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IABU as I can't grasp it, but can someone explain very simply how nuclear bombs work?

(43 Posts)
AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 16:58:04

I know it's to do with fission and fusion, I know it's like a big fireball thing and then there's stuff called radioactive waste that poisons you if you come into contact with it. That's it.

Might sound silly but I don't want to just google as that throws up a lot of pretty terrifying articles, and that inflames my anxiety. I just want to learn the basics of how it works, in simple terms, via a conversation, as I find that less anxiety provoking than an article where there is no interaction.

Is the initial nuclear blast pretty much like a giant petrol explosion - in terms of a huge ball of fire and energy that also generates a wind that flattens buildings etc?

What exactly is radioactive waste/ nuclear fallout? My understanding is that it's very tiny particles of something that enters your body through skin and damages cell structure, so creates cancers? But what does it look like? Does it feel like hot ash?

And some of this damage can be "less bad" in that the level of cell destruction doesn't kill you, but might for example destroy your reproductive organs?

How does it happen that children born a couple of generations later can suffer from birth defects, if their parents didn't die?

Can you breathe in radioactive particles and not know?

How does it poison the land and the water - I mean, would you know by looking?

Sorry for my childish questions. I know I should probably be able to just google GCSE science or something and find out there, but like I say, I find discussions easier for learning about this kind of thing. And I do want to learn the basics!

FrogsLegs31 Fri 07-Apr-17 17:15:04

A really important thing for us to know before answering this is WHY do you want to know about this?

I wouldn't want to make things worse if this reason is anxiety or recurring negative thoughts on this subject

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:24:30

I want to educate myself.

No, I do not suffer from intrusive thoughts about nuclear war. I have anxiety (mostly health related) so I do not want to watch any very graphic videos, or read any of those hypothethical "what exactly would happen if a bomb took out London" articles.

I just want to learn about it in a way I can digest...

milliemolliemou Fri 07-Apr-17 17:24:56

So why don't you google GCSE science which is likely to be quite helpful and non alarmist? I suspect this is a reverse.

If you think you can avoid what may come, think again. Just crack on with what you're doing, or buy and stock a nuclear bunker with food and water for 10 years and a medical team and medications. I'd add lots of books. Read John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids to see if you'd like what you surfaced to. He suggested guns were good. Go on websites where mostly American survivalists are planning ahead for Armageddon.

1. Thermonuclear bombs of small capacity can devastate a city by explosion, fire and radiation. The explosion kills most.
2. Radiated people close to the centre will not survive long
3. Radiated people further out may survive and will not know they've been affected and they and subsequent children may suffer from radiation sickness including cancers.
4. Clearly the radiation lies on the ground and seeps into water. Think Chernobyl (and you can google that as well).
5. To cheer you up, look at the problems caused by Agent Orange which the Americans sprayed over Vietnam. It caused deforestation - its main aim to stop the VietCong using the jungle - but also poisoned the land and there are still children born today suffering from what happened 60 years ago.
6. And to cheer you up further, look at Bhopal in India where thousands died because gas from a US subsidiary factory killed thousands.
7. And you might have been following the news in Syria where it's claimed that President Assad authorised the chemical bombing of Homs allegedly using sarin.

Keep calm and carry on.

user1486924355 Fri 07-Apr-17 17:32:41

AbsentmindedWoman - Thanks for asking the question. Its funny as I wanted to ask the same.

milliemolliemou Fri 07-Apr-17 17:32:54

Sorry OP. I didn't see your anxiety explanation until I posted.

I worry, too, though clearly not at your level. I try to sort it into categories
1. Is it something I can do about?
2. If no, then shut it out.
3. If yes, then what - and make plans.

I realize this might not be helpful for someone with medical anxiety so I'll just shut up now and apologize again.

makeourfuture Fri 07-Apr-17 17:35:45

E=mc squared.

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:37:20

Millimollie, why are you so aggressive and hostile? I have explained MY FEELINGS (put that bit in bold since it seemed to escape you in my earlier post) are that I find it easier to learn about this via discussion, where I can chat and interact.

This isn't a reverse - how does that even make any sense? A reverse from what? Who is the other party I'm pretending to be with my question? hmm

Also, your bullet points has done fuck all in terms of explaining anything beyond general shit I already know.

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:38:10

Cross posted with you MillieMollie.

Trifleorbust Fri 07-Apr-17 17:39:21

God, this got a bit heated a but quickly!

What an odd thread.

Allthebestnamesareused Fri 07-Apr-17 17:40:13

I hope the OP isn't Donald Trump!

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:41:13

Ha grin No, I promise I'm not Trump.

PatMullins Fri 07-Apr-17 17:41:23


AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:43:07

Trifle - why is it an odd thread? Because you think most people understand the science behind how nuclear stuff works and you find me slightly odd/ pathetic for not knowing/ being reluctant to just google hardhitting articles?

Or something else?

Trifleorbust Fri 07-Apr-17 17:45:08

OP, given your anxiety I am not going to engage you further. Apologies if I offended.

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:46:37

No offense taken at all.

I do find it a little patronising.

whatsthecomingoverthehill Fri 07-Apr-17 17:48:28

The basic nuclear reaction is of an atom splitting up (fission) or joining with another (fusion) and in that process releasing lots of energy which is where the explosion comes from. There are different types of radiation released (alpha, beta and gamma) which can do direct damage, but there are also other elements produced that over time can release this radiation. The results of the bomb (fireball, wind etc) are as a consequence of the massive amounts of energy released in a small area.

Trifleorbust Fri 07-Apr-17 17:51:39


I'm just not wanting to make your anxiety worse, OP. Sorry if that is patronising.

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:51:48

Thank you, whatsthatcomingoverthehill. The atoms are from plutonium, right? And I think there's another substance they can be from, but don't remember that one.

FrogsLegs31 Fri 07-Apr-17 17:53:09

This is a good place to start.

You need to know what the 'tiny particles' are before you can understand nuclear weapons so start with;
Atomic structure, isotopes and ionising radiation

Pages 1,2,3 and 6 are relevant and not scary smile

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:54:33

Trifle - I was very clear and direct in my opening post that I know how to manage my own anxiety. I want to educate myself, and do this in an appropriate way for my own anxiety issues.

So, yes, it is rather patronising to ignore this and simply decide not to discuss it with me because you think it's whats best for my anxiety.

Obviously different story if you just can't be arsed, which is also entirely understandable grin

AbsentmindedWoman Fri 07-Apr-17 17:55:31

Thank you, FrogsLegs31!

FrogsLegs31 Fri 07-Apr-17 17:57:40

Read that stuff and then we can discuss from there as a collective because your original post contains an absolute stack of different questions grin

Trifleorbust Fri 07-Apr-17 17:58:03


I understand, but if I am honest - and since you don't want to be patronised - your initial posts made me wonder whether it is true that you are managing it. You sound very much on edge. I will allow others to judge for themselves whether providing you with information is likely to be helpful. I hope you are in touch with your GP. flowers

whatsthecomingoverthehill Fri 07-Apr-17 17:58:23

I think it's normally uranium that's the main bit and plutonium can be used as a sort of trigger to get the reaction going. You then get a chain reaction - as the atoms split up they release these radioactive bits which then cause other atoms to split and so on.

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