UNMAKING THE BOMB: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation

By Laurence, Harold A. | Military Review, March-April 2016 | Go to article overview

UNMAKING THE BOMB: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation


Laurence, Harold A., Military Review


UNMAKING THE BOMB: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation

Harold A. Feiveson, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, and Frank N. von Hippel, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2014, 296 pages

Ad bellum pace parati: Prepared in peace for war. Si vi pacem para pacem: If you want peace, prepare for peace.

Those two Latin phrases form an interesting contrast. The first phrase is the motto of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the school located just east of the Military Review offices. The second phrase graces the inside front cover of Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation. Each upholds a deep belief about our world, and a belief about what we must prepare for. Which of the two beliefs you hold may determine your reaction to this book. The authors discuss nuclear war, and how we can eliminate the possibility of nuclear war by eliminating the primary materials used to make a nuclear bomb: the fissile materials.

The book is an accessible and interesting look into the mind of disarmament proponents. It is written with minimal technical language and no math. If you can remember your high school physics, you will be comfortable with everything in this book. It is interesting because it documents the world of fissile material production, storage, and security. There are 470 endnotes that superbly lay out the sources of information for each technical assertion made by the authors. They definitely know their subject in great depth.

The book envisions a post-fissile world where all fissile materials are eradicated--or at least made inaccessible without enormous effort. The authors begin by extensively documenting their estimate of the current amount of fissile materials held throughout the world. They sum it all up to about 1,900 tons of fissile material in 2013: 1,400 tons of highly enriched uranium and 500 tons of separated plutonium. Since they estimate it only takes approximately four kilograms of plutonium or twelve kilograms of uranium to make a nuclear weapon, there is enough fissile material on earth now for more than one hundred thousand weapons. It is hard to not to agree that this is far more than is needed. Some current studies predict a nuclear winter after as few as one hundred nuclear detonations. …

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