Difference between Dirty Bomb and Fission Bomb - Illustration
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dirty bomb (RDD)
Dirty bomb:
  • Explosives combined with radioactive materials
  • Detonation vaporizes or aerosolizes radioactive material and propels it into the air
  • Not a nuclear detonation
Fission bomb example
Fission bomb: one example
  • Caused by an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction with uranium-235 or plutonium-239
  • This example has pyramids of plutonium with surrounding explosives
  • Initial explosion produces imploding shock wave that drives plutonium pieces inward into central sphere containing pellet of berylliu/polonium, creating "critical mass"
  • Resulting fission reaction causes bomb to explosde with tremendous force: nuclear detonation
Sources: Adapted from Levi MA, Kelly HC. Weapons of mass disruption. Sci Am. 2002 Nov;287(5):76-81. [PubMed Citation]