Nuclear Weapons Operations Manual by David Baker (book review).

Author David Baker points out in his introduction to his book, ‘Nuclear Weapons Operations Manual’, that it does not make moral or political issues related to nuclear weapons. In fact, all countries who have them get some coverage in this book so there is no bias other than when information is not available.

The opening chapter covers atomic theory which despite its name is actually the basics of chemistry and the particles in the atom in case anyone gets confused. There are a lot of facts that come out of this. Enriched uranium has only 0.3% waste and even that is used. The amount mined per year is mind-boggling but only limited to a few countries. There is also a look at the early nuclear reactors and seeing how graphic blocks was used looks far less safer than it does today but so much of it was a learning curve at the time. This doesn’t mean precautions weren’t taken but it shows how far we’ve developed since then. Certainly, the main scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project had stepped away but the bottle had been popped and the nuclear genie was out. President Truman agreed because as the USA had nuclear weapons, the USSR had to follow suit or be seriously mismatched. For the record, it is noted here that the number of bombs both countries have now is far lower than the Cold War period.

Reading about the Russian nuclear arsenal and their reliance on ‘heavy water’, that is heavier isotopes of hydrogen in the water molecule, there was a little more reliance on this than uranium in their weapons, although that quickly changed. After all, they had infiltrated spies to America to glean their secrets.

It’s interesting that even back in the early 1960s, Russian Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev was in talks with US President John Kennedy about nuclear arms control and its testing. It made other countries, like the UK and France, scramble to get tests done before an embargo happened. History says otherwise if I mention Cuba. Even so, neither country wanted to go that far and any threats like that again have never happened publicly since. From my perspective, I suspect a test of how far either country would go was bound to have happened sooner or later for a back down and there would have been worse options.

Something I hadn’t remembered was Russia’s first nuclear accident, the Kyshtym disaster, in 1957 which was on a far larger scale than Chernobyl. A stark reminder that it is radiation contamination and fall-out that claims the more victims than the initial explosion. Interestingly, their rocket systems also doubled for getting satellites into space.

The chapter on the British nuclear programme has several useful pointers. The payload aspect was certainly more powerful or probably more efficient than the Americans by comparing the data Baker provides. There was a little matter of some of the early missiles being a little top heavy. Agreements between the British and Americans ended up with the latter supplying the missiles. It is this which should be regarded as the real ‘special relationship’ between the two countries which is something I hadn’t realised.

Looking at China becoming a nuclear power is actually a different slant or reason. Of the five countries in the UN Security Council, they were the only one without nuclear armament. They made a brief liaison with the USSR to develop their own nuclear technology before that fell apart. Nevertheless, it was enough time to develop their own nuclear arsenal but purely to protect their own borders than really go on the offensive in Korea.

Of the other nations involved in creating nuclear arms, there is reference to Iraq and a little reminder that Saddam was heading in that direction. Equally, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons also maintains an uneasy truce in the Middle East. Although Baker doesn’t say as such, what we have there is a small scale variation of what would have happened had the USSR not developed their own arsenal. Arab nations might fight amongst themselves but none will take on Israel over Palestine.

For those who wonder what happens to the nuclear material from decommissioned bombs, it’s downgraded to being used in nuclear reactors so nothing is truly wasted.

In many respects, this book gives a fascinating insight into a weapon one can only hope is never used in anger or any other reason in another war. It might not be a good way to maintain some level of peace but it is a peace of sorts. If you want insight into all of this, then you should read this book.

GF Willmetts

January 2018

(pub: Haynes, 2017. 196 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85721-139-3)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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