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Nuclear Weapons - Development Of Nuclear Weapons, How Nuclear Weapons Work, Effects Of Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Weapons Today

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Nuclear weapons are explosive devices that release nuclear energy. An individual nuclear device may have an explosive force equivalent to millions of tons (megatons) of trinitrotoluene (TNT, the chemical explosive traditionally used for such comparisons), and is more than enough to inflict devastating physical damage to a city.

The destructive power of nuclear weapons derives from the core of the atom, the nucleus. One type of nuclear weapon, the fission bomb, uses the energy released when nuclei of heavy elements such as plutonium fission (split apart). A second even more powerful type of nuclear weapon, the fusion or hydrogen bomb, uses the energy released when nuclei of hydrogen are united (fused together).

Nuclear devices have been fashioned into weapons of many shapes with many purposes. Bombs can be dropped from airplanes; warheads can be delivered by missiles launched from land, air, or sea; artillery shells can be fired from cannon; mines can be placed on the land and in the sea. Some nuclear weapons are small enough to destroy only a portion of a battlefield; others, as already mentioned, are large enough to destroy entire cities or major targets.

Unlike chemical explosives, nuclear weapons have had no peacetime uses. In the 1950s the U.S. government briefly considered using nuclear weapons to blast artificial harbors in the Alaskan coastline but eventually discarded the idea. As of February 2003, nuclear weapons are possessed by a number of nations, including the United States, France, Great Britain, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the Russian Federation and several other former Soviet Republics. In February 2003, the United States Central Intelligence Agency released reports that confirm the agency's assertion that North Korea posed one or two nuclear weapons. Iran, Iraq and other nations, have actively attempted to buy components to develop nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies asserted that, as of February 2003, neither Iran nor Iraq had an operational nuclear weapon but that both countries had nuclear programs capable of producing such weapons.

Since their invention during World War II, nuclear weapons have been used only twice, both times against cities in Japan by the United States. This use of nuclear weapons ended WW II and although horrific in their effect, most historians and analysts assert that the use of the weapons ultimately saved tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars of destruction by forcing a Japanese surrender and thus making it unnecessary for the United States and other allies to invade the Japanese homeland.


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