The Science of Nuclear Weapons, Visualized
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The Science of Nuclear Weapons, Visualized

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this infographic visualizes the science of how nuclear weapons work, including the processes of fission and fusion

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Visualized: How Nuclear Weapons Work

In 1945, the world’s first-ever nuclear weapon was detonated at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, United States, marking the beginning of the Atomic Age.

Since then, the global nuclear stockpile has multiplied, and when geopolitical tensions rise, the idea of a nuclear apocalypse understandably causes widespread concern.

But despite their catastrophically large effects, the science of how nuclear weapons work is atomically small.

The Atomic Science of Nuclear Weapons

All matter is composed of atoms, which host different combinations of three particles—protons, electrons, and neutrons. Nuclear weapons work by capitalizing on the interactions of protons and neutrons to create an explosive chain reaction.

At the center of every atom is a core called the nucleus, which is composed of closely-bound protons and neutrons. While the number of protons is unique to each element in the periodic table, the number of neutrons can vary. As a result, there are multiple “species” of some elements, known as isotopes.

For example, here are some isotopes of uranium:

  • Uranium-238: 92 protons, 146 neutrons
  • Uranium-235: 92 protons, 143 neutrons
  • Uranium-234: 92 protons, 142 neutrons

These isotopes can be stable or unstable. Stable isotopes have a relatively static or unchanging number of neutrons. But when a chemical element has too many neutrons, it becomes unstable or fissile.

When fissile isotopes attempt to become stable, they shed excess neutrons and energy. This energy is where nuclear weapons get their explosivity from.

There are two types of nuclear weapons:

  • Atomic Bombs: These rely on a domino effect of multiple fission reactions to produce an explosion, using either uranium or plutonium.
  • Hydrogen Bombs: These rely on a combination of fission and fusion using uranium or plutonium, with the help of lighter elements like the isotopes of hydrogen.

So, what exactly is the difference between fission and fusion reactions?

Splitting Atoms: Nuclear Fission

Nuclear fission—the process used by nuclear reactors—produces large amounts of energy by breaking apart a heavier unstable atom into two smaller atoms, starting a nuclear chain reaction.

When a neutron is fired into the nucleus of a fissile atom like uranium-235, the uranium atom splits into two smaller atoms known as “fissile fragments” in addition to more neutrons and energy. These excess neutrons can then start a self-sustaining chain reaction by hitting the nuclei of other uranium-235 atoms, resulting in an atomic explosion.

Atomic bombs use nuclear fission, though it’s important to note that a fission chain reaction requires a particular amount of a fissile material like uranium-235, known as the supercritical mass.

Merging Atoms: Nuclear Fusion

Hydrogen bombs use a combination of fission and fusion, with nuclear fusion amplifying a fission reaction to produce a much more powerful explosion than atomic bombs.

Fusion is essentially the opposite of fission—instead of splitting a heavier atom into smaller atoms, it works by putting together two atoms to form a third unstable atom. It’s also the same process that fuels the Sun.

Nuclear fusion mainly relies on isotopes of lighter elements, like the two isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium. When subjected to intense heat and pressure, these two atoms fuse together to form an extremely unstable helium isotope, which releases energy and neutrons.

The released neutrons then fuel the fission reactions of heavier atoms like uranium-235, creating an explosive chain reaction.

How Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs Compare

Just how powerful are hydrogen bombs, and how do they compare to atomic bombs?

BombTypeEnergy produced (kilotons of TNT)
Little Boy 🇺🇸 Atomic15kt
Fat Man 🇺🇸 Atomic21kt
Castle Bravo 🇺🇸 Hydrogen15,000kt
Tsar Bomba 🇷🇺Hydrogen51,000kt

The bombs Little Boy and Fat Man were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, bringing a destructive end to World War II. The scale of these bombings was, at the time, unparalleled. But comparing these to hydrogen bombs shows just how powerful nuclear weapons have become.

Castle Bravo was the codename for the United States’ largest-ever nuclear weapon test, a hydrogen bomb that produced a yield of 15,000 kilotons—making it 1,000 times more powerful than Little Boy. What’s more, radioactive traces from the explosion, which took place on the Marshall Islands near Fiji, were found in Australia, India, Japan, U.S., and Europe.

Seven years later, the Soviet Union tested Tsar Bomba in 1961, the world’s most powerful nuclear weapon. The explosion produced 51,000 kilotons of explosive energy, with a destructive radius of roughly 60km.

Given how damaging a single nuke can be, it’s difficult to imagine the outcome of an actual nuclear conflict without fear of total annihilation, especially with the world’s nuclear arsenal sitting at over 13,000 warheads.

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Politics

Which Populations Feel Their Country is on the Wrong Track?

New polling data shows that, in many parts of the world, people feel that their countries are on a downward trajectory.

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Which Populations Feel Their Country is on the Wrong Track?

Plato once used the allegory of a Ship of Fools to push for his vision of a wise philosopher-king as the ideal pilot for a ship of state.

Looking at the most recent numbers from Morning Consult Political Intelligence’s Projections of Country Trajectories, you would be forgiven for thinking that a great many people believe that their ship of state is piloted by fools.

With the impact of the pandemic, rising inflation, and growing geopolitical instability, it’s probably not surprising that most respondents feel their countries are on the wrong track; India and Switzerland were notable exceptions.

Below are some of the stand-out stories that we found digging through the data.

United States

Midterm elections have rarely been kind to the incumbent party in U.S. politics and the cost of living crisis, an unpopular president, and the aftermath of the global pandemic pointed towards an electoral bloodbath. This year’s election was also expected to set a new spending record, with over $9 billion raised.

Even so, despite 72% of respondents thinking that the country is on the wrong track, the governing Democrats have defied expectations and posted a historic performance during the November 8, 2022, midterm elections. To put this into context, in a president’s first term, there have been three previous instances (since 1922) of the incumbent’s party gaining (or not losing) Senate seats and losing fewer than 10 seats in the House.

u.s. sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

Also worth noting is the large spike in negative sentiment in January 2021, following the U.S. Capitol attack, followed by the convergence of negative and positive sentiments as the peaceful transition of power became more assured.

Brazil

Horace, in Odes 1.14, describes a ship of state that is flailing at sea that eventually rights itself, claiming towards the end of the poem that “it’s my longing and no light love you carry.”

Something like that may be happening in Brazil following the loss of the often turbulent, COVID-19-denying President Jair Bolsonaro to political rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in an Oct. 20, 2022, election runoff.

Brazil sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

However, with respondents evenly split on where the country is going and the presidential election results being so close (50.9% vs. 49.1%), Lula will have his hands full governing a divided country.

India

While sentiment was overwhelmingly negative in almost every country tracked in this survey, India stood out as an outlier. India has consistently maintained a positive sentiment of between 60% and 80%, which is something only Switzerland comes close to.

india sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

The only blip was a brief period during the spring of 2021. This coincided with a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country, on top of country-wide protests against the Narendra Modi government’s deeply unpopular farm bill.

United Kingdom

The data here covers the three most recent UK Prime Ministers: Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and now Rishi Sunak, the first South Asian to hold the post.

uk sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

In January 2020, Johnson had just won a Tory majority and succeeded in “Getting Brexit Done.” Political scandals and the government’s pandemic response pushed the trendline down. It only recovered briefly in the spring of 2021, following Russia’s invasion of the Donbas region of Ukraine, which Johnson was widely seen as handling well. A personal visit to Kyiv on April 9, 2022, helped cement this.

Then followed Prime Minister Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget of Sept. 23, 2022, which saw the pound fall to the lowest-ever level against the dollar and the Bank of England intervene in the bond markets. The ascension of Rishi Sunak to No. 10 Downing Street has only just begun to turn around the low of 89% negative sentiment reported on Oct 23-25, 2022.

To quote the BBC comedy series, Yes, Minister, in another context, “the ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top.”

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Visualized: The Biggest Donors of the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

A record-smashing $9 billion has been raised for the 2022 midterm elections. See who the top 10 donors are in this graphic.

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Visualized: The Biggest Donors of the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

This year’s midterm election is expected to set a new spending record, with over $9 billion being raised. This is significantly higher than the previous record of $7 billion, which was set in 2018.

According to a recent analysis by the Washington Post, $1 billion of these funds can be attributed to the top 50 donors. In typical Visual Capitalist style, we’ve illustrated this data to provide you with better insight.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists the top 10 individual donors of the 2022 midterm elections.

RankNameAffiliationTotal Donation (USD millions)
#1George SorosDemocrat$129
#2Elizabeth & Richard UihleinRepublican$70
#3Kenneth GriffinRepublican$66
#4Jeffrey YassRepublican$48
#5Sam Bankman-FriedDemocrat$39
#6Stephen SchwarzmanRepublican$33
#7Timothy MellonRepublican$33
#8Larry EllisonRepublican$31
#9Peter ThielRepublican$30
#10Patrick & Shirley RyanRepublican$27

Sorting this top 10 donor list by party, we can see that $168 million was raised for the Democrats, and $338 million for the Republicans.

Continue reading below for some interesting background info on all 10 of these individuals. Net worth values were gathered from Forbes on November 1, 2022.

George Soros (Net worth: $7B)

George Soros is a Hungarian-born American billionaire, widely known for his philanthropical efforts and for “breaking” the Bank of England. He has had an illustrious career as a hedge fund manager, founding Soros Fund Management in 1970. Visit this page to see the top 100 holdings of Soros Fund Management’s portfolio.

Soros has donated over $30 billion of his fortune to various causes and charities. He is the founder and chairman of two Super PACs (political action committees) named Democracy PAC and Democracy PAC II.

Unlike regular PACs, Super PACs face no limits in terms of fundraising or political spending.

Elizabeth & Richard Uihlein (Combined net worth: $7B)

Elizabeth & Richard Uihlein are the founders of Uline, one of North America’s largest distributors of logistics supplies (boxes, tape, gloves, etc.). The company makes several billion in sales per year.

The couple have gained media attention for making substantial donations to the Republican party. According to Forbes, the Uihleins have donated a total of $194 million since the 1990s.

Kenneth Griffin (Net worth: $31B)

Kenneth Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund based in the U.S. He also owns Citadel Securities, which is the largest market maker on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Market makers act as a middleman in financial markets by facilitating buy and sell orders for investors. Using equities (stocks) as an example, when a market maker receives an order from a buyer, it sells shares from its own inventory. This enables the stock market to run smoothly.

Griffin found himself in the spotlight during the GameStop short squeeze when his firm provided emergency funding to Melvin Capital Management.

Jeffrey Yass (Net worth: $30B)

Once a pro gambler, Jeffrey Yass is a cofounder of Susquehanna International Group (SIG), a successful trading firm based in Philadelphia. SIG specializes in quantitative research and trading, which involves the use of computer algorithms to identify opportunities.

Yass is frequently cited as the richest person in the state of Pennsylvania and has gained media attention for his large political contributions.

Sam Bankman-Fried (Net worth: $17B)

Sam Bankman-Fried is the founder and CEO of FTX, which is currently the world’s third largest cryptocurrency exchange behind Binance and Coinbase. The company is based in the Bahamas and offers trading in more than 300 cryptocurrencies.

In May 2022, Bankman-Fried declared that he was willing to donate “north of $100 million” in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. He has since backtracked this comment.

At some point, when you’ve given your message to voters, there’s just not a whole lot more you can do.
– Sam Bankman-Fried

Stephen Schwarzman (Net worth: $35B)

Stephen Schwarzman is the chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group, a globally recognized private equity firm. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies includes Ancestry.com, a well-known family history service, and Bumble, a popular online dating platform.

Shown below, Schwarzman’s wealth has increased substantially since 2020.

The bulk of Schwarzman’s political contributions have gone towards the Senate Leadership Fund, an independent Super PAC which aims to build a Republican Senate majority.

Timothy Mellon (Family net worth: $11B)

Timothy Mellon was the chairman and majority owner of Pan Am Systems, a privately held company with operations in transportation, manufacturing, and energy. In November 2020, CSX Corporation announced it had signed an agreement to purchase Pan Am. The sale was approved in April 2022.

Mellon made headlines in 2021 when it was revealed that he made a whopping $53 million donation to the Texas border wall fund. At the time of reporting, this represented 98% of total funding.

Larry Ellison (Net worth: $102B)

Larry Ellison is the chairman and cofounder of Oracle, one of the world’s largest software companies. Oracle is listed on the NYSE and has a market cap of over $200 billion. Ellison was also a Tesla board member from December 2018 to August 2022.

The vast majority of his political contributions have gone towards the Opportunity Matters Fund, which supports candidates who promote the Opportunity Agenda. It calls for enhanced financial literacy, apprenticeships, and education options.

Peter Thiel (Net worth: $4B)

Peter Thiel is a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, perhaps best known for cofounding PayPal. He also cofounded Palantir Technologies, a data analytics company, and is a general partner of Founders Fund, a venture capital firm with investments in major names such as SpaceX.

Thiel is one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, a position that sets him apart from many other Silicon Valley figures. In February 2022, it was reported that he would be stepping down as a Meta board member.

Patrick and Shirley Ryan (Patrick’s net worth: $9B)

Patrick Ryan is the founder and retired CEO of AON Corporation, one of the world’s largest insurance companies. In 2010, he founded another company known as Ryan Specialty Group, which provides services to insurance brokers.

Together with his wife Shirley, the Ryans have made large donations towards the Senate Leadership Fund and other Republican groups.

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