So, You Want To Test A Nuclear Weapon?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you have a brand new nuclear weapon.

Let's not quibble for the moment over how it came to be. Perhaps you decided the Reliable Replacement Warhead program was a good idea after all and grabbed one of the designs that were put forward in the twilight of Bush/dawn of Obama and built it. Perhaps you had a brand new one whipped up and it's gonna be great! All that matters is that you have it.

But does it actually work? The computer models say it's A+, hunky dory, best nuke ever. Except now it's a physical object, not a simulation. Were the engineering tolerances right? Did we get the metallurgy down? WILL IT ACTUALLY WORK?!?! Unless you can convince the brass that it's does, they won't order this new design, much less deploy it. And you won't know unless you set it off, as a representative of a new fleet of nuclear weapons. And so begins the Choose Your Own Nuclear Adventure!

Atmospheric testing does have its benefits, namely that it's comparatively easy to do and, by jingo, people will know that you set off a nuclear device. Very showy and attention getting, great media coverage I bet. Here's a few demonstration videos. There is this one slight drawback in that Kennedy kinda, sorta signed a treaty and Congress ratified it 54 years ago that we said we wouldn't do atmospheric testing anymore. That will make some people very unhappy. But you do you.

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3 Responses:

  1. tfb says:

    It seems to me that a fair chunk of this argument (and more than mentioned in the article) applies to existing weapons. The designs were tested, but probably they have all been substantially taken to bits and remanufactured since then, and fairly clearly (witness the whole FOGBANK saga) some aspects of how they were originally made were more-or-less forgotten in the interim. But people are, presumably, fairly confident that the remanufactured devices would work: I'm not sure why they should not be equally confident that a new design would work.

    Whether new designs are needed is another question that might depend more on whether someone has a complex about the size of his ... hands ... than any real need.

    • Well, it would be nice to have them all be a good bit safer, they are still disturbingly hazardous in an accident, and we know we could make them much safer, but the people who pay for it want to make sure they go off.

      Reading the history (Command And Control is a good recent book), it's kind of amazing one hasn't gone off by accident yet.

  2. Now imagining Clippy version.

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