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During the early 1950's American weapon laboratories were
exceptionally productive. They not only achieved dramatic improvements in
the performance of fission bombs, which represent the first generation of
nuclear weapons, but also succeeded in establishing a second generation of nuclear weapons by harnessing the explosive power of fusion in the form of the hydrogen bomb and its various derivatives. By the end of the 1950's the warheads in the U.S. nuclear armament bore little resemblance to the bombs that had ushered in the nuclear age over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Today a third generation of nuclear weapons is technologically
feasible. By altering the shape of the nuclear explosive and manipulating
other design features, weapons could be built that generate and direct
beams of radiation or streams of metallic pellets or droplets at such
targets as missile-launch facilities on the ground, missiles in the air and
satellites in space. These weapons would be as removed from current nuclear weapons in terms of military effectiveness as a rifle is technologically distant from gunpowder.
The surge of technical creativity that produced the first two
generations of nuclear weapons can be explained largely by the fact that
the national laboratories had massive funding, a mandate to pursue new
weapon possibilities and unqualified Government support. Yet speaking as
one who worked at that time on the design of nuclear weapons, perhaps the most stimulating factor of all was simply the intense exhilaration that
every scientist or engineer experiences when he or she has the freedom to
explore completely new technical concepts and then to bring them into
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