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Prelude to Fallout, Part 3 – TNP004

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In this last episode before we actually get into the Fallout Universe, we wanted to spend a little time talking about nuclear technology. It seems that after World War 2, instead of focusing a lot of energy into miniaturizing their tech as we did in real life with the advent of the transistor, the Fallout Universe seems to have shifted their focus on nuclear tech. That’s not to say that they did nothing in the way of miniaturizing, they did, but we see so much tech in the Fallout Universe that harnesses the power of the atom. In this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about how nuclear fission works, and talk about some nuclear tech in and out of game.

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear Fission, in the simplest of terms, is when a nucleus splits in half. This is done by launching a neutron at the nucleus at high speeds. When the nucleus splits it also ejects neurons that continue the fission by hitting other nuclei. When the nucleus splits it releases a lot of explosive energy as it takes a lot to split the building blocks of life. Most elements can undergo this process, however not all will explode when it happens.

Fission itself was first discovered by the Germans at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for Chemistry in Berlin in 1938 after nearly fifty years of nuclear study. Enrico Fermi, the man who would create the first nuclear reactor, first started bombarding nuclei with neurons in Rome in 1934. While it did not fission anything the world began to wonder what would happen if they did it again, but faster. The Germans in Berlin built on this to create the first instances of nuclear fission for which the lead scientist Otto Hahn would win the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for. News spread quickly of this discovery and Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard began to wonder if fission can start a nuclear chain reaction. While initially refuted, Szilard wondered if the chain reaction could produce enough energy for civilian and military use. While we all know this would result in the Manhattan Project there would be many other uses within the military field.

As a side note, Enrico Fermi is also of Fermi Paradox fame, which, and this right from the Wikipedia page, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. The basic points of the argument, made by physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart, are:

  • There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, many of which are billions of years older than Earth.
  • With high probability, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some might develop intelligent life.
  • Some of these civilizations might develop interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now.
  • Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.

Nuclear Powered Military

There would be a lot of theoretical uses that never made it past the planning stages. Most entertainingly the Chrysler TV-8, the nuclear powered tank. It would have not one, but two nuclear reactors to power the treads. It also would be able to be amphibious but also have a gas engine…for if the nuclear power ran out maybe? While the TV-8 never got past the planning stages other nuclear vehicles did. The Soviets released a nuclear powered nuclear bomber called the Tupolev Tu-95LAL, or the Tu-95. One would be made in 1961 before the Soviets realized it was ridiculously expensive and should it crash it would be a horrible environmental hazard. The US had its own concept nuclear bomber to, the Convair NB-36H in development between 1955 and 1957 with a total of 47 total test flights of concept designs. It would also be canned much for the same reasons the Soviets got rid of theirs. The US would try again with the WS-125 but Eisenhower would kill the project soon after it began in 1961. After that the US would look into a nuclear powered ramjet engines for jets, with two being tested in 1961 and 1964 but again the project was cancelled before it could get off the ground. However recently, in 2014, Lockheed-Martin announced it was building a fusion reactor to power a plane, or a city. Its expected to be done around 2024.

Not only were nuclear reactors shoved in land and air vehicles it was also put in ships to much more success. The first of which was the USS Enterprise (CVN -65, the distinction is important there were eight Enterprises before this one) which was built between 1958 and 1960. It would be the flagship of the prospective future ‘Nuclear Navy’ for decades before finally being decommissioned February 3rd this year being the sixth oldest ship in service at the time. It currently is sitting in Newport News Shipbuilding, while the Navy figures out how to best dispose of a surface craft with 8 reactors.

The Soviets would finally get around to attempting to build their own in 1988, but the project was cancelled in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR. It was going to be called Ulyanovsk but was scrapped at only 20% completion. France launched a nuclear powered Aircraft Carrier in 2001, the R91 Charles de Gaulle. So far that is the only working nuclear Aircraft Carrier not in the US Navy. The UK rejected plans to build one on grounds of expense even though they are cheaper in the long run.
First being theorized in 1939 the first nuclear sub was the USS Nautilus being launched in 1954. The Soviets would get their own with the launch of the K-3 Leninsky Komsomol (Calm some all) in 1958. The Soviets would go on to build 245 nuclear powered submarines, more than every other nation combined. A lot would be deactivated when the USSR collapsed due to a budget collapse in the Russian Federation.

China didn’t have their nuclear submarine program, despite high interest in the project, off the ground until 1974, when they launched their first nuclear submarine, the Type 091 submarine (Han-class).

Nuclear Weapons

Developed as a way to bring a sudden end to the Second World War and prevent a no doubt bloody invasion of the Japanese homelands, nuclear weapons are some of the deadliest weapons humans have in their arsenal. It was first conceived in the 1930’s by various physicists, most notably Hungarian physicist and certified wise guy Leo Szilard. It remained mostly theoretical however as much more research was needed, primarily focused in Britain, the United States and Germany, although they had a lot of trouble getting around the fact the leading minds in the field of nuclear science were leaving Germany. Anyway as the Second World War exploded from near certainty to bloody reality Albert Einstein, the smartest man since Albert Einstein feared the Nazi’s getting a hold of a theoretical ‘atom bomb’ and wrote a letter to US President Roosevelt in 1939 urging him to seriously consider pursuing the weapon as a reality. Roosevelt decided to listen to one of the smartest men in history and then set up the Uranium Committee which would evolve into the Manhattan Project. British research into ‘The Bomb’ as it would be known was already going on under the codename ‘Tube Alloys’ and the US and British Commonwealth set up the MAUD Committee to pool their efforts. Meanwhile the Nazi nuclear research program or the Uranprojekt flopped around near uselessly for a variety of reasons.

As the Second World War came and began to go the Manhattan Project was close to producing a working bomb. Built as a plutonium device it worked rather simply, they just more or less squeezed the element, Plutonium-239, until it reached critical mass and exploded. However it was rather inefficient with somewhere between 20-30% of the element exploding in the Trinity Test in New Mexico. However on that day, July 16th 1945, the world blasted into the Atomic Age literally as the Trinity test, with the bomb itself being called “The Gadget” exploding with the force of 19 kilotons of TNT. In other words the equivalent of 19,000 tons of TNT went off that day in the New Mexico desert. As scientists around him celebrated for not accidentally lighting the atmosphere on fire the head of the Manhattan Project Robert Oppenheimer muttered “I have become Death, Destroyer of worlds”, a quote from the Gita, a Hindu epic. Word was rushed to President Truman at the Potsdam Conference and allegedly through a ring of spies, Joseph Stalin about the success of the test

After considering all the options and hearing doubts by numerous figures from across all spectrums President Truman offered an ultimatum to Japan at Potsdam, Surrender or be Destroyed. Japan scoffed and Truman had his military planners draw up targets for the first nuclear attacks. While some advocated for hitting unpopulated areas as a demonstration Truman ordered cities be selected. Kyoto (later replaced with Nagasaki due to Kyoto’s cultural heritage), Hiroshima, Yokohama and Kokura were all fingered as targets for the attacks, suggested by Oppenheimer himself. After not responding to the deadline to surrender Truman ordered the two bombs already made codenamed Fat Man and Little Boy to be dropped on Japan. On August 6th, 1945 at 8:15 local time Little Boy, a 15 kt implosion based plutonium device like the Trinity Test, was dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima from an altitude of 34000 ft (9400 m) . It fell for 44 seconds before exploding 1900 ft (580 m) over the city. Due to the winds Little Boy missed the target by 800 ft but still did massive damage flattening an area a mile around Ground Zero and setting fires for 4.7 miles. 70,000 – 126,000 civilians were killed by incineration, the resulting firestorm that ripped through the city or succumbed to injures in the following weeks, as did 20,000 Japanese soldiers stationed in the city. The mushroom cloud reached 60,000 ft into the air. Japan was horrified, the world was in shock at what this single bomb did. And this was by a bomb where 1.7% of the material was actually involved in the explosion. The US again demanded that Japan surrender but either caught up in their pride or still in shock over what happened, another deadline came and went. Another plane took off and another bomb was dropped.

The plane was named Bocscar and the bomb was Fat Man, a gun type device where, in the most simple of terms a small explosion was used to smash atoms together to create a bigger one. The bomb was originally intended for Kokura but cloud cover spared it the fiery death that awaited and Bocscar diverted to Nagasaki. At 11:01 AM local time on August 9th, 1945 the cloud cover over the city of Nagasaki broke and Little Boy was dropped from 35000 ft (10668 m) above the city. It fell for 47 seconds before exploding 1,650 ft (503 m) above the city. It was dropped however in a more northern part of the city, which protected much of the city from destruction. It did not however prevent the 21 kt explosion which killed somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 people. Temperatures inside the fireball were 7,050 F (3,900 C). When The US again demanded Japan’s surrender and now they did not hesitate. On August 12th The Emperor of Japan addressed his people for the first time to declare that Japan was to surrender unconditionally to the Allies. World War II was over but the world would never be the same again.

The USSR’s nuclear program was jumped up in priority after the War to gain leverage on the US and the West and help the Motherland fight the inevitable war with the West. Using stolen US schematics and German research the Soviet nuclear program under the codename RDS made great strides. While the US flaunted its nuclear monopoly and began to mass produce weapons, not expecting other nations to have it until at least 1955, the Soviets tested the first bomb, First Lighting or RDS-1. Using a plutonium implosion system like the Gadget and Fat Man the 22kt bomb was detonated August 29th, 1949 at 7 in the morning. When the US found out they protested but could do nothing. More Soviet tests followed and were in turn followed by US tests, starting the nuclear arms race. Soviet weapons would reach their peak power with Tsar Bomba (RDS-220) detonated in 1961. It had the power of 50 megatons, or 50 million tons. While it is outside the Fallout cultural time frame it still was a major leap in nuclear tech. The most powerful US bomb on the other hand was a paltry 15 megatons (6 more megatons than expected) which was detonated in 1954. After that tests were scaled back out of a literal fear of breaking the Earth open like a egg. The British tested their first bomb, code named Hurricane, on October 3rd, 1952 some 1200 mi (1900 km) off the coast of Australia to become the third nuclear power. Their implosion device came in at 25 kt and was a good first step in a self proclaimed attempt to attain world power status. France joined the club February 13th, 1960 when it detonated a 70 kt, implosion device in Algeria code named Gerboise Bleue. China would not get a nuclear weapon until October 16th, 1964 when they would explode a 22kt uranium fission implosion device in the Lop Nur Testing Field in Xinjiang. With that all the major players had nukes and while other smaller nations would get nukes in the coming years like Israel (most likely), South Africa (though they voluntarily destroyed them), India and Pakistan they aren’t the real concern here.

And, as always, Bobby’s notes are late…I’ll post them when I have them…lol

Bobby’s Survival Tip of the Week

When you wash your hair after a nuclear blast, don’t use conditioner. It is meant to stick to your hair and it will make Fallout stick to your hair with it. Shampoo is find though, as it will wash your hair clean.

This week’s tip comes from an NPR post titled “In The Event Of A Nuclear Blast, Don’t Condition Your Hair” by Angus Chen.