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Obtaining Ingredients for your Nuclear Weapons


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#1 Bobb

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 06:21 AM

Part 1: Making Your Bomb

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The heart of the successful H-bomb is the successful A-bomb. Once you've got your A-bombs made the rest is frosting on the cake. All you have to do is set them up so that when they detonate they'll start off a hydrogen-fusion reaction.

Step 1: Getting the Ingredients

Uranium is the basic ingredient of the A-bomb. When a uranium atom's nucleus splits apart, it releases a tremendous amount of energy (for its size), and it emits neutrons which go on to split other nearby uranium nuclei, releasing more energy, in what is called a "chain reaction." (When atoms split, matter is converted into energy according to Einstein's equation E=MC2. What better way to mark his birthday than with your own atomic fireworks?)

There are two kinds (isotopes) of uranium: the rare U-235, used in bombs, and the more common, heavier, but useless U-238. Natural uranium contains less than 1 percent U-235 and in order to be usable in bombs it has to be "enriched" to 90 percent U-235 and only 10 percent U-238. Plutonium-239 can also be used in bombs as a substitute for U-235. Ten pounds of U-235 (or slightly less plutonium) is all that is necessary for a bomb. Less than ten pounds won't give you a critical mass. So purifying or enriching naturally occurring uranium is likely to be your first big hurdle. It is infinitely easy to steal ready-to-use enriched uranium or plutonium than to enrich some yourself. And stealing uranium is not as hard as it sounds.

There are at least three sources of enriched uranium or plutonium...

Enriched uranium is manufactured at a gaseous diffusion plant in Portsmouth, Ohio. From there it is shipped in 10 liter bottles by airplane and trucks to conversion plants that turn it into uranium oxide or uranium metal. Each 10 liter bottle contains 7 kilograms of U-235, and there are 20 bottles to a typical shipment. Conversion facilities exist at Hematite, Missouri; Apollo, Pennsylvania; and Erwin, Tennessee.

The Kerr-McGee plant at Crescent Oklahoma -- where Karen Silkwood worked -- was a conversion plant that "lost" 40 lbs of plutonium. Enriched uranium can be stolen from these plants or from fuel-fabricating plants like those in New Haven, San Diego; or Lynchburg, Virginia. (A former Kerr-McGee supervisor, James V. Smith, when asked at the Silkwood trial if there were any security precautions at the plant to prevent theft, testified that "There were none of any kind, no guards, no fences, no nothing.")

Plutonium can be obtained from places like United Nuclear in Pawling, New York; Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee; General Electric in Pleasanton, California; Westinghouse in Cheswick, Pennsylvania; Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in Leechburg, Pennsylvania; and plants in Hanfford, Washington and Morris, Illinois. According to Rolling Stone magazine the Israelis were involved in the theft of plutonium from NUMEC.

Finally you can steal enriched uranium or plutonium while it's en-route from conversion plants to fuel fabricating plants. It is usually transported (by air or truck) in the form of uranium oxide, a brownish powder resembling instant coffee, or as a metal, coming in small chunks called "broken buttons." Both forms are shipped in small cans stacked in 5-inch cylinders braced with welded struts in the center of ordinary 55 gallon steel drums. The drums weigh about 100 pounds and are clearly marked "Fissible Material" or "Danger, Plutonium." A typical shipment might go from the enrichment plant at Portsmouth, Ohio to the conversion plant in Hematite Missouri then to Kansas City by truck where it would be flown to Los Angeles and then trucked down to the General Atomic plant in San Diego. The plans for the General Atomic plant are on file at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's reading room at 1717 H Street NW Washington. A Xerox machine is provided for the convenience of the public.

If you can't get hold of any enriched uranium you'll have to settle for commercial grade (20 percent U-235). This can be stolen from university reactors of a type called TRIGA Mark II, where security is even more casual than at commercial plants.

If stealing uranium seems too tacky, you can buy it. Unenriched uranium is available at any chemical supply house for $23 a pound. Commercial grade (3 to 20 percent enriched) is available for $40 a pound from Gulf Atomic. You'll have to enrich it further yourself. Quite frankly this can be something of a pain in the ***. You'll need to start with a little more than 50 pounds of commercial-grade uranium. (It's only 20 percent U-235 at best, and you need 10 pounds of U-235 so... ) But with a little kitchen-table chemistry you'll be able to convert the solid uranium oxide you've purchased into a liquid form. Once you've done that, you'll be able to separate the U-235 that you'll need from the U-238.

First pour a few gallons of concentrated hydrofluoric acid into your uranium oxide, converting it to uranium tetrafluoride. (Safety note: Concentrated hydrofluoric acid is so corrosive that it will eat its way through glass, so store it only in plastic. Used 1-gallon plastic milk containers will do.) Now you have to convert your uranium tetrafluoride to uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous form of uranium, which is convenient for separating out the isotope U-235 from U-238.

To get the hexafluoride form, bubble fluorine gas into your container of uranium tetrafluoride. Fluorine is available in pressurized tanks from chemical-supply firms. Be careful how you use it though because fluorine is several times more deadly than chlorine, the classic World War I poison gas. Chemists recommend that you carry out this step under a stove hood (the kind used to remove unpleasant cooking odors).

If you've done your chemistry right you should now have a generous supply of uranium hexafluoride ready for enriching. In the old horse-and-buggy days of A-bomb manufacture the enrichment was carried out by passing the uranium hexafluoride through hundreds of miles of pipes, tubes, and membranes, until the U-235 was eventually separated from the U-238. This gaseous-diffusion process, as it was called is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Gaseous-diffusion plants cover hundreds of acres and cost in the neighborhood of $2-billion each. So forget it. There are easier, and cheaper, ways to enrich your uranium.

First transform the gas into a liquid by subjecting it to pressure. You can use a bicycle pump for this. Then make a simple home centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the rope (and attached bucket) around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for about 45 minutes. Slow down gradually, and very gently put the bucket on the floor. The U-235, which is lighter, will have risen to the top, where it can be skimmed off like cream. Repeat this step until you have the required 10 pounds of uranium. (Safety note: Don't put all your enriched uranium hexafluoride in one bucket. Use at least two or three buckets and keep them in separate corners of the room. This will prevent the premature build-up of a critical mass.)

Now it's time to convert your enriched uranium back to metal form. This is easily enough accomplished by spooning several ladlefuls of calcium (available in tablet form from your drugstore) into each bucket of uranium. The calcium will react with the uranium hexafluoride to produce calcium fluoride, a colorless salt which can be easily be separated from your pure enriched uranium metal. (Safety note: Even though it is a salt, keep it away from your kitchen's spice rack.)

A few precautions:

* While uranium is not dangerously radioactive in the amounts you'll be handling, if you plan to make more than one bomb it might be wise to wear gloves and a lead apron, the kind you can buy in dental supply stores.

* Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known. If inhaled, a thousandth of a gram can cause massive fibrosis of the lungs, a painful way to go. Even a millionth of a gram in the lungs will cause cancer. If eaten, plutonium is metabolized like calcium. It goes straight to the bones where it gives out alpha particles preventing bone marrow from manufacturing red blood cells. The best way to avoid inhaling plutonium is to hold your breath while handling it. If this is too difficult, wear a mask. To avoid ingesting plutonium orally follow this simple rule: never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach.

* If you find yourself dozing off while you're working, or if you begin to glow in the dark, it might be wise to take a blood count. ***** your finger with a sterile pin, place a drop of blood on a microscope slide, cover it with a cover slip, and examine under a microscope. (Best results are obtained in the early morning.) When you get leukemia, immature cells are released into the bloodstream, and usually the number of white cells increases (though this increase might take almost 2 weeks). Red blood cells look kind of like donuts (without the hole), and are slightly smaller than the white cells, each of which has a nucleus. Immature red cells look similar to white cells (i.e.. slightly larger and have a nucleus). If you have more than about 1 white cell (including immature ones) to 400 red cells then start to worry. But, depending upon your plans for the eventual use of the bomb, a short life expectancy might not be a problem.
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#2 KoWT

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 06:41 AM

You tried to say "pr1ck"...

:P
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#3 Bobb

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 06:44 AM

I know...
Further up the article, I tried to say A$$ :)
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#4 Simon666

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 11:21 AM

I always wanted to know this: can you make a nuclear bomb with U233? You can with U235, Pu239, Am241 and Np237. In that case, it might be much easier to make a nuclear bomb.
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#5 bellisaurius

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 03:18 PM

Intereseting question, Simon. I guess you could since the fission cross section is 540 barns, while the scatter cross sections are something like 140, and there is a mass defect between the parts and the brief U234 atom, before it fissions. But isn't it even less frequent naturally than U235?

I'm surprised no one takes advantage of the ability of u238 to absorb a neutron forming u239, which goes to pu239. There are neutron sources out there, and its not like a moderator to thermalize the neutron is a difficult item to get. It'd probably take a while, but there's a chemical difference between uranium and Pu, which makes it easier to seperate than trying to do something with a 1/2% isotopic weight difference (I'd hate to see the size of the processors given the size needed for recycle streams)
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#6 Simon666

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 03:53 PM

I'm not a nuclear or chemical expert, just a civil engineer interested in nuclear weapons.

Making one with U233 seems more attractive to me because thorium is more commonly available than thought. It is in the same ore in around the same quantities as uranium ore. So basically, you would just have to process already dug up uranium for this, you don't need to dig for it and it is cheap because it is a waste product.

It is also more interesting because the separation would be a chemical one, between Th232 and U235 which is probably a lot easier than the separation of the chemically identical U235 from U238. The advantage over U239 is not clear to me. With the production of Pu239 one also forms Pu240 and other isotopes, some of which are highly radio-active and make it necessary to work from a distance behind thick walls and complicate bomb design. I'm not informed of the by-products of U233 production. For the production of U233 there also seem to be less problems as this could probably be done by breeding it in a liquid phase in a heat-exchanger.

In short: the materials seem easier and cheaper to get to me (no one suspects uranium ore to be used, you still need U235 to start breeding with however), and the separation is easier. What I do not know is if it is really suitable for bombsand if so, whether the design would need to be a complicated implosion type such as Pu239 makes necessary or a simpler bomb design of shooting pieces together as in the U235 makes possible.

All the things I just wrote is what I remember of some books I'm read, so correct me if I'm wrong.
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#7 bellisaurius

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 03:59 PM

It sounds pretty good to me (I'm a chem engineer, with a background from the navy in nuclear power). All this really brings up the question: If shlubs like us can come up with these ideas off the spur of the moment, why can't people who have doctorates, time, and access to funds make bombs?

There must be something we're missing.
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#8 uglybastard

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 04:23 PM

It's very hard to concentrate uranium.

I understand that if you could steal a Russian nuke, chances are you couldn't detonate it because there are components in a nuke that degrade with time. And replacing these components are a huge problem.

It's a very complicated undertaking.

Nerve agent is a thousand times easier. N Korea, Russian and the US have nerve agent warheads that can take out entire cities.
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#9 Simon666

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 04:38 PM

"4. Arrange the Plutonium into two hemispheral shapes, separated by about 4 cm."

Are you sure that would work? I think it would form a dirty bomb, not a nuclear bomb. I read once that uranium makes a dsign possible where you smash two pieces together, but not plutonium, which I suppose requires an implosion bomb. If you would do that approach with plutonium instead of uranium, the fission reaction would start prematurely when the two pieces are in the process of coming together, causing an awful lot of heat to be generated and blow the two pieces apart again - before they can be held long enough for most of the material to react - against the force of the explosion. This would cause a nuclear reaction with a force of maybe a couple of tons, but not kilotons. I believe this is known as to "fizzle" for a nuclear bomb.
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#10 bellisaurius

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 04:45 PM

I wonder if the desire for the explosion to push things apart requires a "wave" approach, applying material in one or two waves in order to maximize the amount of fissile material in the area where neutrons can continue the chain reaction?
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#11 Orak the Grate

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 04:56 PM

8. To detonate the device, obtain a radio controlled (RC) servo
mechanism, as found in RC model airplanes and cars. With a modicum
of effort, a remote plunger can be made that will strike a
detonator cap to effect a small explosion.

---------------
Not much range on these radio controls. If it goes or fizzles, I'm not standing that close to it when its detonated
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#12 Simon666

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 04:59 PM

"What is an [implosion bomb] something that farts and dies within ?"

As I understand it: put a material in a sphere. Put a concentrical sphere of explosives around it. Detonate the outer surface, which will create a pressure wave that will compress the inner sphere, because of which the mass density of the inner sphere will increase explosively (mass remains the same, volum occupied decreases). Because of this mass density increase, the plutonium in the inner sphere reaches critical mass and explodes.

Problem is: you really need to explode the outer surface on its entire surface, not just on one part, you really need a perfectly symmetrical spherical wave. This makes the bomb design more complicated. Therefore you need knowledge of explosive lenses and spark capacitators. These spark capacitators are also found in kidney stone crushing machines. Iraq obtained some of these from Germany if I'm not mistaking, and was interseted in having a lot more of these spark capacitators as "spare parts". I do not know when this was, but it was an indication that Iraq might have been working on a plutonium bomb instead of an uranium bomb.
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#13 Simon666

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 05:00 PM

"Not much range on these radio controls. If it goes or fizzles, I'm not standing that close to it when its detonated"

I guess this was written long time ago. With a cell phone (or GSM for Europeans) you might do the same I think.
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#14 bellisaurius

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 05:03 PM

Claf, imagine an explosion as being a series of waves which act like a spring.

When you apply force to the spring and let it go, you get a wave which pushes things together briefly before pulling them apart. In this part of the wave things come closer together, and since the reactions with fast neautrons occur at very fast speeds, you have all the time together you need in order to cause the chain reaction.

The implosion is most properly described as a directed explosion pushing things inward, as opposed to an imposion of the type that navies practice with topedoes now, where they explode the torpedo below a ship, which pushes the water out. Eventually, water rushes back in to fill the vacuum created by the torpedo. This force, an implosion is what actually cracks the keel of the ship, ruining it.
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#15 uglybastard

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Posted 20 April 2003 - 05:15 PM

Yes.

The threat of nukes is another reason why US citizens should back the government.

Inaction and indecision could lead to a nuclear strike on the US.

The US must be pre-emptive and brutal in it's attacks. US citizens must support this.

Death is the only alternative. We are fighting for our very lives.

They may not like us, but they have learned to fear us.
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#16 KoWT

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Posted 12 March 2005 - 06:39 AM

a "uranium gun device" would be much easier to make work than the implosion device the author suggests:

[quote]Fission weapons require a system to assemble a supercritical mass from a sub-critical mass in a very short time. Two classic assembly systems have been used, gun and implosion. In the simpler gun-type device, two subcritical masses are brought together by using a mechanism similar to an artillery gun to shoot one mass (the projectile) at the other mass (the target). The Hiroshima weapon was gun-assembled and used 235 U as a fuel. Gun-assembled weapons using highly enriched uranium are considered the easiest of all nuclear devices to construct and the most foolproof.
Gun-Device
In the gun device, two pieces of fissionable material, each less than a critical mass, are brought together very rapidly to form a single supercritical one. This gun-type assembly may be achieved in a tubular device in which a high explosive is used to blow one subcritical piece of fissionable material from one end of the tube into another subcritical piece held at the opposite end of the tube.

[b]Manhattan Project scientists were so confident in the performance of the ?Little Boy
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