Why can’t we detonate nukes in space to dispose of them?



I’m aware that it’s illegal to put any kind of weapon in space, for the sake of the explanation assume there’s no legal reason why not.

My Grug Smash brain has me wondering that if nuclear weapons are so difficult to properly dispose of, surely the easiest option would be to set them off somewhere where they can’t cause any damage.

In: Physics

Why would you need to detonate them at all? You can just dismantle them.

The problem isn’t getting rid of nuclear weapons, it’s getting rid of spent nuclear fuel. Currently our best solution is to just bury it deep underground.

~~I won’t be able to explain this issue any better than Kurzgesagt (in a nutshell), so here you go:~~


It’s in english

Edit. I’m dumb and somehow linked a SciShow video instead of the kurzgesagt one. See the reply of this message for the correct video.

Setting them off isn’t the best way to dispose of them.
A nuke has been detonated in space before. Since there is no air to heat and dissipate the energy more, a much higher frequency of radiation was emitted and the radiation circled the globe.

That happened a long time ago when we didn’t have so many sensitive satellites in orbit. If we done that now we would damaged so many satellites. To put them onto rockets to blast far away from earth would cost so much, it would be cheaper just to confine the radioactive elements here on earth

Launching anything into space is expensive. Rockets are not free to make or launch. What is being done for quite some time now is to use the missiles intended to launch nuclear warheads across the globe to instead launch satellites into space. So there are no missiles available to launch the nuclear warheads into space. Another big issue is that nukes will generate a big electromagnetic pulse and a lot of ions. These effects are much more dangerous in space then in the atmosphere. It means that a nuclear explosion in space will likely do a lot of damage to the satellites which are already very expensive and sensitive. This have even been suggested as a form of attack on its own. There is no need to launch such a disruptive attack in peactime.

if it explodes on the launch pad or crashes before it reaches orbit, you have a VERY big problem on your hands

if it does manage to reach orbit and detonate you have just released a lot of bad shit into our upper atmosphere (where gravity will eventually pull it back), potentially destroyed lots of expensive satellites, etc. Remember that with a few notable exceptions, everything we’ve ever launched into space is in orbit around earth and will eventually come back

de-arming is a political problem, not a technical one. Why spend tens of millions of dollars to launch a nuke into space when you could spend tens of thousands to have a team of technicians just take it apart?

Nuclear weapons are not difficult to dispose of in technical terms. The “difficulty” is that countries who already have them don’t want to dispose of them, and they have no good reason why they would want to.

Several reasons:

– The risk. Rockets sometimes go boom on launch or in atmosphere. When carrying a large amount of radioactive material, that’s bad.

– Cost. Rocket launches are really expensive. Nukes themselves all you have to do is dismantle them and then go bury the radioactive material under a bunch of concrete somewhere where

– Desire: No one with nukes wants to give them up. Countries that have had possession of nukes that gave them up are mainly the USSR states which would have struggled to maintain them anyway. These are Ukraine, since invaded by Russia, Belarus, which remains stuck inside the orbit of Russia, and Kazakhstan, which the Russians are claiming is not a state and might be about to pull another Crimea on.

The only other country which gave up nukes IIRC is South Africa, because they didn’t want the blacks to have them.

Iraq gave up non-nuclear WMDs and was subsequently invaded under the false pretence of having WMDs. Libya was broadly complying with getting rid of its WMDs and similarly got invaded by proxy.

Generally, having nukes is a great place to be for a country, and giving them up makes it far more likely you are invaded. Even if others agree to guarantee your safety in exchange, that’s almost certainly a lie.

For one, you’d still have to get it up there, and putting a nuke in a rocket that might explode on the way up would be a very bad idea.

There are safe ways to dispose of them without detonating them.

Above all the technical objections, there’s the political difficulty of launching live fucking nuclear missiles.

“Oh, don’t worry about us, China and Russia! Don’t worry about us, Portland and San Francisco! We’re just disposing of armed nuclear warheads. In space. With missiles powerful enough to reach you. Ba-BOOM. But relax. Only sixteen thousand more launches left. What could go wrong?”

Launching anything into space is incredibly expensive- the higher the weight that you need to send the more expensive it gets. It’s not financially reasonable to launch any waste into space.

If we ignore cost- there would no reason to set them off at all. Just give them a push- there’s no friction in space so they’d travel in the direction we pushed them forever and millions of years later they’d be someone else’s problem.

It IS technically possible to dispose of nuclear materials in space, BUT:

– You will need to launch the materials not just into orbit, but onto a trajectory that takes it far away from earth. Stuff in orbit will eventually fall back to earth OR create a massive hazard for space travel.

– That will take big boosters and be VERY expensive since you will need many launches

– (If you do that, you don’t really need to detonate anything, just let it sail away)

– There is a significant risk that at least one launch has an explosive malfunction, spreading radioactive materials in the athmosphere – no es bueno

– Also, legal and diplomatic reasons

A nuke on a rocket – what could go wrong? šŸ˜€

resulting EMP will destroy electronics on earth.

also, cost is a factor.

also, recycling the materials is good.

You could definitely blow nukes up in space to destroy them. But:

1. You’d have to do to it carefully if you didn’t want to harm your satellites with artificial radiation belts ([it’s a thing that can happen](https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-us-accidentally-nuked-own-communications-satellite/))

2. It’d be absolutely the most expensive and wasteful way to get rid of the weapons

3. It wouldn’t actually stop people from making more weapons in the _future_

4. It’s not the easiest way to do it. The easiest way to do it is to take the warheads apart in bunkers, which is how they are already disposed of. The US has dismantled tens of thousands of warheads since 1945. We know how to do it. It’s not that hard.

5. It’s not the most useful way to get rid of nuclear fuel. The most useful way is to downblend it and turn it into nuclear reactor fuel. The US had a program after the Cold War where it bought excess Russian plutonium and turned it into fuel for US nuclear reactors. A very elegant solution, very win-win, very symbolic!

6. The difficulty in getting rid of nuclear weapons is not technical, in the sense that we can’t technically eliminate or render the warheads useless for weapons purposes. The difficulty is mainly political in nature ā€” nations don’t get rid of the weapons _because they don’t want to_, because they believe they are necessary for their security, etc.

Rockets exploding on the way to space is uncommon but not totally rare [(for example)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton-M#Reliability), and you really really dont want to spread radioactive material over a huge area if one of the rockets explode or crash.


thats also why why never used stuff like [Project Orion](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion))


Also you can use the fissile material from nuclear warheads in nuclear power plants

It is relatively easy to disassemble and decommission nuclear weapons without exploding them.

The hard part about nuclear disarmament treaties in the past was getting everyone involved to agree to them, not the actual safe destruction of the weapons in front of observers from the other side.

Meanwhile shooting stuff into space is hard. It is literally rocket science.

Lots of effort and energy has to be expended to shoot anything into space. Even the best and most reliable rockets have a failure rate still.

Space is not just space either. The region that it is easiest to transport stuff to, is closets to earth and is actually rather crowded. Shooting anything into places father away (and having the stuff stay away) is actually quite hard. Shooting anything into the sun as is frequently suggested is about as hard as it gets.

Exploding a nuclear weapon in space might result in an EMP pulse that could take out lots of critical and expensive orbital infrastructure nearby.

One final reason why you won’t want to shoot any nukes into space is that from the outside it is quite hard to tell the difference between a rocket carrying a nuke to explode in space and a rocket carrying a nuke to explode above someone else’s city. This is really not the sort of thing you would want to have misunderstandings about.

As far as I understand it, the difficulty is political. And not practical. Ie nuclear weapons create a state called mutually assured destruction. Where no side stands to gain much from such a war as both would be destroyed or near enough. As soon as one country disposes of them, it exposes them to obliteration and so there are real political pressures not to dispose them as this would create an imbalance.

From a practical disposal sense Iā€™m pretty sure they can be stripped down to their component parts safely and the nuclear materiel repurposed to civilian functions.

We can, but why would we? They’re full of incredibly valuable fissile materials and rocket fuel.

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