A comment by Ted Taylor submitted to a debate on the internet
listserver of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW), June
10, 1998: |
Theodore B. Taylor
It is true that the first generation of implosion type fission bombs, such as the one that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945, could "fizzle" and produce much lower than the design yields if the plutonium they contained were of "reactor grade." This could be the result of premature initiation of a fission chain reaction by spontaneous fission neutrons emitted by Pu-240 or other isotopes that are more abundant in reactor grade than weapon grade plutonium. But ways to avoid this problem, by use of plutonium in different designs that could be reliably used for fission and thermonuclear weapons were developed and demonstrated before the end of the 1950s. The performance of these weapons is not significantly degraded by using reactor grade plutonium instead of weapon grade plutonium. The detailed nature of such developments remains secret.
What are often called "crude bombs," such as might be made by terrorists or minimally capable nuclear weaponeers in some countries, could have "fizzle yields" from essentially none up to of the order of 1 kiloton, depending on the capabilities of the designers and builders. But even these weapons could often have yields greater than 10 kilotons, depending on their design, content of plutonium, and its isotopic composition.