The makings of a nuclear program

2017-07-13

in Bombs and rockets, Economics

The prerequisite for any state embarking on a nuclear weapons program is a complex base of material and people with a diverse set of skills and experience. A 1968 UN study estimates that a full-fledged nuclear weapons program requires some five hundred scientists and thirteen hundred engineers—physicists, chemists, and metallurgists; civil, military, mechanical, and electrical engineers; machine-tool operators with precision engineering experience; and instrument-makers and fabricators. The history of the nuclear age has shown that secrecy surrounds all nuclear weapons endeavors. Skilled workers of this nature are not publicly acknowledged, and their employment is often disguised. Further, the state needs to have a certain industrial base within its territory or access to one, and considerable experience in engineering, mining, and explosives. In addition, for a program to remain clandestine, sufficient foreign exchange and covert business deals with foreign partners willing to do business must generally be held as a state secret.*

* Zia Mian, “How to Build the Bomb,” in Mian ed., Pakistan’s Atomic Bomb and Search for Security (Lahore: Gautam Publishers, 1995), 135–6

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. Stanford University Press; Stanford. 2012. p. 49

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Oleh July 14, 2017 at 10:20 am

Do you think the 1968 reference to the 500 scientists and 1300 engineers required to launch a nuclear weapons program apply today?

If it is much less, it may be an example how technology has made something much more accessible today – but in a negative way.

Milan July 16, 2017 at 3:48 pm

I don’t know how much research the 1968 book assumes to be required.

As covered in great detail in the Wikipedia article about Los Alamos, the first bomb project had to deal with huge numbers of unknowns, from the feasibility of different designs and materials to production processes.

Now, any aspiring bomb makers know what uranium 235 works for gun-type weapons and that both U-235 and plutonium work for implosion bombs. Some may even have access to complete bomb designs developed by other countries.

Still, even for those with a complete design making a bomb is a major undertaking. The atomic spies at Los Alamos passed all the essential details to the Soviets, but it still took them years to reach their first bomb test. That’s covered in detail in Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: