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Nuclear weapons

Nuclear Weapons

In its attempts to harness the power of the atom, mankind

has itself in the possession of weapons with unbelievable,

destructive power. Nations now have the ability to destroy

entire cities from hundreds of miles away, in only minutes.

These weapons are nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cost the

citizens of the United States billions of dollars in taxes each

year, the testing and maintenance of these weapons pose serious

health risks, and the actual need for these weapons is not and

has not been around for years. For the above reasons, I feel

the United States should reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Nuclear weapons derive their power from the energy

released when a heavy nucleus is divided, called fission or when

light nuclei are forced together, called fusion. In fission, a

nucleus from a heavy element is bombarded with neutrons. The

nucleus breaks into two pieces, releasing energy and two or more

neutrons. Each of these neutrons has enough energy to split

another heavy nucleus, allowing the process to repeat itself.

This is the chain reaction that makes nuclear weapons possible.

In a fusion nuclear device such as a hydrogen bomb, lightweight

nuclei are forced to fuse at very high temperatures into heavier

nuclei, releasing energy and a neutron. In order to squeeze the

two nuclei together, an atomic fission bomb is usually used. A

fusion reaction releases about four times more energy per unit

mass than a fission reaction. The United States supervised the

development of the atomic bomb under the code name Manhattan

Project, during World War II. The first nuclear chain reaction

occurred in December 1942, at the University of Chicago. Soon

after the first bomb test, atomic bombs were dropped on the

Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The first

hydrogen bomb was developed by a team of United States

scientists and was first tested on November 1, 1952. After

World War II, a new age of military strategy occurred. The

United States built up massive nuclear weapons arsenals and

developed highly sophisticated systems of delivery and defense.

Today's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carry one or

more multiple, independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIBVs),

each with its own nuclear war head.

Billions of dollars are wasted in taxes, each year, to pay

for nuclear weapons. The United States has spent about four

trillion dollars for its nuclear arsenal since government

supported work began on the atomic bomb in 1940 (Schwartz 1).

This number is three times larger than the entire United States

budget for World War II (Schwartz 1). This number covers most,

but not all, of the costs required to develop, produce, display,

operate, support and control nuclear forces over the past fifty

years. Anywhere from five-hundred billion to one trillion

dollars could be added to this, to cover the remaining costs

(Schwartz 1). Nuclear weapons are estimated to have used

between one quarter and one third of all military spending since

World War II (Schwartz 2). Today, Congress and the

Administration are watching government spending, shrinking and

eliminating programs and taking other measures to reduce the

deficit. Despite this, the central feature of national security

spending for the past fifty years, nuclear weapons, has been

barely touched. The United States spends at least thirty-three

billion dollars a year on nuclear weapons and their related

activities (Schwartz 3). Although, about eight billion dollars

is being spent on waste management, environmental remediation,

dismantlement and disposition activities, most of it goes to

maintaining, improving and controlling the existing arsenal and

toward the capability to produce new weapons (Schwartz 3).

The United States nuclear weapons program poses serious

health risks to its citizens. A combination of secrecy, lax

enforcement, reckless neglect and an emphasis on production at

the cost of health, safety and the environment created toxic and

radioactive pollution at thousands of sites around the country.

United States nuclear weapons production facilities have left a

mess that, if it can be cleaned up at all, will take decades and

billions of dollars. Also, a great amount of United States

citizens were needlessly exposed to high levels of radiation.

Those most affected were the workers at the Atomic Energy

Commission (Department of Energy) weapons facilities (Schwartz

5). Another quarter of a million military personnel took part

in exercises in the Pacific and Nevada test sites, to see their

ability to engage the enemy on an atomic battlefield (Schwartz


Nuclear weapons are not needed, and have not been, for

years. While nuclear weapons have influenced politics, public

opinion and defense budget, they have not had a significant

impact on world affairs since World War II. Nor have they been

crucial assets in the cold war developments, alliance patterns,

or the way the major world powers have acted in times of crisis

(Cameron 64). The main question is, would there actually have

been another world war if these weapons did not exist? In my

opinion, probably not. A nuclear war would be costly and

destructive (Cameron 65). Anyone with the experiences of World

War II behind them would not want to repeat the horror of that.

Even before the nuclear bomb had been perfected, world war had

become spectacularly costly and destructive, killing over fifty

million people world wide (Cameron 66).

Nuclear weapons are weapons of great destruction. Our

government wastes over thirty-three billion dollars a year of

our tax money. Also, nuclear weapons pose serious health risks

to those around them, including the citizens of the United

States. There has not been a significant impact on world

affairs by nuclear weapons since World War II. For these

reasons, I feel that the United States should reduce its nuclear



1) Cameron, Kevin. "Taking Apart the Bomb." Popular Science.

April 1993: 64-70.

2) "Nuclear Weapons." Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia.

1995 ed.

3) Schwartz, Stephen, Project Director. "The U.S. Nuclear Cost

Study Project." Prodigy Web Browser. started in 1994

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