MAD Checkmated

There is no secret to building an atomic or even an hydrogen bomb. An atomic bomb is essentially conventional explosives wrapped around an enriched uranium core e.g. U-235 or a ball of plutonium. The exploding, or more accurately imploding explosives causes the nuclear material at the center of the bomb to compress until atoms are so close to each other that collisions are inevitable causing an atomic chain reaction.

A modern atomic bomb four times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb could easily fit in the trunk of a small car.

Want a bigger bang for your car? Get some deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, and wrap an atomic bomb around it (you can’t really wrap an atomic bomb around your fissionable material but you get the idea) and you now have an hydrogen bomb. Conventional explosives detonate your atomic bomb which then ignites the deuterium which creates a thermo-nuclear explosion, re-creating on the surface of the earth fire storms only found on the surface of the Sun.

A hydrogen bomb may not fit in the trunk of a small car. You may need to see your dealer about a family sedan, borrow your neighbour’s car or simply steal a large enough automobile or SUV. A large Mercedes will do just fine.

While bomb making knowledge is readily available to your average, ordinary, well-informed sociopath, not so for the key materials needed for its construction. Enriching uranium so that it can power a nuclear reactor or cause a nuclear explosion is an expensive, complex process. Just ask the President of Iran.

In the long run you can offset this cost by using your enriched uranium to power a reactor to produce electricity – making your countrymen very happy – and use a by-product of nuclear fission, plutonium, to produce atomic bombs – making your neighbours very unhappy.

That's the beauty of nuclear reactors, they can heat and light your home while leaving a residue that can obliterate thousands of the home-sweet-homes of your enemies in a flash of extreme heat, corrosive hurricane-force winds and blinding light.

Iran, if it is not already, will soon be capable of producing the stuff that fuels nuclear reactors and your worse nightmares.

Destroying Iran’s bomb making facilities has proven politically impossible and even morally questionable. Therefore, the secular, democratic countries of the world will soon have to adapt to a new reality where countries ruled by powerful religious figures, who claim to know the mind of God, have the bomb and the potential to bring on Judgment Day (with or without the Almighty's approval) or, at the very least, burn millions of unbelievers in an atomic fire.

The 9/11 hijackers expected a medium-size harem as reward for killing three thousand innocent men, women and children. What kind of out-of-this-world reward would the greatest, and possibly the last suicide bomber expect! For a true believer with the BOMB, it will be difficult to resist setting the earth on fire.

What to do?

The only experience we have in avoiding annihilation in the atomic age is the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine, MAD for short. You try to annihilate me, I annihilate you, we annihilate each other. The ultimate pyrrhic victory.

The MAD doctrine has demonstrated its usefulness in avoiding Armageddon until the end of the Cold War put an end to the madness.

MAD worked because people on both side of the nuclear standoff valued their lives, the lives of their children and grand-children above all else. Killing your enemy, only for you and your family to be melted in an atomic fire in a retaliatory attack was not an option.

Can MAD work its magic in a world where religious sociopaths have the bomb? I don't thing so. It's back to square one if we are, again, going to avoid a premature nasty end to our mortal existence.

Bernard Payeur, January 10, 2009