posted on Oct, 13 2012 @ 09:06 AM
Originally posted by WarJohn
What are nuclear warheads made out of that keep the radiation from seeping out when they are not used?
How long foes a nuclear warhead last before it starts leaking out radiation?
All the nuclear warheads have to be used if they are going to leak anyway. At least that's what I think. But what do I know?
A lot of the detailed composition of a nuclear warhead is classified, obviously...but the vast majority of the warhead *by weight* is the physics
package (Plutonium and assorted other goodies), and the re-entry shield (believe it or not, depleted uranium is used on at least some of the devices
currently in service. That lets the shield do double duty as aerodynamic protection and as a yield enhancer). Most of the radiation from those
materials is alpha radiation, which can be stopped by cardboard, thin metal, or even certain kinds of paint. They're only dangerous if you ingest the
metal (or dust from it). As long as you don't hit the thing with a hammer, and it isn't damaged by some sort of accident, the radiation hazard is
I wouldn't be too worried about an accident, either, frankly. In 1980, there was an accident inside a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas. During
maintenance, one of the missile's fuel tanks was damaged, and eventually exploded. The warhead was ejected from the silo by the blast, and came down
several hundred feet away...still physically intact, and with no measurable radiation leakage. That may seem counter-intuitive, but if you think about
the shock and stress associated with a normal launch and ballistic reentry, those devices have to be fairly tough.
As for using the devices 'before the radiation leaks out', that's not an issue. The radioactive elements in the devices do decay, and after about
5-20 years (depending on how 'tight' the design is), decay products will contaminate the warhead to the point where the yield and the reliability
will begin to drop. The Department of Energy actually has a program that essentially recycles old warhead packages. If the metal can't be purified
and re-machined into a new warhead, it's disposed of just like any other high-level radioactive waste. There isn't a 'use it or lose it' time on
the devices, just a 'use it or service it' timer.