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Question:
What makes radioactivity from a nuclear bomb so deadly? What consists inside of nuclear bomb to make it so powerful?



Replies:
Nuclear bombs are powerful for the same reason nuclear reactors are able to produce lots of energy out of a small amount of fuel - the nuclear reactions involved just do give out a lot of energy, much more per unit weight than chemical explosives. The reason is the very small mass differences between the two sides of a nuclear reaction get multiplied by the speed of light squared (remember E = mc^2) which is a huge number, and so there is a lot of energy involved.

There is lots more to it of course - in order to get the reaction going you have to produce neutrons. If you control the neutron production you can get a nice stable reaction going, as in a nuclear power station. If you do not control it, you get a "chain reaction": which explodes. And that is just for fission reactions - there is also a fusion process that has only been successfully implemented in bombs, because it is such a hard problem to make a reactor that controls fusion reactions. But the energy comes from the same kind of process (in fission it is heavy nuclei splitting apart, in fusion it is light nuclei joining together).

Why is radioactivity from a bomb so deadly? Well, it is because of that uncontrolled "chain reaction" that is spewing neutrons in all directions, and those extra neutrons cause all sorts of trouble. At least, that is the immediate effect. The nuclear reactions also result in the release of all kinds of harmful radioactive byproducts that last for many years. So in general it is pretty nasty stuff.

Arthur Smith



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