Off the Bookshelf: Nukes in Cities

Short excerpts from long reads

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"To many people who have participated professionally in the advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but more and more likely that nuclear explosions will again take place in cities. It seems to them likely, almost beyond quibbling, that more nations now have nuclear bombs than the six that have tested them, for it is hardly necessary to test a bomb in order to make one. There is also no particular reason the maker need be a nation. Smaller units could do it - groups of people with a common purpose or a common enemy. Just how few people could achieve the fabrication of an atomic bomb on their own is a question on which opinions divide, but there are physicists with experience in the weapons field who believe that the job could be done by one person, working alone, with nuclear material stolen from private industry.

"What will happen when the explosions come-when a part of New York or Cairo or Adelaide has been hollowed out by a device in the kiloton range? Since even a so-called fizzle yield could kill a number of thousands of people, how many nuclear detonations can the world tolerate? Answers - again from professional people - vary, but many will say that while there is necessarily a limit to the amount of nuclear destruction society can tolerate, the limit is certainly not zero." ~ from The Curve Of Binding Energy by John McPhee (1973)


Image Credit: Flickr user X Ray Delta One
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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