Re: Bin Laden's attempts to acquire nuclear materials

From: Eugene Leitl (
Date: Fri Sep 14 2001 - 03:39:04 MDT

On Fri, 14 Sep 2001, Brian Atkins wrote:

> Do you have some URLs backing this up, one URL I found mentioned he
> may have bought "warheads" and planned to retrofit them into small
> packages, the other other URL mentioned "suitcase nukes". Everything
> I've seen points to smaller than van sized nukes originally
> manufactured by Russia, not homemade.

A modern nuclear device is a rather well designed artifact. It tends to
minimize the fissible yield and maximizing the fusion yield, both for
economical and cleanness reasons. To do so, it uses a minimal fission
primer, which only goes off due to a highly symmetric core assembly, plus
a highly timed neutron kickstarter pulse injected into the core. The
timing sequence for the correct assemly is nontrivially encoded in a keyed
black box. The people who handle the nuclear devices are not issued these
key codes except shortly before that device will be used. Without it, a
modern nuke is designed not to detonate.

It is of course possible that a class of nuclear devices exist which is
not secured that way, and of course you can cannibalize the devices
(several of them, because criticality depends on the assembly parameters
such as compression of the core, duration of the assembled geometry, and
background neutron flux during the duration of confinement) for their
fissibles, to build a crude home-made.

It is much easier to purify plutonium from decayed nuclear ashes and make
a low-yield dirty (if not salted) gun assembled device.

-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBMTO : N48 10'07'' E011 33'53''
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