll from April 2010 indicated that the American
public was nearly evenly split on the issue. Proponents of nuclear disarmament
say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially
accidentally. Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence
and could lead to increased global instability (DeVolpi et
Scientists involved with the manhattan project were divided in their opinions
over the use of that first nuclear weapon, even before it was successfully developed.
The two atomic bombings of two Japans cities played a role in the countrys
surrender in the World War II. The USA's ethical justification for them have
been subjects of scholarly and popular debate for decades. The question of whether
nations should have nuclear weapons, or test them, has been continually and
nearly universally controversial (FAS, 2007).
Following the castle bravo hydrogen bomb test at the pacific proving grounds,
which contaminated the crew and catch of the Japanese fishing boat, lucky dragon,
radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing was first drawn to public attention
in 1954. One of the fishermen died in Japan seven months later and the fear
of contaminated tuna led to a temporary boycotting of the popular staple in
Japan. The incident caused widespread concern around the world, especially regarding
the effects of nuclear fallout and atmospheric nuclear testing. It "provided
a decisive impetus for the emergence of the anti-nuclear weapons movement in
many countries" (FAS, 2007).
In 1954, emerging peace movements in Japan converged to form a unified "Japanese
Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs". Japanese opposition to nuclear weapons
tests in the Pacific Ocean was widespread and "an estimated 35 million signatures
were collected on petitions calling for bans on nuclear weapons". In the United
Kingdom, the first Aldermaston March organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
took place at Easter 1958. Several thousand people marched for four days from
Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment close
to Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear
weapons. The Aldermaston marches continued into the late 1960s when tens of
thousands of people took part in the four-day marches (FAS,
A successful campaign to stop the Atomic Energy dumping radioactive waste in
the sea 19 km from Boston started in 1959. In 1962, Linus Pauling won the Nobel
peace prize for his work to stop the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons
and the "Ban the bomb" movement spread. In 1963, many countries ratified the
Partial test ban treaty prohibiting atmospheric nuclear testing. Radioactive
fallout became less of an issue and the anti-nuclear weapons movement went into
decline for some years. A resurgence of interest occurred amid European and
American fears of nuclear war in the 1980s (FAS, 2007).
Between 1940 and 1996, the U.S. spent at least $8.15 trillion in present day terms on nuclear weapons development. Over half was spent on building delivery mechanisms for the weapon. The sum of $511 billion in present-day terms was spent on nuclear waste management and environmental remediation (FAS, 2007).
NON-MILITARY USES OF NUCLEAR EXPLOSIVES
Aside their military uses, nuclear explosives have been tested and used for
large-scale earth moving purposes. Considering the long term health and clean-up
costs, there is no economic advantage over conventional explosives. In the aftermath
of the first thermonuclear bomb test, synthetic elements, such as einsteinium
and fermium, were created by neutron bombardment of uranium and plutonium during
thermonuclear explosions. In 2008, the worldwide presence of new isotopes from
atmospheric testing beginning in the 1950s was developed into a reliable way
of detecting art forgeries, as all paintings created after that period may contain
traces of cesium-137 and strontium-90-isotopes that did not exist in nature
before 1945. Nuclear explosives have also been seriously studied as potential
propulsion mechanisms for space travel (FAS, 2007).
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Nuclear weapons seem to have protected mankind since two generations, are ultimate
hindrance to any enemy and the best way to ensure peace. Bids to do away with
them are sluggish and unsuccessful. Checking the number of nuclear bombs in
the world is probably impossible. It would not be a wise decision to scrap all
nuclear weapons when hostile states like Iran are about to acquire a nuclear
bomb. Nobody can predict how much dangerous the world will become when there
would be no nuclear bombs.
On the other hand, the military use of nuclear weapons is immoral and should not be allowed to grow. The more the number of nuclear weapons made, the more are the risks of annihilation of human life. Maintaining a nuclear bomb is very expensive and takes a large share of the country's defense budget. Countries are more likely to have a civil war in which they can use nuclear bombs against each other and the nuclear radiation could prove disastrous to the entire globe. Possession of nuclear weapons does not earn the status and pride of a advanced economy.
If nuclear weapons are practically impossible to eliminate and have non-military uses, world leaders could still make sincere efforts to demilitarise their applications.