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Crude schematic of nuclear bomb doesn't scare scientists, but raises questions on the limits of Wikileaks

Official schematics for a “workable” atomic bomb appeared on Wikileaks last week, purportedly depicting the “Fat Man” weapon detonated over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

The schematic, a “crude” British description of the famous “Fat Man” device developed at Los Alamos laboratories, was part of the declassified-then-retracted Penney Report, released under the UK Public Records Act.  However, the UK retracted the document from public access in 2002.

Wikileaks claims the medium-quality scan of a 1947 drawing is still a public record. The site notes that despite having its access conditions changed to the custody of the Ministry of Supply, nobody from the government has tried to contact anyone already in possession of the file, known as UK Public Record Office File AVIA 65/1163 “Implosion.”

“It should be observed that Penney's description and discussion of development are no more revealing than descriptions of the United States' first implosion bomb that have been publicly available for many years, and in fact are less precise than other descriptions that are now available,” reads the analysis, which appears to have been originally posted at nucelarweaponsarchive.org. The schematic, part of the 1947 Penney Report compiled by elite British scientist William G. Penney, who served on the Manhattan Project, is described as “the oldest material in the file” and was written “before any actual bomb development work had been undertaken in the UK.”

An original text transcription of the Penney Report depicts a Britain deep in the development of its own nuclear program: a chart in Appendix M classifies bomb development into 11 categories, and it lists only two that Britain could “go straight ahead and make.” Other categories, including the bomb’s Plutonium core and detonation fuse, cite everything from inexperience to difficulty in acquiring materials as bars to progress – all of which seemed to be defeated by 1952, when the UK successfully carried out its “Operation Hurricane” at midnight, October 3.

“This diagram is not really a secret to foreign intelligence services,” reads the WikiLeaks analysis, “nobody is going to be surprised by this design, just by the fact that it’s appeared in public.”

“Open sources have speculated on these matters for a long time (see Nuclear Weapons Design article in Wikipedia), and this just confirms that they were right,” it adds.

It appears that Wikileaks is comfortable posting the plans: “The real problem about building one of these designs is the rarity … of plutonium and polonium, as well as the ability to fabricate sophisticated high explosives to exacting specifications,” it says. “We’re not talking about IEDs here: to build a nuclear weapon requires a state.”

As worrisome as the phrase "leaked nuclear bomb schematics" sounds, there is little harm in the one posted on Wikileaks.  At least, there's nothing in the schematic that isn't discussed in high school physics classes across the world.

But Wikileaks stirs up another question in its most recent leak controversy.  Last month Wikileaks unveiled a series of documents implicating the Julius Baer Group of fraud.  While the bank was universally blasted for attempting to get these documents removed from Wikileaks, the jury is still out on how the public will accept leaked nuclear secrets.



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Eh?
By Fox5 on 3/17/2008 2:23:45 PM , Rating: 3
What's so secret about this? If they were previously declassified, that makes them essentially public domain, does it not? Not sure how they were originally released, but I can't imagine that a google search couldn't have turned these up somewhere on the Internet anyhow. Big hooha over nothing.




RE: Eh?
By James Holden on 3/17/2008 2:26:36 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
If they were previously declassified, that makes them essentially public domain, does it not?

No. Especially since they are classified again.


RE: Eh?
By kontorotsui on 3/17/2008 2:29:08 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
No. Especially since they are classified again.


Ah, you declassify a document so everybody has a copy, THEN you classify it again. Very smart.

/sarcasm


RE: Eh?
By James Holden on 3/17/2008 2:41:51 PM , Rating: 2
Well, it was stupid for them to declassify it in the first place. I'm guessing they declassified it, then realized this doc was in there, and then it was reclassified.

Either way, it's still not public domain as the OP mentioned.


RE: Eh?
By smitty3268 on 3/17/2008 3:49:08 PM , Rating: 2
LOL. They just accidently released it, huh?

No, they released it because they figured it didn't show anything that wasn't practically common sense in the world of nuclear weapons, the kind of stuff any college physics professor could tell you. Then, after 9/11 they got a little paranoid and tried to reclassify a whole bunch of information, including this.


RE: Eh?
By rcc on 3/17/2008 4:33:00 PM , Rating: 1
If it was declassified (by mistake or not) in 2002 it kind of blows that theory out of the water.


RE: Eh?
By smitty3268 on 3/17/2008 5:16:38 PM , Rating: 3
It was RE classified in 2002. Not sure when it was originally released, but a lot of that stuff happened during the 90's.


RE: Eh?
By Nik00117 on 3/17/08, Rating: 0
RE: Eh?
By jlips6 on 3/20/2008 11:36:05 AM , Rating: 2
does anyone remember that boyscout who was rejected from the navy because his radiation levels were too high? He built a atomic bomb out of smoke detectors in his backyard. It would've worked, it just needed another fissile material. If a boyscout can get the materials for an atomic bomb, I don't think that it's all that hard to concieve you don't have to know how an atomic bomb works to get the parts.


RE: Eh?
By masher2 (blog) on 3/20/2008 2:53:22 PM , Rating: 2
> "He built a atomic bomb out of smoke detectors in his backyard. It would've worked, it just needed another fissile material..."

He didn't build an atomic bomb, though he actually did manage to concentrate enough radioactive isotopes in one spot to create a mild radiation hazard.


RE: Eh?
By noxipoo on 3/17/2008 5:43:28 PM , Rating: 4
they leaked it to create hype, ie HL2.


RE: Eh?
By Samus on 3/17/2008 6:01:12 PM , Rating: 2
hahahaha!


RE: Eh?
By eye smite on 3/17/2008 9:01:31 PM , Rating: 3
Ya know, everyone makes mistakes, or were you expecting perfection?


RE: Eh?
By FITCamaro on 3/17/08, Rating: -1
RE: Eh?
By asdf23fvas324rf on 3/17/2008 2:40:27 PM , Rating: 1
the fact that more detailed, useful schematics for newer nuclear weapons are available in other places, not to mention that all that is really required to make one is access to the materials and a degree in nuclear physics. and even then, these are schematics for the old fat man bomb, one which has to be carried by a cargo plane or something similar and then dropped over the target, its unlikely that anything like that would happen for several reasons (one being the fact that it would be easier to just make an icbm or something instead).


RE: Eh?
By Mitch101 on 3/17/2008 2:47:12 PM , Rating: 5
"Sorry but user ID asdf23fvas324rf is already taken"

Fine but you aren't getting the domain

Domain ASDF23FVAS324RF.COM is available!


RE: Eh?
By Darkefire on 3/17/2008 4:45:51 PM , Rating: 2
I remember being able to find fairly detailed schematics available on the 'net back when I was in eighth grade, doing a presentation on the A-bomb. Uranium-based bombs are quite simple to build if you have the right components; the only hard part involved is figuring out the critical mass of uranium needed, and someone with a BS in physics could figure that out. Not to mention that a group with the resources to acquire/enrich uranium would probably just spend the extra 20 grand or so to pick up one of the ex-Soviet nuclear scientists doing freelance work on the black market. An atomic bomb requires considerable care in acquiring components and handling nuclear material, which makes its use limited to mostly governments.

No, what I'm worried about is a terrorist group getting their hands on some uranium/plutonium and using it to build a dirty bomb. Sure, it lacks that earth-scouring pizzazz, but it's both far simpler to build and adds that extra terror flavor of slow radiation death. Something like that is not only imaginable, thanks to Russia's outstanding work in keeping track of all their nuclear material, but could be a serious threat as soon as some radical group or another works up the balls for it.


RE: Eh?
By eye smite on 3/17/2008 9:09:27 PM , Rating: 4
Potassium idodide blocks radiation poisoning. Pick some up at walmart TODAY!!!! lol


RE: Eh?
By Ringold on 3/18/2008 4:47:55 PM , Rating: 2
That only helps reduce the odds of getting thyroid cancer in the long run, and thats it. No replacement for living in a lead house. :)


RE: Eh?
By PrinceGaz on 3/17/2008 4:50:39 PM , Rating: 1
Building a nuclear bomb isn't difficult if you can lay your hands on sufficient quantities of suitable isotopes - anyone with a degree in Physics has all the knowledge needed, team them up with an engineer to handle the mechanical aspects and bingo! Or BANG!!!


RE: Eh?
By pxavierperez on 3/17/08, Rating: 0
RE: Eh?
By winterspan on 3/17/2008 7:27:45 PM , Rating: 3
Uh.. are YOU STUPID? As was mentioned many times, the rough schematics shown are from ancient WWII weapons and DO NOT show ANYTHING that is not already well known in physics.
AGAIN, this contributes effectively ZERO new knowledge of constructing a weapon that hasn't already been revealed. I'm sure a potential terrorist group that is actually capable of obtaining the necessary materials to create a nuclear weapon would be able to easily obtain dramatically more detailed and revealing information that is in a whole different league than old drawings.

But I guess simple facts aren't as fun as knee-jerk reactions of "OMG THEY GAVE THEM TERRORIZZS NUCUUULAR BOMB PLANS".

get over it....


RE: Eh?
By MAIA on 3/18/2008 11:09:12 AM , Rating: 2
Damn paranoic people ...

As it seems, they don't need the bomb, just the aeroplane ...


RE: Eh?
By tunatofu on 3/25/2008 12:10:15 PM , Rating: 2
While most things declassify based on age, there are some things (like weapons details) that are NEVER declassified just because of the subject matter. Ricin is just as deadly today as it ever was so you wouldnt declassify how to mix that up in your kitchen no matter how old the instructions were. Someone was clearly asleep at the switch - or smoking crack - when this stuff got declassified.


Now I have a use....
By jbzx86 on 3/17/2008 2:36:19 PM , Rating: 3
So now I finally have a use for the refined beryllium, polonium, plutonium and uranium, along with gold plated nickel and boron...

Guys, this isn't anymore dangerous than having bomb schematics on the 'Net. If there is a will, there is a way. Anyone who wants to build a bomb will build a bomb.

Please don't argue that this is easier as all uranium and plutonium is accounted for in the U.S. so therefore you are limited to grabbing it from Russia. Also remember that not any unrefined stuff will do as it has to be incredibly pure.




RE: Now I have a use....
By prenox on 3/17/2008 3:04:55 PM , Rating: 2
I would have to agree that if anybody wanted to build a bomb there is already enough resources on the internet to help. You can buy Uranium ore on Amazon.


RE: Now I have a use....
By BladeVenom on 3/17/2008 3:22:18 PM , Rating: 4
You need enriched Uranium to build a nuclear bomb. Enriching it is much more difficult than building a simple bomb.


RE: Now I have a use....
By masher2 (blog) on 3/17/2008 4:17:38 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention that the above schematics are for a plutonium-based design, and therefore useless for uranium-based weapons. Pu-based devices are ridiculously easy to design...the hard part by far is getting the plutonium itself.

Building a device that uses weapons-grade uranium is substantially tricker, but even here the hard part is enriching the uranium, rather than constructing the bomb itself.


RE: Now I have a use....
By 91TTZ on 3/18/2008 2:21:32 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Not to mention that the above schematics are for a plutonium-based design, and therefore useless for uranium-based weapons. Pu-based devices are ridiculously easy to design...the hard part by far is getting the plutonium itself.


You have that part mixed up. Plutonium bombs are much harder to design than Uranium type bombs. You can make simple gun-type bombs from uranium, while plutonium needs to be a much more complicated implosion type device.

The benefit to using a plutonium type device is that as you pointed out, the hard part is getting the material, and plutonium devices use much less material than gun-type uranium bombs.

In fact, the US military never bothered to test the gun-type device because they already knew it would work. They knew the future was in implosion type devices so that's all the bothered to test. The first detonation, Trinity, was a much more advanced weapon that the gun-type Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima.


RE: Now I have a use....
By masher2 (blog) on 3/18/2008 12:51:11 PM , Rating: 3
Wrong on a few counts. First of all, both plutonium and uranium can both be used with either an implosion or an artillery-type method. The primary reason we never built a gun-type Pu device was because our early Pu stocks were contaminated with Pu-240 which dramatically increases the chances of predetonation (a "fizzle"). Implosion is much more efficient, and negates this concern.

Secondly, the major problem in designing nuclear devices is your neutron budget. Pu is a lot easier to design around for that reason. Yes, a gun-type device is slightly less complex to build. But it assembles criticality much slower, is much more prone to fizzles, and even when it works, and wastes up to 25X as much of your fissile material.

In fact, if you only have enough material for one weapon, you **have** to use implosion, as a gun design requires about 2 critical masses. The minor complexity increase from an implosion design is far, far outweighed by the savings in other areas.

If you notice, almost every nation other than the US went straight to an implosion-type weapon, whether designing with U or Pu. Pakistan, North Korea, even Iraq's early designs were all implosion-based. It was the "easiest" route for them to take...and with a stock of Pu, it becomes a whole lot easier still.


RE: Now I have a use....
By 91TTZ on 3/18/2008 1:24:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Wrong on a few counts. First of all, both plutonium and uranium can both be used with either an implosion or an artillery-type method. The primary reason we never built a gun-type Pu device was because our early Pu stocks were contaminated with Pu-240 which dramatically increases the chances of predetonation (a "fizzle").


You are wrong here. You cannot make a gun-type nuclear device using plutonium. From what I've read, all reactor-made Pu is contaminated and there is no feasible way to make it happen.


RE: Now I have a use....
By masher2 (blog) on 3/18/2008 1:43:55 PM , Rating: 2
> "From what I've read, all reactor-made Pu is contaminated "

Of course, but how do you think one goes from reactor -grade to weapons -grade Pu? It's the same process (in general) one uses to enrich uranium -- you separate out the isotopes you want from the ones you don't. Refine weapons-grade Pu pure enough, and you can use it in a gun-based design.

In practice, there's an even easier way to get weapons-grade Pu. Design your reactor with that purpose, and iradiate for a very short time to prevent Pu-240 poisoning. But if you don't have access to such, you can still "weaponize" reactor-grade Pu.

Of course, with a good enough design, one can use reactor-grade Pu directly...but every nation which has developed Pu-based devices started with weapons-grade plutonium. Because -- as I said in my first post -- high-grade Pu is a dream for weapons designers.


RE: Now I have a use....
By Aikouka on 3/18/2008 11:35:15 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Pu-based devices are ridiculously easy to design...the hard part by far is getting the plutonium itself.


Ahh, where's the Libyans when you need 'em?


RE: Now I have a use....
By BMFPitt on 3/17/2008 9:39:01 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You can buy Uranium ore on Amazon.
I'm sure in the future you can just log onto Amazon.com and buy plutonium.


RE: Now I have a use....
By Jedi2155 on 3/18/2008 1:49:57 AM , Rating: 4
Until Mr. Fusion arrives and we all can hit 88 mph with ease!


RE: Now I have a use....
By tunatofu on 3/25/2008 12:15:23 PM , Rating: 2
this isn't anymore dangerous than having bomb schematics on the 'Net. Uh, that is actually pretty fracking dangerous!! I dont WANT bomb (or money laundering, or meth production, or hitman hiring, or car hotwiring, or credit card fraud, or check counterfeiting, etc) instructions on the net or anywhere else. It IS evil enough when good men do nothing but it is even WORSE when idiots give criminals or terrorists instructions on how to commit crimes or terror.


So... ?
By kontorotsui on 3/17/2008 2:27:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
As worrisome as the phrase "leaked nuclear bomb schematics" sounds, there is little harm in the one posted on WikiLeaks. At least, there's nothing in the schematic that isn't discussed in high school physics classes across the world.


So, if these schematics are as useful as a physics high school book, why bother writing a DT article on them?




RE: So... ?
By James Holden on 3/17/2008 2:40:38 PM , Rating: 5
Your question was answered in the next sentence. This is the most ADD forum on the Internet ...


RE: So... ?
By elFarto on 3/17/2008 4:00:51 PM , Rating: 2
Because it has the word Nuclear in it.


RE: So... ?
By boogle on 3/17/2008 6:12:36 PM , Rating: 2
No honey, it's pronounced nuculur :p


Why the Fat Man?
By Sergei91 on 3/18/2008 10:37:15 PM , Rating: 2
Might as well release the schematics for the Tsar Bomb then.




RE: Why the Fat Man?
By Kyanzes on 3/20/2008 6:44:25 PM , Rating: 2
It's the delivery system that's interesting actually. As long as you don't have any means to take it to the target fast you can't really use it. Not to mention that the hundreds of detectors now in orbit would debunk you in two seconds if you built one. Who the heck would want to build a giant A or H bomb that takes a train to get to its target? :D


Quite dangerous...
By jr9k on 3/17/2008 7:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
Specially considering that plutonium is available at every corner drugstore




macguyvered bom 2.0
By jeddragoon on 3/18/2008 1:31:28 AM , Rating: 2
the only danger that i can think of from this that someone can truly understand the plan and built an upgrade one with current tech ....er easy to find spare part




By UKnowWhat on 3/18/2008 2:46:12 PM , Rating: 2
documents from their country's government like China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam then the world would be in a much better shape.




Old News
By Maria on 3/21/2008 11:17:46 PM , Rating: 2
Ten years, or more, ago some high school kid designed a workable nuke. The feds were all over him but if he can do it so can...anyone?




Good for them!
By TheSpaniard on 3/17/08, Rating: 0
"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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