Hutchinson, Robert. Weapons of Mass Destruction. London: Cassell, 2003. ISBN 0-304-36653-6.
This book provides a history and survey of present-day deployment of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The author, a former journalist with Jane's, writes from a British perspective and discusses the evolution of British nuclear forces in some detail. The focus is very much on nuclear weapons—of the 260 pages of text, a total of 196 are devoted to nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Two chapters at the end cover chemical and biological weapons adequately but less thoroughly. Several glaring technical errors make one worry about the reliability of the information on deployments and policy. The discussion of how fission and fusion weapons function is complete gibberish; if that's what interests you, the Nuclear Weapons Frequently-Asked Questions available on the Nuclear Weapons Archive is the place to go. There is one anecdote I don't recall encountering before. The British had so much difficulty getting their staged implosion thermonuclear weapon to work (this was during the years when the McMahon Act denied the British access to U.S. weapon design information) that they actually deployed a 500 kT pure fission weapon, similar to Ted Taylor's “Super Oralloy Bomb” tested in the Ivy King shot in 1952. The British bomb contained 70 kg of highly enriched uranium, far more than the 52 kg unreflected critical mass of U-235. To keep this contraption from going off accidentally in an aircraft accident, the uranium masses were separated by 450 kg of steel balls (I'll bet, alloyed with boron, but Hutchinson is silent on this detail) which were jettisoned right before the bomb was to be dropped. Unfortunately, once armed, the weapon could not be disarmed, so you had to be awfully certain you intended to drop the bomb before letting the ball bearings out.

June 2004 Permalink