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    Where Nightmares Come From: Sputnik Takes a Look Inside a Nuclear Warhead

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    Intercontinental ballistic missiles may look huge, but the rockets and the sophisticated electronics systems they carry are designed to deliver relatively compact nuclear warheads: the "nuke" itself is a 1.5-meter cone with a fusion charge resembling an ordinary bucket.

    Strange as it may seem, the most powerful weapon in the world is very compact given that a thermonuclear charge with a capacity of 300 kilotons is smaller in stature than most people, the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.

    Apart from a fusion charge, the nuclear warhead contains a control unit which looks like water can and which performs several tasks.

    Its main goal is to detonate the charge at a specific, strictly-determined. Nuclear weapons are not intended for use on the ground and typically explode at a height of 1,200 meters, which is believed to be optimal for creating a shock wave.

    Shell, which is the replica of the biggest detonated Soviet nuclear bomb AN-602 (Tsar-Bomb), is on display in Moscow, Russia, August 31, 2015
    © REUTERS / Maxim Zmeyev
    Shell, which is the replica of the biggest detonated Soviet nuclear bomb AN-602 (Tsar-Bomb), is on display in Moscow, Russia, August 31, 2015

    A control unit monitors steering pneumatic or gunpowder engines and keeps an eye on the stabilization of the thermostatic charge's   weapons-grade plutonium, which may heat up while in a quiet state.

    The B-61, the oldest nuclear bomb in the US arsenal
    Wikimedia Commons
    The B-61, the oldest nuclear bomb in the US arsenal

    In addition, the warhead's cone contains an electricity supply network and electromagnetic pulse protection.

    All this equipment is firmly installed on shock absorbers and is enclosed in a solid frame structure, topped with a thick layer of insulation.

    The first A-bomb, 1949. The museum of all-Union Research Institute for Experimental Physics (present-day Russian Federal Nuclear Center All-Russian Research Institute for Experimental Physics). Reproduction
    © Sputnik /
    The first A-bomb, 1949. The museum of all-Union Research Institute for Experimental Physics (present-day Russian Federal Nuclear Center "All-Russian Research Institute for Experimental Physics"). Reproduction

    The thermonuclear charge and a control unit continuously interact with each other, a "dialogue" that starts immediately after the warhead's installation on a missile and ends when the warhead is detonated.

    All this time, the control system prepares the fusion charge for detonation and at the right time gives the latest and most important order, according to the Rossiyaskaya Gazeta.

    A thermonuclear bomb is displayed in the museum of nuclear weapons in the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in the Nizhny Novgorod Region
    © RIA Novosti .
    A thermonuclear bomb is displayed in the museum of nuclear weapons in the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in the Nizhny Novgorod Region

    When put on combat alert, a missile's warhead is equipped with a pulse neutron activator, detonators, and other equipment. Keeping such a missile in a silo or on a mobile launch pad is hazardous which is why the warhead is prepared for detonation only during the missile's flight.

    Military personnel observe a nuclear weapons test in Nevada, the United States, in 1951
    © Flickr /
    Military personnel observe a nuclear weapons test in Nevada, the United States, in 1951

    This take place on a step-by-step basis, with the help of complicated algorithms based on two basic conditions: the reliability of the motion to the target and control over the process. Should any of these factors deviate from the calculated values, and pre-detonation process will be immediately terminated.

    A Trident II nuclear missile underwater launch
    © Photo : Wikipedia
    A Trident II nuclear missile underwater launch

    A nuclear explosion comes in the twinkling of an eye. Flying at a speed of a bullet, a warhead just passes only a few hundredths of a millimeter before the entire power of a thermonuclear charge is converted into light, fire, shock and radiation with terrifying force, the newspaper concludes.

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    Tags:
    insulation, fusion charge, nuclear warhead, shock wave, equipment, height, control, protection, weapons
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