A new danger raised recently is that a "dirty bomb" exploded by terrorists. That would not be not a nuclear bomb, but an ordinary explosive device, loaded with radioactive waste such as is found in spent fuel from nuclear reactor.
Such radioactivity can contaminate the location where the bomb explodes, to a range of perhaps a hundred feet or a few hundred feet. Coming close to such radioactivity is not likely to kill or seriously harm anyone. Much more harmful is ingesting it with food or air, so that it ends inside the body. Prompt medical treatment can remove most of it, but the main point would be to instill fear, in a visible and conspicuous way
The contamination must be cleaned up: failing to do so would create a long term health hazard. If a dirty bomb were exploded at a national shrine or monument, or at a focus of public activity, that place would have to be closed down, at the very least temporarily, and expensive clean-up would have to start, all these very visible actions. Furthermore, the general public is unfamiliar with nuclear physics and dreads anything tied to it. It is likely to react in fear.
Nuclear waste is usually well-guarded, since it is in the interest of any government to keep dangerous radioactivity away from its own citizens. Yet severely stressed societies exist, which lack the resources to prevent determined terrorists from breaking into depositories of nuclear waste, or from finding ways to quietly steal some of their contents. It is yet another danger we must address in this day and age.
Books about Nuclear Weapons
Out of the huge existing literature, here are a few samples. Be warned they my be out of print, though you might find them in libraries:
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, a thorough history, quite large and very well written. Simon and Schuster, 1987.
Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes, a continuation of the above story--the nuclear bomb effort of the Soviet Union (including its spying on the US) and the hydrogen bomb.
Simon and Schuster, 1995.
The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, edited by Samuel Glasstone, published 1962 by the U.S. Government Printer for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Detailed, full of graphs and figures.
Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, Henry DeWolf Smyth, Princeton U., 1945. The "Smyth Report," the first report published soon after the revelation of the US effort to produce the first nuclear bomb.
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