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Nuclear Waste Weapon

How to ruin the enemy without death or destruction.
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In the early 1940s, before the first nuclear bombs were exploded, science fiction writers were aware of various possibilities relating to the discovery of nuclear fission. One writer managed to independently think of and describe an explosive weapon with enough accuracy that the FBI investigated the situation, looking for a leak in the security of the Manhattan Project. Other writers, such as Robert Heinlein, had other ideas. Heinlien's proposed nuclear weapon was: Drop clouds of radioactive dust on the enemy. He didn't say much about how to manufacture sufficient quantites of that dust, however; it was science fiction, after all.

Well, nowadays we have all this nuclear reactor waste in storage, needing a place to be put. Suppose we process it into small ceramic pellets, perhaps BB-sized. Then we tell whichever enemy has deserved our wrath: "You have one week to evacuate the city of (Kabul, for example). We will then make the city uninhabitable. No significant destruction will occur; the city will simply become uninhabitable for several centuries. All residents of the city, who do not heed this warning, will die."

Then we bomb the city with loads of radioactive pellets. Simple, reasonably safe, and very discomforting to the enemy. Perhaps MORE diconcerting than if the city had been wiped out, because all those former residents will not be pleased with their government's policies, and will be alive to complain about them! AND they will need new sources of food, clothing, shelter, etc., thereby crimping the enemy's war machine rather significantly.

Later on, if peace breaks out, robots with Geiger counters can be sent in to locate and pick up the pellets, to be saved for the next war.

Vernon, Sep 17 2001

All the News thats Fit to Print http://www.afghan-i.../March2001_News.htm
Gimme a T Gimme an A Gimme an L Gimme an Eye [thumbwax, Sep 17 2001, last modified Oct 21 2004]

The Rise Of Modern Warfare (H.W Koch) http://www.amazon.c...-1815/dp/0137812604
We blame the French. [8th of 7, Aug 09 2009]


       If we can send out "robots with Geiger counters," so can they.
jutta, Sep 17 2001

       If you drop *dust* then you can't just tidy it up. "No significant destruction" will occur... but the city will be uninhabitable for centuries and/or all the locals will die. It would be more civilised just to spray nerve gas: at least that won't linger for a long time. If you drop sizeable *pellets* the locals will just gather them up (peasants with eyes and gloves can do pretty much anything robots with geiger counters can), grind them into dust and drop them on your city.
Skinny Rob, Sep 17 2001

       jutta, it depends on the country. Very few have the technology to make radiation-hardened robots suitable for the job. And even if every country had a good supply of such robots, cleaning up a city that has been littered with radioactive pellets will probably take months. The goal of disrupting the enemy's organization, in and around that city, will still have been accomplished.   

       Reread Sun Tzu's "Art of War" for more about disrupting rather than destroying the enemy.
Vernon, Sep 17 2001

       PeterSealy, depleted uranium is only slightly radioactive. Long-term exposure does make it a health hazard, but one does not much risk one's life while cleaning up depleted-uranium-impact sites. Radwaste pellets, however, are another matter altogether.   

       And yes, you are right about Sun Tzu. Where do you get that "thousand generations", though? Don't you know that radwaste is only dangerous for as long as it takes to reach natural-background-radiation level? That's only 600 years or so! (At most 40 generations.)   

       Note that the Romans attempted multigeneration poisoning, when they salted the farmland around Carthage...and I think history shows that it was an effective technique. (Carthage was never afterward a threat to Rome.)   

       Skinny Rob, yes, I suppose there will be political leaders who don't tell the peasants what it is that they would be dealing with. So, if the city is sufficiently saturated with pellets, quite a few peasants will die in a week or so, after beginning the attempt to clean up the city. Then that lack of information will backfire against the political leaders. Volunteers, however, are another matter. Part of the purpose of suggesting pellets that CAN be cleaned up, as opposed to dust, is to be able to offer clean-up assistance after the political leaders capitulate. Then nobody need volunteer to die; they merely need to volunteer to encourage their leaders to capitulate. (And if that leads to death anyway, those leaders won't be leading very long!)   

       With respect to using dust against us, note that you can't always guarantee that the dust will go where you want it! Also, most nations do pay some attention to what other nations think of their actions. Radioactive dust is not an internationally acceptable weapon, for the same reason that poison gas, bioweapons, and fallout from nuclear explosions are not internationally acceptable. Anyone using radioactive dust can expect it to be used in return, with all the accompanying horrors. Pellets, by comparison, WILL go where you want them to go (so fair and sufficient warning can be given to the target zone), and CAN be cleaned up, eventually, without scraping off all the topsoil.   

       So, with the right publicity slant, we can promise EITHER to render a city uninhabitable for a long time, and keep that promise, OR we can promise to cause a whole lot of short-term problems for the enemy -- to win the war in Sun Tzu fashion -- and keep that promise, too.
Vernon, Sep 17 2001

       [Vernon]: //So, with the right publicity slant//, or the Right publicity slant...
sdm, Sep 18 2001

       <gulp> Let's try and keep nuclear weapons out of the next one. Sure, *you* may survive once nations start pulling out the nuclear card, but do you think handing down a whole lot of religious tension and an uninhabitable earth to your children is fair or responsible?
sdm, Sep 18 2001

       UnaBugga, neutron bombs are still highly explosive devices (kiloton range, for example). To destroy life but not property, they must be detonated at a high enough altitude to avoid blast damage, but at a low enough altitude that the atmosphere doesn't block most of the radiation before it reaches the inhabitants of the target zone. A high-enough explosion also offers minimal fallout production (the only radwaste comes from the initial components of the bomb, and some portion of the surrounding air.)   

       But a neutron bomb does not offer the particular thing being described here, which is the long-term separation of inhabitants from the habitation, with minimal deaths and property loss. The goal of maximizing the discomfort of the enemy population is what we want here. Because after they overthrow the regime that led them to a losing war, we want them on our side! And we can partially encourage that by being able to say to them, "See, we could have turned you and your city into a crater, but we aren't really as bad as your lying former leadership claimed. We will even help you recover the use of your city, now that we are no longer enemies...."   

       Using neutron bombs merely gives any future enemy reason to think that we might want to someday steal their property, too. You don't really want to promote that kind of international tension, do you?
Vernon, Sep 18 2001

       Hell, Taliban is so intent on 'purifying'... - oh why bother - check out the link though - this is the March Issue of Afghan Info. Great read - no matter what month - Though other than reducing Buddhas to pebbles - it has nothing to do with radioactive pellets - I'll do the Uranium Stomp for ya if ya want.
thumbwax, Sep 18 2001

       UnaBubba, about that notion that *any* foreigner is automatically a defiler of Moslem soil -- I hadn't heard that before! And I doubt that such an extreme statement is really true, except for the soil that mosques occupy. Every religion has its extremists, like the Taliban, and from the like I could readily expect extreme statements. And disbelieve them.
Vernon, Feb 27 2002

       Why not simply see my kinetic energy weapon, in weapons:bomb? Shrink those down to the size of say, a microwave or a toaster or something, and drop them from 100K feet.   

       meanwhile broadcast over all the radio stations a message saying some kind of BS about the gods being upset (we're hoping the populace is religious).   

       So now what happens is: the villagers see four or five little lines way up in space (the Blackbirds) and then, a minute later, streaks of fire raining down looking for all the world like meteors (which, in essence, they are).   

       Everywhere these hit, the dig maybe a ten foot deep hole (so not too much damage) but they sill have the 'fear' factor (not to be confused with crappy TV programs).
Macwarrior, Feb 03 2003

       Somehow I think you'll have trouble finding a people who will be grateful that a conquering power didn't mash them as bad as possible rather than hateful that they got mashed at all. After all, America could have nuked Iraq (twice) or Russia could have nuked Kosovo but both chose to attack with conventional methods. Neither is very popular with the conquered despite the oh so generous abstention from fissile war. On a smaller scale, if a bloke twatted you in the head outside of a pub would you be grateful to him for not stabbing you?
stilgar, Aug 21 2004

       stilgar, it is NOT the main purpose of this weapon to hurt the People of some country. Inconvenience them greatly, sure. To the extent that they overthrow their own government. Because the REAL enemy that this weapon is aimed at is the government of that country. Wars are between leaders, after all, and seldom do their peoples want them.
Vernon, Aug 21 2004

       I spotted that it isn't designed to physically hurt the people but rather turn them into a roving force of discontented. The part I took exception to was
//after they overthrow the regime that led them to a losing war, we want them on our side!//. It seems extremely naive to assume that people would be grateful that you only ruined rather than outright took their lives. If you were to say to the horde of homeless, battered and bedraggled refugees
//See, we could have turned you and your city into a crater, but we aren't really (that) bad// they would either take it as the worst joke ever or an incitement to riot. Few people enjoy having their cities and belongings taken from them.

       This would probably be a highly effective way of destablising a country without totally destroying it but don't expect the conquered to hate you any less.
stilgar, Aug 23 2004

       [stilgar], you seem to either have missed the part about robotic cleanup of the pellets afterward, or didn't connect that with the fact that such cleanup lets the citizens have their homes back as undamaged as THEY left them. During the initial part of the campaign, telling them that they are going to have to evacuate, it would be easy enough to warn them of the stupidity of burning their bridges by looting themselves. If they rioted and ruined their own neighborhoods, anyway (instead of taking their wrath out against their government), then they have none to blame but themselves.
Vernon, Aug 23 2004

       Maybe so but I wouldn't rush to make moral judgements about the recently devastated, even if it is only temporary. Blaming the entire population of the region in question for the actions of looters is rather cruel. Looters would probably make up a relatively small group of those willing to brave the radioactivity and those who disbelieve the warning.
This idea is similar in many ways to Bush's rhetoric prior to the latest Iraq war; "we want them on our side" corresponds with the prediction that Iraqis would throw flowers and sweets at the conquerors. Bush also asked politely that people refrain from looting as it would hamper the effort to repair Saddam's damage. Most people were probably too busy defending their families to loot but some did, with heavily destructive results.

       Another point is that an awful lot of people believe that radioactivity is 'contageous'. It may well be difficult to convince the people that the radioactivity leaves with the pellets.   

       By the way, I haven't boned this. My issue is with the extra expectation of collaboration rather than the effectiveness of the weapon itself.
stilgar, Aug 24 2004

       [stilgar], thanks. I suppose the best way for one enemy to find out that this weapon works as described, is to see what happens when it was used on a prior enemy. (If the pellets were radioactive ENOUGH, and the looters won't leave the city alive. Good riddance.) Unfortunately, that also means that the first enemy to experience this weapon will have to learn the hard way, and so there will be no preventing some damage by (short-lived) looters.
Vernon, Aug 24 2004

       If you could balance it right stripping a society of a generation of looters could be extremely useful in controlling the conquered citizens. This could be a very useful weapon, rather like revocable napalm. I doubt any weapon will cause the conquered to cheer as patriotism is as deep as fear of outsiders but the goal of disruption over destruction is a good one.
stilgar, Aug 24 2004

       I might mention that I was thinking "conquest" ONLY in similar terms to what happened to Germany and Japan after WW2. We Americans can say that they are mostly on our side, but we certainly don't control them. I'd like to think that a similar goal is planned for Iraq, but I have doubts about the generosity of the current American leadership. And, of course, a whole lot of control-freak fanatics in Iraq is a problem that neither of those prior nations had. We shall see....
Vernon, Aug 24 2004

       This would work best with a highly radioactive material with a relatively short half life.   

       This would minimize problems with dust blowing from their country to friendly countries or big bodies of water being contaminated
vmaldia, Aug 09 2009

       sounds like it would work better as a nuclear waste disposal system than an actual weapon... just keep kids inside and have adults sweep up the pellets.   

       Regarding dusting though... gotta admit I'm not a big fan of "salting the earth". "the earth" isn't the enemy and if you win you win what exactly?.
FlyingToaster, Aug 09 2009

       Haven't seen this one before, but this is baked by depleted uranium munitions and dirty bombs.
nineteenthly, Aug 09 2009

       DU is used in ammunition, not for its radioactive properties but for its density. No large countries make "dirty bombs" on purpose.
FlyingToaster, Aug 09 2009

       // if you win you win what exactly ? //   

       You don't win anything. You've kind of missed the point. War is a "negative-sum game". The "victor" (if any) is the side that loses less badly.
8th of 7, Aug 09 2009

       //negative sum game//
Au contraire, "wars of conquest" where you take over the loser's land and peons which is pretty pointless if you've nuked them.
FlyingToaster, Aug 09 2009

       "Wars of Conquest" disappeared after the Napoleonic era.   

8th of 7, Aug 09 2009

       wars where the victor takes the loser's property still exist in far corners of the world.
FlyingToaster, Aug 09 2009

       Yes, but it's pissy little stuff - just playing, really.   

       In tribal societies, armed with unsophisticated hand weapons, there are few actual injuries and even fewer deaths. It is the application of technology and mechanization that has enabled "wars of annihilation".   

       Hence Bohr's extrapolation of the complementarity of nuclear weapons. Sun Tzu propounds the thesis that the object of war is "to impose one's will upon the enemy". Which is sort of difficult if the enemy and his possessions have been vapourised and his territory rendered uninhabitable and useless.
8th of 7, Aug 09 2009

       All weapons we develop have a tendency to eventually be duplicated by the rest of the market. I'm never in favor of rendering any part of the earth uninhabitable by flora or fauna. That tends to backfire and have unanticipated consequences. Big fish here.
RayfordSteele, Aug 10 2009


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