Nuclear Bomb

  • Recent events, such as Russia hinting at the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and media like ‘Oppenheimer,’ have sparked global discussions about the history and consequences of nuclear weapons. 
What are nuclear weapons?
  • Nuclear weapons are highly destructive devices that derive their power from the process of nuclear fission or fusion. 
  • To create a nuclear weapon, enriched uranium or plutonium are used which undergo controlled chain reactions to produce a devastating explosion.
Difference between an atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb:
  • The atomic bomb gets its explosive energy from the splitting of atoms in materials like uranium or plutonium, which takes place automatically.
  • On the other hand, hydrogen bombs which are also known as thermonuclear bombs depend upon the fusing together of atoms as is taking place in the sun, to release much vaster quantities of energy than atomic bombs.
Development and proliferation of nuclear bombs:
  • The United States established the Manhattan Project during World War II with the aim of developing the world’s first nuclear weapon.
  • One bomb, using plutonium, was successfully tested on July 16, 1945, at a site 193 km south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • The first atomic bomb to be used in warfare used uranium. It was dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
  • The next atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, producing a blast equal to 21,000 tons of TNT.
  • After the war, the United States conducted test explosions of atomic bombs in the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands and in Nevada.
  • In subsequent years, the Soviet Union (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), Pakistan (1998), and North Korea (2006) tested fission weapons of their own.
Nuclear Fission:
  • Uranium-235, an extremely rare isotope of the heavy metal uranium, is the most commonly used nuclear fuel, as it is one of the few elements that can undergo induced fission.
  • This is done by subjecting a U-235 nucleus to neutrons.
  • The nucleus immediately absorbs an extra neutron and consequently becomes unstable — and immediately breaks apart into two lighter atoms, and a few extra neutrons. This process releases what is known as atomic energy.
  • The fission of a U-235 atom produces about 2 to 3 new neutrons on average. If these new neutrons are then absorbed by other U-235 atoms, it creates an exponentially growing chain reaction.
Nuclear Enrichment:
  • Approximately 99.3% of naturally occurring uranium is of the isotope U-238, which is not fissionable. Naturally occurring uranium, therefore, cannot be used in a weapon, or for that matter, in nuclear power plants.
  • Thus, uranium ore is enriched in order to increase the concentration of U-235.
  • Most nuclear power plants require an enrichment of 3-4% U-235 to sustain a chain reaction. Fission bombs on the other hand need closer to 90% enrichment.

Fig. Timeline of nuclear weapons tests Image Source:

Nuclear Program of India:
  • India conducted its first nuclear test in May 1974 with the name of “Smiling Buddha”.
  • After this, the Pokhran-II test was a part of the series of five nuclear tests conducted between 11 and 13 May 1998 in the Pokhran test range.
  • India became the first nuclear-powered country without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
India’s three-stage nuclear power programme:
  • India’s three-stage nuclear power programme was formulated by Homi Bhabha, in the 1950s to secure the country’s long term energy independence, through the use of uranium and thorium reserves found in the monazite sands of coastal regions of South India. The three stages are:
  • Natural uranium fuelled Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PWHR): It uses natural uranium to fuel PWHR to produce electricity and produces plutonium-239 as a byproduct. While PWHR used unenriched uranium, Light Water Reactors required enriched uranium.
  • Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) utilizing plutonium-based fuel: Plutonium 293 undergoes fission to produce energy, metal oxide is reacted with enriched uranium and reacts with mixed-oxide fuel to produce more plutonium-239. Once a sufficient amount of plutonium-239 is built up, thorium will be used in the reactor, to produce Uranium-233.
  • Advanced nuclear power systems for utilization of thorium: The main purpose of stage-3 is to achieve a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle. The advanced nuclear system would use a combination of Uranium-233 and Thorium.
Nuclear Doctrine of India: 
  • India had made its Nuclear Doctrine in 2003. Its characteristics are:
  • No First Use: According to this policy, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on the Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.
  • Credible Minimum Deterrence: India needs to build and maintain a Credible Minimum Deterrence. It includes:
    • Sufficient and survivable nuclear forces to inflict unacceptable damage to the enemy. Nuclear Forces must be operationally prepared at all times.
    • Communication of Deterrence Capability to the enemy.
    • If a country invades India by a nuclear missile, its retaliation will be so massive and terrible that the enemy experiences unacceptable damage and would not be able to recover easily.
    • The right to take nuclear action against the enemy will only be taken by the political leadership of the country. In other words; the bureaucracy of India is not authorised to take the decision of the nuclear attack on the enemy.
    • Nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear states.
    • If there is any chemical or biological attack against India or Indian security forces, then India will keep the option of nuclear attack open in its response.
    • A continuance of strict controls on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies, participation in the fissile material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
    • India will continue to support the global initiative to create a nuclear-free world and will push forward the idea of discrimination-free nuclear disarmament.
The Nuclear non-proliferation regime:
  • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT),1968 is generally considered to be the corner-stone of nuclear stability.
  • The NPT distinguishes its parties between nuclear-weapon States (NWS) (States which conducted a nuclear test before 1967) and all the other States that, in order to be a member of the NPT, are classified as non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS).
Pillars of the treaty:
  • The Principle of Non-Proliferation: The non-nuclear-weapon States refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons or from seeking the control of nuclear weapons, while the nuclear-weapon States agree not to transfer nuclear weapons or parts of them to others.
    • Moreover, all Parties to the Treaty should refrain from transferring (un-safeguarded) fissile material to non-nuclear-weapon States.
  • The Principle of Disarmament: Parties to the Treaty, and particularly the nuclear-weapon States, commit themselves to negotiations in good faith aimed at achieving an early-stage nuclear disarmament and the cessation of the nuclear arms race.
  • The Principle of Access to Peaceful Nuclear Technology: All Parties to the NPT have the right to develop and be assisted in the development of nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
Emerging Challenges to Nuclear Deterrence:
  • Russian invasion of Ukraine: It has not only led to a global geopolitical transformation but has also revived discussions on potential nuclear confrontation and the importance of nuclear security and stability.
  • North Korea’s nuclear tests, development of a small arsenal, and successful acquisition of ICBM capability has further raised concerns. The removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea adds complexity to the situation.
  • China’s strategic differences with Japan and South Korea, both under the US nuclear umbrella, further intensified the debate on extended nuclear deterrence during the Taiwan crisis amid the context of the Ukraine War.
  • China’s growing assertiveness, aspirations for superpower status have led to aggressive actions, such as establishing hegemonic influence in the Indo-Pacific, including encroachment on neighboring countries.
  • The vulnerability of nuclear weapon command-and-control networks to human error and cyberattacks.
  • The dangers of access to nuclear weapons and related materials by non-state actors.
Way Forward:
  • Reducing nuclear arsenals: Nuclear-weapon States should reduce their nuclear arsenals to the “minimum” possible level and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in military planning.
  • Nuclear weapons should be taken off alert: No nuclear weapon should be launched within minutes of notification of a missile attack.
  • Ballistic Missile Defense: The development of the Ballistic Missile Defense should be carefully considered.
  • Destruction of eliminated weapons: Eliminated weapons should be destroyed or dismantled. They should not be put in deposits and left ready to be used should there be a need to again increase those nuclear arsenals.
  • Creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ): The creation of new nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) and the expansion of the old ones is an important instrument to prevent the introduction of nuclear weapons in specific areas.
    • The Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone should be constantly pursued, despite the obvious difficulties.
  • Nuclear treaties: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the US and Russia has been suspended. Similar agreements like this could be reached.
    • The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons, which became effective in 2021, is a recent development in this direction.
  • Smaller nuclear stockpiles: Reducing the stockpiles is important as it reduces the risk of accidents and the chance that a possible nuclear war would end civilization.
  • Better monitoring, better control: The risk can be further reduced by efforts to better control nuclear weapons so that close calls occur less frequently. Similarly better monitoring systems would reduce the chance of false alarms.
News Source: Indian Express 
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