Disarming a Nuclear Weapon

You could safely disarm a nuclear weapon just by strapping a stick of dynamite to it, no? Certainly it has explosives in it, but I doubt it is of a quantity that is all that scary. And without finely timed, directional explosions acting on it, the nuclear material isn’t going to do much I believe…

I assume you mean by strapping dynamite to it and then blowing it up. That wouldn’t be very safe as it would probably spread nuclear material all over the place and Plutonium is the most toxic substance known.

Believe it or not, in terms of getting a hold of a stolen warhead, it would be much harder to arm it than to disarm it. All modern nuclear weapons have very complex safety mechanisms and locks which are designed to prevent unauthorized use.

Not all nukes use plutonium.

But by and large yes…you will turn a nuke into a dirty bomb by blowing it up. That is probably better than the nuke actually going off so as a last ditch measure I guees you may as well go for it…just try not to be nearby when it happens.

Remember it is not just your stick of dynamite blowing things around. The nuclear material in a nuke is surrounded by conventional explosives. These explosives provde the implosive force that crunches the nuclear material together to help kick off the chain reaction of the nuke. While nowhere a nuke in force those explsovies are still quite powerful in their own right. IIRC detonating the conventional explosives in a nuke, via a stickof dynamite or whatever, will not make the nuke go…well…nuclear. As I understand it the explovies are very precisely configured and timed in their detonation to produce the really big nuclear explosion. So I am pretty sure (not positive) that your stick of dynamite will just cause it it explode in a more conventional fashion spewing radioactive material all over the place (but as I said in a pinch still likely a better result than the nuke going off as designed to).

IANANuclearBombMaker…just my layman’s understanding

Of course you could put a metal dumpster over it first and such.

But anyways, I think I’m satisfied that several movies and TV series have a plot hole in there with this.

Mostly I was thinking of 24

No, it isn’t.


I’ve wondered about this sort of thing too… and not just in 24. Is there such a thing as a ‘last-second’ fuse capable of detecting when something is trying to destroy the bomb, and triggering the nuke? When I say it that way, it sounds stupid… but I’ve JUST woken up and not quite sure how to say it any better. :wink:


U.S. nuclear weapons have been designed to be “one point safe” since the 1950s.

Honestly I didn’t even read trhough more than 2 lines of that link. I am not saying they are right or wrong. Quibble about relative lethality of substances all you like. Bottom line though is plutonium is not good for you…that puts it too mildly. It is downright lethal unless handled properly. Someone blows apart a plutonium weapon (or any nuke for that matter) and I am definitely walking upwind till I get one of those hermetically sealed yellow suits (don’t bother to bust me that they are not really hermetically sealed…you know what I mean).

While Plutonium is not something I would want to play around with (especially with all the dust you would get from exploding some dynamite near it), Hail Ants’s statement that “Plutonium is the most toxic substance known” is simply factually incorrect. There are numerous substances that can kill you in far smaller doses than plutonium would. Can’t have factually wrong statements here in the GQ.

**Sage Rat **–did you need this information…um…urgently, by any chance? :eek: :wink: :smiley:

Well the A-Bomb in the fridge was starting to get a little worrying…

All you really need is a hammer

Correct, although “ruin” might be a better term than “disarm!”

It’s trickier to do this than you might think.

For improvised conventional bombs, the disarming tactic of choice is “disruption”, whereby a widget not unlike a shotgun fires a “slug” of water into the bomb at close range and knocks it apart. Saves some poor bastard trying to open a sealed device that might well have a trembler switch, light sensor, buglar alarm IR sensor or whatever built into it. The point being, even with a trembler switch, the disrupter is so fast that the bomb is disabled before it can detonate. With very careful bomb design, it might be possible to make a conventional bomb that triggers itself if it’s disrupted, but it’s not easy. Using highly shock-sensitive explosives would work of course, but they have handling issues.

A modern, implosion-type nuke should be considerably more vulnerable to disruption than a conventional bomb because so much more has to happen, and happen right, for it to go off. Since the conventional explosive in a nuke has to be triggered at several points simultaneously, normal detonators aren’t time-precise enough. Instead, special detonators that use a high-power electrical discharge to explosively vaporise wires or foils are used. To set these off, a capacitor bank or similar has to charge, in a similar manner to charging the flash on a camera. Any “last second” fuse could only work if this bank was already charged, otherwise it can’t operate. Then there’s the neutron generator that has to fire during the implosion, and the detectors that “notice” the dynamite explosion shredding the bomb and are fast enough to fire it while the important parts are still in one piece…

An old-fashioned, gun-type Hiroshima nuke on the other hand is a rather different proposition. The device is basically an artillery gun barrel, the propellant charge is plain old smokeless powder, and timing isn’t important. I’d be extremely antsy about dynamiting such a device, and water-slug disruption is right out. I’m not a follower of 24, but if there was a “disarm the terrorist nuke” scene, chances are it would be a gun design and the ol’ stick o’ dynamite wouldn’t be wise.

As a complete aside, the binary explosive devices from Die Hard 3 would have been easily disrupted before mixing, and pretty much immune to disruption afterwards. Charlie would have been better off ripping hoses out of the school bomb with gay abandon rather than fiddling around with wirecutters! (Such a binary explosive would be a way of creating shock-sensitive material in situ without the handling difficulties. Fortuntately, a binary explosive with such convenient properties isn’t readily available.)

These guys seem to know something.