Would nuclear bombs be an accepted weapon if they weren't radioactive?

Now, I know that this might get into Great Debates if things get too heated, but I just wanted to know what people thought.

Here’s my scenario: we live in a world where neither fission nor fusion bombs release any radiation. For all intents and purposes, they are simply very efficient explosives.

Would there still be the same stigma on their use that there is today? Or is the fear of nuclear war based more on their enormous destructive capability? Is it a combination of the two?

Given that people are annoyed about neutron bombs, I would say yes.

But aren’t neutron bombs really nothing but radiation? Isn’t that the opposite of what the OP posited? What he’s looking for is smaller, yet more destructive version of the MOAB.

Neutron bombs aren’t :clean", either – they just channel more energy into dangerous rays. But they still have plenty of radioactive products.
I’d say that atomic and hydrogen bombs would be regarded differently, but still as unacceptable simply because of their vast destructiveness. If you were able to make a non-radioactive explosion that took out an area the size that a hydrogen bomb could, you would be able to obliterate the city center of most cities at a single stroke, with a single device. (And be able to punch a significant hole in even the largest world’s cities). a terrorist armed with such a device would be taken much more seriously than a suiciide bomber with a truckfull of high explosive, which could take out a city block or so. You’d spend a lot of time thinking about it, and huge amounts of resources guarding against such a device being smuggled into your city. The radiation is a secondary consideration in that case.

They would still kill the initial number of people as before, almost, which is one shockingly large number, so no, they would not be acceptable.

It’s an intense burst of radiation, but short lived. It was intended to kill tanks in Europe and not render the countryside uninhabitable.

A large fuel-air device (e.g. Daisycutter) can wreak more distruction than a small nuke.

While there is some outcry against use of daisycutters, they don’t seem evoke the passion that the “N word” does.

I think part of the issue is that while there ARE some small nukes, the whole point of a nuke is that they can be made massivly distructive. Using a small nuke is percieved as being the thin end of the wedge.

Well, the Davy Crocket is/was one of the smallest nukes in the US aresenal. It has a yield of about 0.01 kilotons. A Daisy Cutter is about 12000 lbs (6 tons) of explosive which is probably equivalent to around 0.006 - 0.01 kilotons of TNT.

While technically correct, I think as soon as you getting into nukes of 1 kiloton or more, which is most of them (Hiroshima was about 20 kilotons), you can see we are talking orders of magnitude greater explosive power over even the biggest fuel-air bombs.

As long as we are talking hypothetical here, I will toss in my tuppence.
I have heard that scientists of 1945 thought the radiation zone would be smaller than the blast zone before Hiroshima.

If that had been true, it would have been a devastating attack against a civilian population the likes of which had never been seen on the planet… at least since the firebombing of Dresden less than a year earlier. (History books would treat it similarly, too. “Here look, war is awful. Now, onto the Treaty of Yalta”)
I think the initial horror about nuclear weapons would not have been as strong. The non-proliferation efforts would have been weaker, as folks thought “It’s just a big bomb.”
The first time that somebody with a large arsenal of bombs used them would be when the horror would really set in. And today, we would still be worried about the lone mad bomber.

I was intentionally equating the tiniest nuke to a FAE device, and yes, as I stated, most nukes are MUCH more powerful.

My point is that the Daisy Cutter was used in Afganistan. If the Davey Crocket had been used instead there would have been MUCH more outcry, UN sanctions, NZ would suspend diplomatic relations, there would be worldwide protest demonstrations, etc. Specualtion to be sure , but I don’t think I exagerate.

It would not have been because of the level of distruction. Use of the FAE didn’t cause enough additional concern to be very noticeable over the noise of protesting the invasion in general.

Some of it WILL be because of the radioactivity. I note the complaints over DU anti-armor projectiles. The greens will be outraged, but Mr. AverageWorldCitizen
isn’t going to be in a lather over some extral pollution in a war zone.

MOST of the outcry would be because small or big, dirty or clean, a nuke is a nuke.

If using a baby nuke is acceptable, than using a little bigger nuke will be acceptable next time it’s expedient, and we will have started down a slippery slope that will ultimatly make it less unacceptable to use large nukes. And that applies to the world, not just the leadership of one nation. If any nation, especially the US, uses a nuke, then critical moral high ground of the “good states” over the “bad actors” is history.

Note that I am in no way a “greenie”, I’m very much pro-nuclear power. I just think you have to say that nukes, any and all nukes, are weapons of last resort. If you start saying clean nukes are OK, small nukes are OK, then you have to say how clean is OK, and how small is OK…and that will work out about as well as defining what the acceptable level of torturing prisoners has.

So, my point, addressed to the OP, is that enviromental concerns are a side dish when it comes to the objectionability of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons have a stigma because it’s a clearly defined category that includes the most powerful weapons we’ve seen. I think the same would be true without radiation. If it was just a matter of danger to innocent people long after the conflict is over, land mines would carry the same stigma. If it was about environmental damage, Agent Orange should have aroused an outcry long before it was found to be harmful to humans.

There are chemical weapons that are not persistent, yet very deady, and international law bans the use and stockpiling of them because of the indiscriminant nature of how they kill. A ‘nonpersistent nuke’ would seem to fit the same bill.

And when we are talking about very small nukes, the question must be asked: why use them if they are as powerful as conventional munitions? Why not stick with conventional bombs? The scenarios under which small nukes could be used, but large amounts of explosives could not be used, must be a very small number indeed.

Given the advances in technology, postmodern warfare is all about delivering just enough pow to the exact right place to produce the same results as a very big pow in an imprecise place. I say a non-radioactive nuke would still be condemned.

I think the Davey Crocket is a nuke artillery shell, which can accuratly targeted by a tank. The Daisy cutter is to large to be carried by a bomber. It is delivered, IIRC, by a C-135 cargo aircraft, and a parchute slows the fall so that the aircraft can clear the area. Parchutes are subject to drifting in wind, and it’s not like a C-135 bomb sight. (though I guess you could do as well or better with GPS these days.)

So I guess the answer to your question would be logistics, and accuracy. I think the Davey Crocket was intended as an “equalizer” in the days when we were worried about superior numbers of russian tanks rolling into Germany.

Somewhat off topic, but if nuclear devices released no lingering radiation we’d have built Orion nuclear-pulse spaceships by now. :slight_smile:

IIRC, the inventor of the gatling gun (or maybe it was Hiram Maxim) thought that it would make war so horrifying that no one would ever go to war again. You see how well that worked out.

A clean nuke, which left no radioactive fallout, or spread radioactive material, would certainly be heavily considered for use in any conflict, but think about the wars since WW II. Most of the combat has taken place either within or near civilian areas, so I doubt that nukes would be used there. However, any military force which was far enough away from a civilian area, could expect to find itself pasted by nuke as soon as one of them could be lobbed over. Generals aren’t stupid, so it’d only take one of these incidents for them to learn to spread their forces out in civilian areas, thus preventing the use of nukes.

I was thinking along the same lines - with clean nukes, humanity could have easily have colonies thoughout the solar system by now. Or think of the various super-engineering Operation Plowshare type projects that would be viable as well - there could easily be a sea level canal between the Atlantic and Pacific, eliminating the bottleck of the narrow Panama canal.

<Nitpick> I’d imagine that if it actually 6tons of high explosive, then the yield would be 6KT at minimum. Minimum being if the explosive used was equally powerfull to TNT. Since I’m pretty sure that modern high explosives used in military applications would be stronger than old fashioned TNT, the actual yield would be higher. </nitpick>

As for the OP, I’d bet that they wouldn’t have nearly the outrage as our definition of a Nuclear bomb, but would be in the categories of the daisy cutter. Big, bad, but not condemned by the world.


Considering that the main destructive effects of nuclear weapons are the non-nuclear ones, I don’t think that non-nuclear WMD-sized detonations would be accepted. I mean, if you erased a city using a non-nuclear WMD, do you think people would really care that you didn’t cause any fallout?

The radiation’s not the really destructive part of most nuclear weapons.

There are two types: prompt radiation and fallout. Prompt radiation is the initial burst of gamma rays, x-rays and neutrons given off immediately on detonation. Fallout is when radioactive particles settle out of the air after a nuclear detonation.

Despite what ** keeper0 ** says, the prompt radiation zone of most normal-sized nuclear weapons (~10 kilotons and up) is smaller than the blast/heat zones of the same bomb. In other words, if you’re close enough to worry about dying from prompt radiation, you are more than likely to be killed by the blast and heat. Only extremely small bombs such as the Davy Crockett have prompt radiation zones larger than the lethal heat/blast zones.

Fallout is the other main radiation mechanism from nuclear weapons. The fallout levels and pattern is heavily dependent on the height of the detonation, the yield of the weapon, and the type of weapon.

Airbursts tend to be relatively fallout free, compared to ground bursts, because with an airburst, the only material that comprises the fallout is that which made up the original bomb. Groundbursts have the bomb, and whatever dirt/rock/concrete/etc… that got consumed in the fireball. Obviously this other stuff will be highly radioactive. This stuff settles out relatively rapidly as well, creating zones of intense radiation somewhat nearby. Airbursts on the other hand, are thousands of feet in the air, so the fallout tends to be more dispersed.

Larger weapons tend to lift a lot of their fallout into the stratosphere because of the extremely rapid rise of the fireball. Smaller ones tend to not raise the stuff as high or as fast.

Finally, pure fission weapons of a given yield will produce more fallout than a fusion weapon of the same yield. Most US, Russian, British and French weapons are fusion weapons, although the casings of the secondary may be U238, which increases fallout (and yield) when compared to a lead or tungsten secondary casing, due to the fissioning of U238 by fast neutrons generated by secondary’s fusion.

So, a relatively large, clean fusion bomb detonated in a high airburst would have very little fallout relative to the blast/heat damage, while a small, pure fusion bomb detonated at ground level would have a great deal of fallout relative to its yield.

No, msmith537 had it right. KT=kiloton=1000 ton, so 6 tons = 0.006 KT.

Well, at least nukes made nuclear war so horrifying that no one’s done it again. (M.A.D.—gotta love it.)