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Nuclear power plants, perfect military targets

  1. Sep 5, 2010 #1
    Power plants are among the first targets in a war, and a nuclear reactor blast by a weapon would release its radioactivity accumulated in normal use just as an accident like Chernobyl does. A country with many reactors transformed into dirty bombs would be uninhabitable.

    Unfortunately, weapons capable of bursting the domes of a nuclear reactor already exist or are easily extrapolated.
    Description of a kinetic energy penetrator - the small version designed to break the armour of a battle tank:
    such arrows weigh 5kg of uranium or tungsten and impact at 1.5km/s, piercing 0.3m of steel.

    More speed makes kinetic penetrators more efficient. They travel then outside the atmosphere and fall on the target from above. Such penetrators are already designed; they're said not to be in operation because of treaties. For instance, starting at 3km/s and 45°, a penetrator would climb to 200km, travel 800km, and fall at 3km/s in the atmosphere.

    A single-stage rocket with solid propellants gives this initial speed to about 1/4 of its lift-off mass. A 20t rocket, fitting on a truck, a fishing boat, a submarine... would propel a 5t penetrator. Such a massive, plain and passive arrow is extremely difficult to destroy or divert. Atmospheric re-entry wouldn't brake it, as 10km air aren't heavy compared to several meters steel, and the arrow is pointy. And it's about as easy to build as a V2 (but 65 years later), much easier than the rockets Iran has already built, as an example.

    The higher speed more than compensates the density of an arrow of steel instead of uranium. With 1000 times more mass and a higher speed, it pierces an armour more than 10 times as thick, or over 3m armour steel - much thicker than the domes of existing or planned reactors.

    So I urge everyone to find an affordable way to protect future reactors (and existing ones, even more difficult) against such weapons, or bigger ones. If no way exists, nuclear power plants are such a huge military weakness that a country better would have none.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2010 #2
    Cities are huge military weaknesses. Could you imagine if someone developed a weapon capable of destroying whole cities? Millions would die! This is such a huge military weakness we should distribute our population such that we don't provide such juicy targets!

    But seriously, I don't think any one in their right mind expects that commercial nuclear power plants will ever be able to survive purpose built military grade weapons systems such as bunker buster designs you have described. However, they can quite realistically be designed to survive improvised weapons such planes and IED.

    Military technology has developed to the point where developed nations could commit mass genocide if they so wanted. Yes, targeting NPP offer one option to do so, but there are many easier methods such as chemical weapons. From a military stand point, to disable the NPP one must only disable the switching yard outside or transmission lines to prevent power from flowing out. Targeting the plant itself would be the equivalent of targeting population centers instead of factories.
  4. Sep 7, 2010 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    A few problems:

    1. Power plants are typically attacked for the purpose of knocking-out the power, not for the purpose of dispersing the radioactive material. It would take an awful lot of effort to disperse the radioactive material when a much smaller strike could knock out the plant for years by distroying the unprotected infrastructure around it.

    2. AFAIK, the continental US hasn't been invaded in almost 200 years and no two developed nations have been at war with each other in 50 years. So even if the premise were valid, the risk is still pretty low.
    That's an exaggeration.
    Just penetrating the dome doesn't make the reactor explode: you'd need to get a bunch of actual explosives inside the dome.
  5. Sep 27, 2010 #4
    For a variety of reasons, we don't target power plants. It's sufficient to target power distribution stations.
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