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The Stuff of Bombs
Preventing additional states or terrorist groups from gaining the ability to use plutonium in this way is the central challenge of nuclear nonproliferation. Disposing of plutonium is very important in this regard; it also helps to make arms reductions on the part of existing nuclear powers largely irreversible.
In his short new book Plutonium, Jeremy Bernstein, a physicist and veteran science journalist, tells the story of the discovery of the element and its properties. He also sketches in the larger background of the development of atomic and nuclear physics during the first half of the 20th century and includes capsule biographies of the atomic and nuclear physicists who made the big discoveries—Henri Becquerel, Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Lise Meitner, Leo Szilard, Glenn Seaborg and others. Their names are already familiar to physicists interested in nuclear matters, but Bernstein's anecdotes reveal their human sides. He also brings to life such lesser-known figures as William Zachariasen, who determined the crystal phases of plutonium and its various compounds.