Nuclear explosion

Nuclear explosion

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A nuclear explosion occurs as a result of the rapid release of energy from an intentionally high-speed nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

. The driving reaction may be nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

, nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

 or a multistage cascading combination of the two, though to date all fusion based weapons have used a fission device to initiate fusion, and a pure fusion weapon
Pure fusion weapon
A pure fusion weapon is a hypothetical hydrogen bomb design that does not need a fission "primary" explosive to ignite the fusion of deuterium and tritium, two heavy isotopes of hydrogen . Such a weapon would require no fissile material and would therefore be much easier to build in secret than...

 remains a hypothetical device.

Atmospheric nuclear explosions are associated with mushroom cloud
Mushroom cloud
A mushroom cloud is a distinctive pyrocumulus mushroom-shaped cloud of condensed water vapor or debris resulting from a very large explosion. They are most commonly associated with nuclear explosions, but any sufficiently large blast will produce the same sort of effect. They can be caused by...

s, although mushroom clouds can occur with large chemical explosions, and it is possible to have an air-burst nuclear explosion without these clouds. Nuclear explosions produce radiation
In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizing and non-ionizing...

 and radioactive debris.


In 1963, the United States, Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, and United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, pledging to refrain from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. The treaty permitted underground tests. Many other non-nuclear nations acceded to the Treaty following its entry into force; however, three nuclear weapons states have not acceded: France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, and North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...


The primary application to date has been military (i.e. nuclear weapons). However, there are other potential applications, which have not yet been explored, or have been considered but abandoned. They include
  • Nuclear pulse propulsion, including using a nuclear explosion as asteroid deflection strategy.
  • Power generation; see PACER
  • Peaceful nuclear explosions
    Peaceful nuclear explosions
    Peaceful nuclear explosions are nuclear explosions conducted for non-military purposes, such as activities related to economic development including the creation of canals...

Nuclear weapons are largely seen as a 'deterrent' by most governments; the sheer scale of the destruction caused by a nuclear weapon has prevented much serious consideration of their use in warfare.

Nuclear weapons

In the history of warfare, two nuclear weapons have been detonated—both by the U.S. in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The first event occurred on the morning of 6 August 1945, when the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 dropped a uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 gun-type device code-named "Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

" on the Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese city of Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

. The second event occurred three days later when, again, the United States dropped a plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 implosion-type device code-named "Fat Man
Fat Man
"Fat Man" is the codename for the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States on August 9, 1945. It was the second of the only two nuclear weapons to be used in warfare to date , and its detonation caused the third man-made nuclear explosion. The name also refers more...

" on the city of Nagasaki. These bombings resulted in the immediate deaths of around 120,000 people and more over time, because of the nuclear radiation. The use of these weapons was and remains controversial. (See Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

for a full discussion).

Nuclear testing

Nuclear tests are experiments carried out to determine the effectiveness, yield and explosive capability of nuclear weapons. Throughout the twentieth century, most nations that have developed nuclear weapons have staged tests of them. Testing nuclear weapons can yield information about how the weapons work, as well as how the weapons behave under various conditions and how structures behave when subjected to nuclear explosions. Additionally, nuclear testing has often been used as an indicator of scientific and military strength, and many tests have been overtly political in their intention; most nuclear weapons states publicly declared their nuclear status by means of a nuclear test.

Effects of nuclear explosions

The dominant effects of a nuclear weapon (the blast and thermal radiation) are the same physical damage mechanisms as conventional explosives, but the energy produced by a nuclear explosive is millions of times more per gram and the temperatures reached are in the tens of megakelvins. Nuclear weapons are quite different from regular weapons because of the huge amount of explosive energy they can put out and the different kinds of effects they make, like high temperatures and nuclear radiation.

The devastating impact of the explosion does not stop after the initial blast, as with regular explosives. A cloud of nuclear radiation travels from the epicenter of the explosion, causing an impact to lifeforms even after the heat waves have ceased. The radiation can cause genetic mutation, radiation poisoning, and death.

See also