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HOW TO BUILD YOUR
Making and owning an H-bomb is the kind of challenge real
Americans seek. Who wants to be a passive victim of nuclear war when, with a
little effort, you can be an active participant? Bomb shelters are for losers.
Who wants to huddle together underground eating canned Spam? Winners want to
push the button themselves. Making your own H-bomb is a big step in nuclear
assertiveness training -- it's called Taking Charge. We're sure you'll enjoy
the risks and the heady thrill of playing nuclear chicken.
When the Feds clamped down on The Progressive magazine for
attempting to publish an article on the manufacture of the hydrogen bomb, it
piqued our curiosity. Was it really true that atomic and hydrogen bomb
technology was so simple you could build an H-bomb in your own kitchen? Seven
Days decided to find out. Food editor Barbara Ehrenreich, investigative
reporter Peter Biskind, Photographer Jane Melnick and nuclear scientist Michio
Kaku were given three days to cook up a workable H-bomb. They did and we have decided
to share their culinary secrets with you.
Not that Seven Days supports nuclear terrorism. We don't. We would
prefer to die slowly from familiar poisons like low-level radiation,
microwaves, DDT, DBCP, aflatoxins, PBBs, PBCs, or food dyes, rather than
unexpectedly, say as hostage to a nationalist brandishing a homemade
bomb. In our view the real terrorists are the governments, American, Soviet,
French, Chinese, and British, that are hoarding H-bombs for their own use, and
worse still, those governments (U.S., French and German) that are eagerly
peddling advanced nuclear technology to countries like South Africa, Brazil,
and Argentina so that they can make their own bombs. When these bombs are used,
and they will be, it will be the world's big-time nuclear peddlers, along with
corporate suppliers like General Electric, Westinghouse, and Gulf Oil, that we
can thank for it. Gagging The Progressive will do no more for national security
than backyard bomb shelters because like it or not the news is out.
Part 1: Making
The heart of the successful H-bomb is the successful A-bomb. Once
you've got your A-bombs made the rest is frosting on the cake. All you have to
do is set them up so that when they detonate they'll start off a hydrogen-fusion
Step 1: Getting
Uranium is the basic ingredient of the A-bomb. When a uranium
atom's nucleus splits apart, it releases a tremendous amount of energy (for its
size), and it emits neutrons which go on to split other nearby uranium nuclei,
releasing more energy, in what is called a " chain reaction." (When
atoms split, matter is converted into energy according to Einstein's equation
E=MC2. What better way to mark his birthday than with your own atomic fireworks?)
There are two kinds (isotopes) of uranium: the rare U-235, used in
bombs, and the more common, heavier, but useless U-238. Natural uranium
contains less than 1 percent U-235 and in order to be usable in bombs it has to
be " enriched" to 90 percent U-235 and only 10 percent U-238.
Plutonium-239 can also be used in bombs as a substitute for U-235. Ten pounds
of U-235 (or slightly less plutonium) is all that is necessary for a bomb. Less
than ten pounds won't give you a critical mass. So purifying or enriching naturally
occurring uranium is likely to be your first big hurdle. It is infinitely easy
to steal ready-to-use enriched uranium or plutonium than to enrich some
yourself. And stealing uranium is not as hard as it sounds.
There are at least three sources of enriched uranium or
Enriched uranium is manufactured at a gaseous diffusion plant in
Portsmouth, Ohio. From there it is shipped in 10 liter bottles by airplane and
trucks to conversion plants that turn it into uranium oxide or uranium metal.
Each 10 liter bottle contains 7 kilograms of U-235, and there are 20 bottles to
a typical shipment. Conversion facilities exist at Hematite, Missouri Apollo,
and Erwin, Tennessee.
The Kerr-McGee plant at Crescent Oklahoma -- where Karen Silkwood
worked -- was a conversion plant that " lost" 40 lbs of plutonium.
Enriched uranium can be stolen from these plants or from fuel-fabricating
plants like those in New Haven, San Diego or Lynchburg, Virginia. (A former
Kerr-McGee supervisor, James V. Smith, when asked at the Silkwood trial if
there were any security precautions at the plant to prevent theft, testified
that " There were none of any kind, no guards, no fences, no
Plutonium can be obtained from places like United Nuclear in
Pawling, New York Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee General Electric
in Pleasanton, California Westinghouse in Cheswick, Pennsylvania Nuclear
Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in Leechburg, Pennsylvania and
plants in Hanfford, Washington and Morris, Illinois. According to Rolling Stone
magazine the Israelis were involved in the theft of plutonium from NUMEC.
Finally you can steal enriched uranium or plutonium while it's
en-route from conversion plants to fuel fabricating plants. It is usually
transported (by air or truck) in the form of uranium oxide, a brownish powder
resembling instant coffee, or as a metal, coming in small chunks called
broken buttons." Both forms are shipped in small cans stacked in
5-inch cylinders braced with welded struts in the center of ordinary 55 gallon
steel drums. The drums weigh about 100 pounds and are clearly marked
Fissible Material" or " Danger, Plutonium." A typical
shipment might go from the enrichment plant at Portsmouth, Ohio to the conversion
plant in Hematite Missouri then to Kansas City by truck where it would be flown
to Los Angeles and then trucked down to the General Atomic plant in San Diego.
The plans for the General Atomic plant are on file at the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's reading room at 1717 H Street NW Washington. A Xerox machine is
provided for the convenience of the public.
If you can't get hold of any enriched uranium you'll have to
settle for commercial grade (20 percent U-235). This can be stolen from
university reactors of a type called TRIGA Mark II, where security is even more
casual than at commercial plants.
If stealing uranium seems too tacky, you can buy it. Unenriched
uranium is available at any chemical supply house for $23 a pound. Commercial
grade (3 to 20 percent enriched) is available for $40 a pound from Gulf Atomic.
You'll have to enrich it further yourself. Quite frankly this can be something
of a pain in the ass. You'll need to start with a little more than 50 pounds of
commercial-grade uranium. (It's only 20 percent U-235 at best, and you need 10
pounds of U-235 so... ) But with a little kitchen-table chemistry you'll be
able to convert the solid uranium oxide you've purchased into a liquid form.
Once you've done that, you'll be able to separate the U-235 that you'll need
from the U-238.
First pour a few gallons of concentrated hydrofluoric acid into
your uranium oxide, converting it to uranium tetrafluoride. (Safety note:
Concentrated hydrofluoric acid is so corrosive that it will eat its way through
glass, so store it only in plastic. Used 1-gallon plastic milk containers will
do.) Now you have to convert your uranium tetrafluoride to uranium
hexafluoride, the gaseous form of uranium, which is convenient for separating
out the isotope U-235 from U-238.
To get the hexafluoride form, bubble fluorine gas into your
container of uranium tetrafluoride. Fluorine is available in pressurized tanks
from chemical-supply firms. Be careful how you use it though because fluorine
is several times more deadly than chlorine, the classic World War I poison gas.
Chemists recommend that you carry out this step under a stove hood (the kind
used to remove unpleasant cooking odors).
If you've done your chemistry right you should now have a generous
supply of uranium hexafluoride ready for enriching. In the old horse-and-buggy
days of A-bomb manufacture the enrichment was carried out by passing the
uranium hexafluoride through hundreds of miles of pipes, tubes, and membranes,
until the U-235 was eventually separated from the U-238. This gaseous-diffusion
process, as it was called is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.
Gaseous-diffusion plants cover hundreds of acres and cost in the neighborhood
of $2-billion each. So forget it. There are easier, and cheaper, ways to enrich
First transform the gas into a liquid by subjecting it to
pressure. You can use a bicycle pump for this. Then make a simple home
centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium
hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the rope
(and attached bucket) around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for
about 45 minutes. Slow down gradually, and very gently put the bucket on the
floor. The U-235, which is lighter, will have risen to the top, where it can be
skimmed off like cream. Repeat this step until you have the required 10 pounds
of uranium. (Safety note: Don't put all your enriched uranium hexafluoride in
one bucket. Use at least two or three buckets and keep them in separate corners
of the room. This will prevent the premature build-up of a critical mass.)
Now it's time to convert your enriched uranium back to metal form.
This is easily enough accomplished by spooning several ladlefuls of calcium
(available in tablet form from your drugstore) into each bucket of uranium. The
calcium will react with the uranium hexafluoride to produce calcium fluoride, a
colorless salt which can be easily be separated from your pure enriched uranium
metal. (Safety note: Even though it is a salt, keep it away from your kitchen's
A few precautions:
* While uranium is not dangerously radioactive in the amounts
you'll be handling, if you plan to make more than one bomb it might be wise to
wear gloves and a lead apron, the kind you can buy in dental supply stores.
* Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known. If inhaled,
a thousandth of a gram can cause massive fibrosis of the lungs, a painful way
to go. Even a millionth of a gram in the lungs will cause cancer. If eaten,
plutonium is metabolized like calcium. It goes straight to the bones where it
gives out alpha particles preventing bone marrow from manufacturing red blood
cells. The best way to avoid inhaling plutonium is to hold your breath while handling
it. If this is too difficult, wear a mask. To avoid ingesting plutonium orally
follow this simple rule: never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach.
* If you find yourself dozing off while you're working, or if you
begin to glow in the dark, it might be wise to take a blood count. Prick your
finger with a sterile pin, place a drop of blood on a microscope slide, cover
it with a cover slip, and examine under a microscope. (Best results are
obtained in the early morning.) When you get leukemia, immature cells are
released into the bloodstream, and usually the number of white cells increases
(though this increase might take almost 2 weeks). Red blood cells look kind of
like donuts (without the hole), and are slightly smaller than the white cells,
each of which has a nucleus. Immature red cells look similar to white cells
(i.e.. slightly larger and have a nucleus). If you have more than about 1 white
cell (including immature ones) to 400 red cells then start to worry. But,
depending upon your plans for the eventual use of the bomb, a short life
expectancy might not be a problem.
Assembling the A-Bomb
Now that you've acquired the enriched uranium, all that's left is
to assemble your A-bomb. Go find a couple of stainless steel salad bowls. You
also want to separate your 10 pounds of U-235 into two hunks. (Keep them
apart!) The idea is to push each half your uranium into the inside of a
Take one hunk of your uranium and beat it into the inside of the
first bowl. Uranium is malleable, like gold, so you should have no trouble
hammering it into the bowl to get a good fit. Take another five-pound hunk of
uranium and fit it into a second stainless steel bowl. These two bowls of U-235
are the " subcritical masses" which, when brought together forcefully,
will provide the critical mass that makes your A-bomb go. Keep them a
respectful distance apart while working because you don't want them to " go
on you... At least not yet.
Now hollow out the body of an old canister-type vacuum cleaner and
place your two hemispherical bowls inside, open ends facing each other, no less
than seven inches apart, using masking tape to set them up in position. The
reason for the steel bowls and the vacuum cleaner, in case you're wondering, is
that these help reflect the neutrons back into the uranium for a more efficient
explosion. " A loose neutron is a useless neutron" as the A-bomb
pioneers used to say.
As far as the A-bomb goes, you're almost done. The final problem
is to figure out how to get the two U-235 hemispheres to smash into each other
with sufficient force to set off a truly effective fission reaction. Almost any
type of explosive can be used to drive them together. Gunpowder, for example,
is easily made at home from potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon. Or, you can
get some blasting caps or TNT. (Buy them or steal them from a construction
site.) Best of all is C4 plastic explosive. You can mold it around your bowls,
and it's fairly safe to work with. (But, it might be wise to shape it around an
extra salad bowl in another room, and THEN fit it to your uranium-packed bowls.
This is particularly true in winter, when a stray static electrical charge
might induce ignition in the C4. A responsible bomb maker considers it impolite
to accidentally destroy more of the neighborhood than absolutely necessary.)
Once the explosives are in place all you need to do is hook up a
simple detonation device with a few batteries, a switch, and some wire.
Remember though that it is essential that the two charges -- one on each side
of the casing -- go off simultaneously.
Now put the whole thing in the casing of an old Hoover vacuum
cleaner and you're finished with this part of the process.
The rest is easy.
Step 3: Make More
A-Bombs Following the Directions Above
You'll need a total of at least four.
A Word to the
Wise About Wastes
After your A-bomb is completed you'll have a pile of moderately
fatal radioactive wastes like U-238. These are not dangerous, but you do have to get rid of them. You can
flush leftovers down the toilet. (Don't worry about polluting the ocean, there
is already so much radioactive waste there, a few more bucketfuls won't make
any waves whatsoever.) If you're the fastidious type -- the kind who never
leaves gum under their seat at the movies -- you can seal the nasty stuff in
coffee cans and bury it in the backyard, just like Uncle Sam does. If the
neighbor kids have a habit of trampling the lawn, tell them to play over by the
waste. You'll soon find that they're spending most of their time in bed.
Going First Class
If you're like us, you're feeling the economic pinch, and you'll
want to make your bomb as inexpensively as possible, consonant of course with
reasonable yield. The recipe we've given is for a budget-pleasing H-bomb, no
frills, no flourishes it's just a simple 5-megaton bomb, capable of wiping out
the New York metropolitan area, the San Francisco Bay area, or Boston. But
don't forget, your H-bomb will only be as good as the A-bombs in it.
If you want to spend a little more money you can punch-up your
A-bomb considerably. Instead of centrifuging your uranium by hand, you can buy
a commercial centrifuge. (Fisher Scientific sells one for about $1000.) You
also might want to be fussier about your design. The Hiroshima bomb, a
relatively crude one, only fissioned 1 percent of it's uranium and yielded only
13 kilotons. In order to fission more of the uranium, the force of your
explosive " trigger" needs to be evenly diffused around the sphere the
same pressure has to be exerted on every point of the sphere simultaneously.
(It was a technique for producing this sort of simultaneous detonation by
fashioning the explosives into lenses that the government accused Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg of trying to steal).
Part 2: Putting
Your H-Bomb Together
The heart of the H-bomb is the fusion process. Several A-bombs are
detonated in such a way as to create the extremely high temperature (100
million degrees C) necessary to fuse lithium deuteride (LiD) into helium. When
the lithium nucleus slams into the deuterium nucleus, two helium nuclei are
created, and if this happens to enough deuterium nuclei rapidly enough, the
result is an enormous amount of energy: the energy of the H-bomb. You don't
have to worry about stealing lithium deuteride, it can be purchased from any
chemical-supply house. It costs $1000 a pound. If your budget won't allow it
you can substitute lithium hydride at $40 a pound. You will need at least 100
pounds. It's a corrosive and toxic powder so be careful.
Place the lithium deuteride or hydride in glass jars and surround
it with four A-bombs in their casings. Attach them to the same detonator so
that they will go off simultaneously. The container for the whole thing is no
problem. They can be placed anywhere: Inside an old stereo console, a discarded
When the detonator sets off the four A-bombs all eight hemispheres
of fissionable material will slam into each other at the same time creating
four critical masses and four detonations. This will raise the temperature of
the lithium deuteride to 100 million degrees C fast enough (a few billionths of
a second) so that the lithium will not be blown all over the neighborhood
before the nuclei have time to fuse. The result, at least 1000 times the punch
of the puny A-bomb that leveled Hiroshima (20 million tons of TNT vs. 20
Part 3: What to
do With Your Bomb
Now that you have a fully assembled H-bomb housed in an attractive
console of your choice you may be wondering, " What should I do with
Every family will have to answer this question according to its own
tastes and preferences, but you may want to explore some possibilities which
have been successfully pioneered by the American government.
1. Sell Your Bomb
and Make a Pile of Money
In these days of rising inflation, increasing unemployment, and an
uncertain economic outlook, few businesses make as much sense as weapons
production. If your career forecast is cloudy, bomb sales may be the only sure
way to avoid the humiliation of receiving welfare, or unemployment. Regardless
of your present income level, a home H-bomb business can be an invaluable
income supplement, and certainly a profitable alternative to selling Tupperware
or pirated Girl Scout cookies.
Unfortunately for the family bomb business, big government has
already cornered a large part of the world market. But this does not mean that
there is a shortage of potential customers. The raid on Entebee was the
Waterloo of hijacking, and many nationalist groups are now on the alert for new
means to get their message across. They'd jump at the chance to get hold of an
H-bomb. Emerging nations which can't ante up enough rice or sugar to buy
themselves a reactor from G.E. or Westinghouse are also shopping around.
You may wonder about the ethics of selling to nations, or groups,
whose goals you may disapprove of. But here again, take a tip from our
government: forget ideology -- it's cash that counts. And remember, H-bomb
sales have a way of escalating, almost like a chain reaction. Suppose you make
a sale to South Yemen which you believe to be a Soviet puppet. Well within a
few days some discrete inquiries from North Yemen and possibly the Saudis, the
Egyptians and the Ethiopians as well can be expected. Similarly, a sale to the
IRA will generate a sale to the Ulster government and a sale to the Tanzanians
will bring the Ugandans running, and so forth.
It doesn't matter WHICH side you're on, only how many sides there
are. Don't forget about the possibility of repeat sales to the same customer.
As the experience of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. has shown, each individual
nation has a potentially infinite need for H-bombs. No customer -- no matter
how small -- can ever have too many.
2. Use Your Bomb
Many families are attracted to the H-bomb simply as a
A discrete sticker on the door or on the living room
window saying " This Home Protected by H-bomb" will discourage IRS
investigators, census takers, and Jehovah's Witnesses. You'll be surprised how
fast the crime rate will go down and property values will go up. And once the
news gets out that you are a home H-bomb owner you'll find that you have
unexpected leverage in neighborhood disputes over everything from parking
places and stereo noise levels to school tax rates. So relax and enjoy the
pride and excitement of home H-bomb ownership!
Is It For You?
Let's be honest. The H-bomb isn't for everyone. Frankly there are
people who can't handle it. They break out in hives at the very mention of
mega-death, fallout, or radiation sickness.
The following quiz will help you find out whether you have what it
takes for home H-bomb ownership. If you can answer " yes" to six or
more of these questions, then you're emotionally eligible to join the nuclear
club. If not, a more conventional weapon may be more your cup of tea, try
botulism-toxin, laser rays, or nerve gas.
1. I ignore the demands of others.
2. I subscribe to one or more of the following: Soldier of Fortune,
Hustler, Popular Mechanics, Self.
3. Though I have many interesting acquaintances, I am my own best
4. I know what to say after you say " Hello," but I am
seldom interested in pursuing the conversation.
5. I have seen the movie " The Deer Hunter" more than
6. I know that everyone can be a winner if they want to, and I
7. I own one or more of the following: handgun, video game, trash
8. I am convinced that leukemia is psychosomatic.
9. I am aware that most vegetarians are sexually impotent.
10. I have read evidence that solar energy is a Communist
Ever since the first mushroom cloud over Hiroshima ushered in the
atomic age, a small group of nay-sayers and doom-mongers has lobbied,
campaigned and demonstrated to convince Americans that H-bomb ownership, along
with nuclear power, is dangerous and unhealthy. Using their virtual
stranglehold over the media, these people have tried to discredit everything
nuclear from energy to war. They have vastly overrated the risks of nuclear
bombs and left many Americans feeling demoralized and indecisive not sure
where the truth lies. Well, here are the myths, and here are the facts.
Myth: After a nuclear
exchange the earth will no longer be suitable for human habitation.
Fact: This is completely false. According to one scientist (quoted
in John McPee's The Curve of Binding Energy) " The largest bomb that has
ever been exploded anywhere was 60 megatons, and that is one-thousandth the
force of an earthquake, one-thousandth the force of a hurricane. We have lived
with earthquakes and hurricanes for a long time." Another scientist adds,
It is often assumed that a full blown nuclear war would be the end of
life on earth. That is far from the truth. To end life on earth would take at
least a thousand times the total yield of all the nuclear explosives existing
in the world, and probably a lot more." Even if humans succumbed, many
forms of life would survive a nuclear free-for-all, cockroaches, certain forms
of bacteria, and lichens, for instance.
Myth: Radiation is
bad for you.
Fact: Everything is bad for you if you have too much of it. If you
eat too many bananas you'll get a stomach-ache. If you get too much sun you can
get sunburned (or even skin cancer). Same thing with radiation. Too much may
make you feel under the weather, but nuclear industry officials insist that
there is no evidence that low-level radiation has any really serious adverse effects.
And, high-level radiation may bring unexpected benefits. It speeds up evolution
by weeding out unwanted genetic types and creating new ones. (Remember the old
saying, " Two heads are better than one." ) Nearer to home, it's plain
that radiation will get rid of pesky crab grass and weeds, and teenagers will
find that brief exposure to a nuclear burst vaporizes acne and other skin
blemishes. (Many survivors of the Hiroshima bomb found that they were free from
skin and its attendant problems forever.)
We hope this clears up any misconceptions you may have had. Enjoy
Subject: How To Build An H-Bomb (humorous!)
Date: 7 Feb 1994 07:41:14 GMT
Organization: The University of Western Australia