Wiffle-Ball as a weapon of terror?

If polywell fusion is developed, in what ways will the world change for better or worse? Discuss.

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jsbiff
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Wiffle-Ball as a weapon of terror?

Postby jsbiff » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:05 pm

I was thinking about this recently, and wondering - is there any risk that a small polywell wiffleball could be constructed by a terrorist group (or foreign government), just to be used as a weapon.

If a Wiffleball weren't shielded, and it was powered up with some Deuterium, couldn't it release some massive neutron radiation (or maybe x-rays in the case of a P-B11 fusion) that could effect an area of many square kilometers?

I imagine that, at least for the near term, the technical capability to build a working steady-state WB is going to be beyond the means of terrorist organizations or rogue states, but as the technology (and knowledge about it) becomes more widespread, is that a future possibility?

kcdodd
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Postby kcdodd » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:43 pm

How about just an unshielded suitcase x-ray machine.
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zapkitty
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Postby zapkitty » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:25 pm

kcdodd wrote:How about just an unshielded suitcase x-ray machine.


... but... but... that won't give the powers that be an excuse to place a chokehold on alt fusion research...

KitemanSA
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Re: Wiffle-Ball as a weapon of terror?

Postby KitemanSA » Tue Jun 08, 2010 12:02 am

jsbiff wrote:I was thinking about this recently, and wondering - is there any risk that a small polywell wiffleball could be constructed by a terrorist group (or foreign government), just to be used as a weapon.
I can't help but think that if there are terrorists out there that produce a Polywell powerful enough to be a useful weapon, and that is all they do with it, then they are complete idiots. If they have one that powerful they could be making big bucks with it in other endeavors and use that money to buy EFFECTIVE weapons.

Maybe we should pray that they are that stupid and that they spend a bunch of money making a Polywell that powerful! The cost to the world of the one terrorist use would be payed back manifold.

cgray45
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Postby cgray45 » Wed Jun 09, 2010 5:56 am

Yeah-- the Polywell is pretty useless as a weapon of terror.

Nik
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James Bond-ish...

Postby Nik » Wed Jun 09, 2010 10:04 am

Uh, but a WB would make a *great* McGuffin for a JB or Seagal movie: Suspend disbelief and look at the microwaves, gammas, blinkenlights etc etc...

D Tibbets
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Postby D Tibbets » Wed Jun 09, 2010 9:56 pm

The Wiffleball mechanism inside a Polywell reactor is an essential factor to make the system work. The reactor itself would not make a very good neutron radiation weapon. It would be perhaps 5-6 meters wide overall. The vacuum pumping assembly is large. The power handling equipment exrensive. And, you need at least a few megawatts of power to get it started, which means you need to carry a generater with you. The neutrons produced are present only while the machine is running. The effective range is limited by the inverse square law, etc. Even if Bussard's speculation that a P-B11 reactor can be shrunk to semi truck size, it does not produce neutrons. A D-D Polywell needs a steam plant if it is going to feed itself power. Otherwise it would need to be connected to a large multi megawatt power supply. A truck packed with high explosive would be much more convenient and probably do more damage.

Using a D-D Polywell to produce neutrons to transmute a feed stock into radioactive isotopes is another matter. It could be a convenient means to produce lots of plutonium from uranium 238, or other nasty radioactive isotope breeder reactions. These radioactive isotopes can then be used in a dirty bomb. Still a lot of work, but perhaps easier access to these small reactors (especially if they proliferate in large numbers), compared to fission power plants and their difficult to handle spent fuel rods.

Dan Tibbets
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jsbiff
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Postby jsbiff » Thu Jun 10, 2010 9:27 am

D Tibbets wrote:The Wiffleball mechanism inside a Polywell reactor is an essential factor to make the system work. The reactor itself would not make a very good neutron radiation weapon. It would be perhaps 5-6 meters wide overall. The vacuum pumping assembly is large. The power handling equipment exrensive. And, you need at least a few megawatts of power to get it started, which means you need to carry a generater with you. The neutrons produced are present only while the machine is running. The effective range is limited by the inverse square law, etc. Even if Bussard's speculation that a P-B11 reactor can be shrunk to semi truck size, it does not produce neutrons. A D-D Polywell needs a steam plant if it is going to feed itself power. Otherwise it would need to be connected to a large multi megawatt power supply. A truck packed with high explosive would be much more convenient and probably do more damage.

Using a D-D Polywell to produce neutrons to transmute a feed stock into radioactive isotopes is another matter. It could be a convenient means to produce lots of plutonium from uranium 238, or other nasty radioactive isotope breeder reactions. These radioactive isotopes can then be used in a dirty bomb. Still a lot of work, but perhaps easier access to these small reactors (especially if they proliferate in large numbers), compared to fission power plants and their difficult to handle spent fuel rods.

Dan Tibbets


Good points. I got to thinking about the issue of needing power to start/run the reactor after my original post, and that does seem to be a bit of a "non-starter" (if you'll pardon the pun).

One thing, however,, is that I guess I should have noted that I was thinking about this as more of a question of the future, where terrorists might not be building these guys themselves, but more if these things became very common and cheap, maybe they get ahold of some.

I *suppose*, if the terrorist got ahold of *two* of them, it might be a problem. . .

Reactor 1 is a P-B11 to produce 'portable power'. Installed inside a semi-truck trailer. Reactor 2, inside a second truck, is setup for D-D neutronic fusion. Doesn't need a steam plant, because it doesn't power itself - it is powered by the first reactor, so it can just run to bath an Urban area with neutrons, giving lots and lots of people radiation sickness.

But, yeah, I guess I agree with you guys, in as much as that sounds more like a movie plot than a practical attack.

However, if Dan is right, I think I would be a bit worried about Iran, N. Korea, (or whatever the aspiring nuclear states of tomorrow will be - we can *hope* that Iran is still just *trying* to get plutonium by then), etc using some of these reactors to breed plutonium. That sounds like a realistic enough scenario (maybe?) to be considered a proliferation risk?

kcdodd
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Postby kcdodd » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:50 am

The problem for the terrorist is that once the authorities know these things might be lurking about they would be easy to find. Anyone with a $20 geiger counter could find it and there goes their million dollar piece of equipment. As the joker said, the thing about gasoline and dynamite is they are cheep.
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Stoney3K
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Postby Stoney3K » Thu Jun 10, 2010 4:30 pm

jsbiff wrote:However, if Dan is right, I think I would be a bit worried about Iran, N. Korea, (or whatever the aspiring nuclear states of tomorrow will be - we can *hope* that Iran is still just *trying* to get plutonium by then), etc using some of these reactors to breed plutonium. That sounds like a realistic enough scenario (maybe?) to be considered a proliferation risk?


There are enough other practical neutron sources that can do the same job when powered externally and are easier to obtain (e.g. fusors), so building a Polywell for that purpose might even be overkill.
Because we can.

D Tibbets
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Postby D Tibbets » Thu Jun 10, 2010 6:10 pm

The Wiffleball mechanism inside a Polywell reactor is an essential factor to make the system work. The reactor itself would not make a very good neutron radiation weapon. It would be perhaps 5-6 meters wide overall. The vacuum pumping assembly is large. The power handling equipment extensive. And, you need at least a few megawatts of power to get it started, which means you need to carry a generator with you. The neutrons produced are present only while the machine is running. The effective range is limited by the inverse square law, etc. Even if Bussard's speculation that a P-B11 reactor can be shrunk to semi truck size, it does not produce neutrons. A D-D Polywell needs a steam plant if it is going to feed itself power. Otherwise it would need to be connected to a large multi megawatt power supply. A truck packed with high explosive would be much more convenient and probably do more damage.

Using a D-D Polywell to produce neutrons to transmute a feed stock into radioactive isotopes is another matter. It could be a convenient means to produce lots of plutonium from uranium 238, or other nasty radioactive isotope breeder reactions. These radioactive isotopes can then be used in a dirty bomb. Still a lot of work, but perhaps easier access to these small reactors (especially if they proliferate in large numbers), compared to fission power plants and their difficult to handle spent fuel rods.

Dan Tibbets
[Sorry, I somehow managed to post this twice]
Last edited by D Tibbets on Fri Jun 11, 2010 1:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
To error is human... and I'm very human.

cgray45
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Postby cgray45 » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:38 pm

Flip side-- the polywell could make nuclear terrorism LESS likely, given that it would be far superior to fission plants-- I could see a policy of subsidizing polywell reactors to nations willing to accept limitations on their fission plants, thus limiting the amount of potential bomb quality material out there.

ladajo
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Postby ladajo » Fri Jun 11, 2010 12:06 am

But you would have a hard time keeping the genie in the bottle in regards to using Polywell as a breeder. DD / DT setup would garauntee it, PB&J would just mean they would have to add shielding, then fuel it with DD.

D Tibbets
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Postby D Tibbets » Fri Jun 11, 2010 1:54 am

Stoney3K wrote:
jsbiff wrote:However, if Dan is right, I think I would be a bit worried about Iran, N. Korea, (or whatever the aspiring nuclear states of tomorrow will be - we can *hope* that Iran is still just *trying* to get plutonium by then), etc using some of these reactors to breed plutonium. That sounds like a realistic enough scenario (maybe?) to be considered a proliferation risk?


There are enough other practical neutron sources that can do the same job when powered externally and are easier to obtain (e.g. fusors), so building a Polywell for that purpose might even be overkill.


A fusor and many other approaches will make neutrons, but they produce relatively few neutrons. If a Polywell produced enough neutrons to get the job done in one day, these other approaches might take a million years. Other approaches like laser ignition is way to costly and large. A FRC, dense plasma focus, or General Fusion approach might fit the bill, especially if you are not concerned about reaching breakeven. Prevous methods required very difficult uranium enrichment, or access to spent fuel rods from fission reactors. Any of these new "cheap" methods could reduce the capital investment by a nuclear weapons seeking government by at least an order of magnitude.

Dan Tibbets
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cgray45
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Postby cgray45 » Fri Jun 11, 2010 2:46 am

ladajo wrote:But you would have a hard time keeping the genie in the bottle in regards to using Polywell as a breeder. DD / DT setup would garauntee it, PB&J would just mean they would have to add shielding, then fuel it with DD.


That's true-- but the problem is that you can't keep the genie in the bottle no matter what. But by encoraging the spread of polywell fusors, you could also make the intelligence situation a bit easier-- if there is no legitimate use for large quantities of fissionable materials, then it's very easy to point to someone making it and arguing that they have the intent of breaking the NPF which makes getting some movement easier.

But by everything I've been able to see, once developed, polywell is probably easier to build than a fission reactor by a very large margin which means like it or not, it's going to spread.


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