Massachusetts Institute of Technology • Program in Science, Technology and Society
Science, Technology and Global Security Working Group
Investigating Capabilities and Consequences of Nuclear Weapons
Principal Investigators: Geoff Forden and Ted Postol
Nuclear Bunker Busters
The fireball’s expansion also forms a maze of cracks and vents in the region immediately surrounding the initial cavity. This region, known as the rupture zone, extends nearly three times as far horizontally as it does below the cavity. When examined after an underground nuclear test explosion, these cracks and vents show evidence of burning and charring from the passage of super-heated gases from the fireball, indicating that an underground facility close enough to the detonation to lie inside the ruptured zone might be consumed by the nuclear conflagration.
the US Nuclear Deterrent
A secret debate, fiercely fought behind the closed doors of the nation’s weapons labs, erupted into the light of public scrutiny with the recent publication of a New York Times article: a handful of nuclear weapons experts believe that three-quarters of our submarine-based nuclear forces are duds: the so-called W-76 warhead. Critics of this design point to the fact that the radiation shell surrounding the W-76 is in places as thin as a “beer can”—what the critics claim is a design flaw and not related to aging. This, they claim, could cause what is known as a Rayleigh-Taylor instability, meaning that the expanding material and energy within the radiation shell causes the surrounding metal to breakup into irregular strands rather than a symmetrical surface. In turn, these irregularities would not focus the radiation to uniformly compress the inner fusion device, causing it to fail to react or react with a substantially lower yield.
Using the correlation between publicly announced tests and the known periods of warhead development, it is estimated that there have been at least eight full-yield detonations of the W-76 warhead during and after development. From this, simple statistical laws set strict limits on the just how many duds there can be in the stockpile. Using very conservative numbers it can be said that, at the very least, 70 percent of the W-76s would detonate as planned. If, as many analysts believe, there are two or more warheads are already allotted for each target, then more than 90 percent will be destroyed. This is a worst-case scenario and the true fraction of weapons that would perform as planned is most likely considerably greater than 70 percent.
Geoffrey Forden, US Nuclear Deterrent is Secure Despite Doubts Cast on Warhead, Jane’s Intelligence Review. July 2005, pp. 36-37.
Geoffrey Forden, Nuclear Bunker Busters, Breakthroughs, Vol. XI, no. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 11-21.
Geoffrey Forden, USA Looks at Nuclear Role in Bunker Busting, Jane’s Intelligence Review, January 2002, pp. 36-38.
Geoffrey Forden, Reduce U.S. Forces to START II Levels by 2007 in Budget Options for National Defense (CBO Study, March 2000).
Geoffrey Forden, Reduce Nuclear Delivery Systems Within Overall Limits of START II in Budget Options for National Defense (CBO Study, March 2000).
Geoffrey Forden, Terminate Production of D5 Missiles After 2000 in Budget Options for National Defense (CBO Study, March 2000).
Geoffrey Forden, Reduce the Scope of DOE’s Stockpile Stewardship Program in Budget Options for National Defense (CBO Study, March 2000).
Google Earth Tours of
Nuclear Facilities Around the World
Take a Google Earth tour of China’s nuclear weapons facilities by clicking here.