Sep 18, 2010

Now I am...

... become death, the destroyer of worlds.

Uncle links to a NY Times photo collection covering some of the early nuclear testing.

Something about nuclear power (for war and peace) has always fascinated me. I started reading everything I could get my hands on somewhere around 6th grade. I worked my way through the (very limited) selection in the school library and then started working through the public library offerings about anything nuclear-related.

In 7th grade, we were required to do a public speaking bit in our English class. It was to be a 5-7 minute lesson to the class on "how-to". We got to pick our own topics, and there were quite a few cooking lessons, a bit of drawing, and so forth. I taught the class how to do nuclear fusion. (Yep, I was a nerd.) Hydrogen isotopes, add heat/pressure, get helium. Piece of cake, right? :-)

I've watched nearly every "nuke" movie I've heard of. Not the Toxic-Avenger type stuff, but "Fail Safe", "Manhattan Project", "Dr. Strangelove", etc. Documentaries about Cheyenne Mountain, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Y12, Pantex, Bikini Atoll, and so forth.

It's easy to imagine the fear that my parents' generation lived in; look at pictures 14-20 in the above link. When you're feeding that kind of thing to school children, and supplementing it with Bert the Turtle (he ducked, and covered - ducked, and covered...), fear makes sense.

I grew up within a short drive of the Seneca Army Depot, anecdotally known (and denied, with a wink and a nudge) as the East-coast storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons during most of the Cold War. When I was old enough to understand what that meant, I was well into learning about nukes: I figured that if things went south we'd be sitting under a large quantity of Soviet MIRVs and it wasn't worth worrying about. (Bend over and kiss your sweet ass goodbye, kid.)

The base has been closed (since 2000) and is slowly being repurposed:
- some of the ultra-secure Q-section bunkers have been leased out to a local technology group for off-site secure data and document storage.
- NYSDOC has opened a maximum security prison
- the NY State Police have (or will have?) a training facility
- the runway has been used for SCCA rallies

The nuclear war we face now is not one of strategic bombers, ICBMs, SLBMs, nor even Davy Crocketts. If we are attacked by someone using nuclear device, it's going to be either a "dirty bomb", a homegrown low-yield fission device, or, worst case, a black-market ex-Soviet device.

In any of those cases, how can we respond appropriately? Even in the case of state-sponsored terror (Iran, Libya, I'm looking at you here), could we possibly justify eye-for-an-eye vengeance? The US is the only nation in the world to have used nuclear arms in anger, but the sea change in world politics over the past sixty-five years would make us a pariah among nations if we did so again. It's easy to say, "So what? We don't need 'em!" - but it isn't true.

Without a very long tangent into the economics involved, the US is, in my opinion, on the edge of losing its position as world leader in R&D and manufacturing. We need the other nations of the world to keep us going. Pretty heavy stuff to consider.

Does that mean we can eliminate our entire nuclear arsenal? Probably not. Teddy Roosevelt had it right, and five thousand nuclear warheads is a hell of a stick. Unfortunately, that stick is so big that if we start swinging it, we will have trouble checking the swing. Nuclear winter isn't a pleasant concept - you think oil costs too much now, wait 'til you see the price when heating season is twelve months a year!

All that aside, I am always amazed at the mesmerizing intricacy of explosions - and these are more fascinating than most. Examine images five through seven - if you were not told in advance that these were images of nuclear detonations, they could be almost anything. Photomicrographs? Abstract art? Deep space imagery?

On that note, I'll leave you with something to smile at:

1 comment:

AM said...

A weapon with no defense is always a weapon of last resort.

A weapon that gets the other guy to DO something, that is a tool that can shape the battlefield. A machinegun is useful even though cover stops bullets, because we can fix the enemy behind that cover.

You can only do two things with nukes, use them, or bluff that you have the balls to use them.

Carrying concealed is the same way, you either really do have to shoot, or pray that the one intent on doing you harm thinks you have the balls to use it.