Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb

Via BBC (h/t Tim of -

How do you dismantle a nuclear bomb? And how do you verify another country is genuinely disarming without compromising sensitive national security material?

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera was given exclusive access to a unique exercise run by the UK and Norway to find out.

The nuclear weapon is carefully lifted out of a large container and moved onto the floor.

Two engineers use an electric screwdriver to open up a side compartment and remove the "physics package" containing the sensitive parts of the bomb.

A scientist with a radiation detector beckons me forward as he points his machine towards the box.

It begins to emit an accelerating beeping noise. "The measurement is approximately a hundred times normal background radiation," he tells me.

"But it is not dangerous, I promise," he adds with a smile.

he lack of danger is because the bomb is not real. To inject an element of realism into this experiment, a weak radioactive material - Cobalt 60 - is used.

The dismantlement experiment is a joint exercise between the UK and Norway - the first of its kind - and was held a few miles from Oslo.

The five-day exercise has been keenly anticipated internationally as a way of building trust between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states.

It is designed to see if one country can verify the disarmament of another country's nuclear weapon, but without any sensitive information about national security and weapon design being compromised.

In a role reversal, the Norwegians play a nuclear weapons state (called Torland) and the UK team play inspectors from Luvania, a non-nuclear weapons state.


"The aim is to develop methodologies we could use in inspections of a real nuclear facility but in an environment in which can do trial and error," explains Andreas Persbo of Vertic, which helped organise the event.

It is not an exercise in which the nuclear state is trying to clandestinely divert nuclear material or the inspecting side search for a covert facility.


In practice no nuclear weapons state has ever allowed a non-nuclear weapons state to verify disarmament. But if there was to be multilateral disarmament in the future, it may well be important to provide such states with confidence over its actions.

Officials on both sides hope that this and any future events will lead to better understanding between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states and more collaborations, allowing trust and confidence to be increased.

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