Essay on the Technology of Low Yield Nuclear Weapons

3 pages
688 words
George Washington University
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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Low Yield nuclear weapons are weapons whose explosions are not of a big magnitude. Low yield nuclear weapons are specifically designed to threaten hard and deeply buried targets. These nuclear weapons have an impact yield of less than 20 kiloton which is present in a standard fission weapon (Nelson, 2013). The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was between 10-20KT. A low yield nuclear weapon is less than one I kiloton. The American W54 is the smallest low-yield nuclear weapon made, and it was used in the short-range bombing.

Low-yield weapons can be made through minimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of a manufactured higher yield nuclear weapon. The main disadvantage of this method is that it is a costly process and the end product will be a low yield nuclear weapon that has high mass and volume. Low-yield weapons are on the rise because they are small in size and cost of construction is lower compared to high-yield nuclear weapons.

In the manufacturing f low-yield weapons, the fissile material should be light, and its mass and volume should be small. In addition to that, it will also require a low mass implosion system. Since the relationship between the volume and the cube radius of the weapon is directly proportional, it becomes easier to reduce its weight. Size is also minimized through using small amounts of fissile material. Consequently, this reduces the impact yield of the weapon (Nelson, 2013).

There are several properties of low-yield weapons which influence how deep the weapon is going to penetrate into the earth surface. Some of these properties include the shape of the weapon, how hard and tough the casing is, the momentum it had while hitting the surface of the earth, the explosive yield and whether the ground is soft or hard.

Research conducted at the Nevada Test Site indicated that a nuclear weapon whose yield was just 100 tons of TNT (this is equivalent to 0.1kt) would still have the ability to penetrate 58 meters into the earth. The radioactivity effect released by the bomb as it explodes would spread into the atmosphere and harm people living in the nearby surroundings (Renner, 2000).

The development of low-yield nuclear weapons has faced criticism from various quarters. Those are support of these weapons say that they will reduce the collateral damage incurred when there are attacks on deeply buried targets. The use of higher yield nuclear weapons results in a greater destruction of property and lives (Mello et al. 2012). However, those against their use say that there is no earth-penetrating nuclear weapon which can burrow deep into the earth and be able to contain its blast. It will still release radioactive materials into the surface of the earth.

Some of the benefits of banning low-yield nuclear weapons include; prevention of possible pathways to a global nuclear war, reduce the risks of diversion and unauthorized use, entrench separation of conventional and nuclear wars, enhance non-proliferation without undermining U.S. nuclear deterrence and the strengthening the norms of centrally controlled arsenals (Mello et al. 2012).

The use of low-yield nuclear weapons may also result in the compromise of restraints placed on the use of nuclear weapons whose impact would be devastating to people, the environment, and atmosphere. In addition to that, these weapons will need to be tested, and this would be going against the comprehensive test ban treaty that was signed (Arkin, 2003). There would be the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world, and other nations would take advantage of this and start producing and amassing deadly nuclear weapons. It is important that a minimum-yield threshold is set, a legal recourse to international community needs to be established, and there should be escalation controls.


Arkin WM. (2003). The nuclear option in Iraq: The US has lowered the bar for using the

ultimate weapon. Los Angeles Times.

Mello G, Nelson R, von Hippel F. (2012) Can low-yield nuclear weapons destroy biological and

chemical weapons storage sites in preparation

Nelson RW. (2013) Low-yield earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. Science and Global Security;


Renner, M. (2000). The environmental and health effects of weapons production. In B. Levy &

V. Sidel, War and Public Health. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.

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