Nuclear Weapons and Our World

Joe Martz
Los Alamos National Lab
Cafe Scientifique New Mexico - Los Alamos


The speaker, Joe Martz, started the presentation with a description of the sheer power of nuclear weapons, and why they were implemented at all. The origin story involves World War II, and how the United States designed, tested, and then dropped 2 nuclear bombs on major cities in Japan, thus ending World War II. Nuclear weapons have exceptional power, and the damage that can result includes the shock wave, electromagnetic radiation, and radioisotopes. Shock waves and electromagnetic radiation destroy targets immediately, and radioisotopes kill or damage living things within the radioisotope dispersion radius. The reason that nuclear bombs are typically detonated above ground is so that there is a sufficient volume of air that is able to be compressed to create truly destructive shock waves.

The primary reason that nuclear weapons exist is because of the concept of deterrence; if one country has the capability to destroy every other country, then other countries will be less likely to initiate that series of events. This particular strategy had a specific name – Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD). In accordance with this strategy, the United States and other nuclear capable countries developed three ways to target enemy countries with nuclear weapons after an initial attack. This was accomplished using ICBMs (land Based), SLBMS (submarine based), and strategic bombers (air based). These collectively were known as the nuclear triad.

The peak number of nuclear weapons was reached in the early 1960’s, and since then the world has gradually reduced both the number and the yield of nuclear weapons.

The speaker concluded with the clear message that weapons of mass destruction are not necessary. South Africa was the only country to ever independently gain and then unanimously relinquish the technology of nuclear weapons. Following that path of nuclear disarmament might make a safer world.

Hands on Activity

The speaker designed this cafés particular hands-on activity to be a group learning experience. It was in the form of a group based trivia game, with trivia originating from both the presentation and young adult culture references. This ensured that the students would retain the relevant information, while having fun.