Thinking the Unthinkable

July 16, 2016

Nuclear Weapons in Terrorist Hands

The Overlooked Factor Behind the Turkish Military Coup



Even as I began to write this, local authorities had block access to Incirlik airbase in Turkey where the US houses several nuclear weapons.  Now, stop and think for a moment, “if” one of these mini tactical nukes were missing, how likely would it be that any information could escape?  How likely was it that NASA knowing that the Columbia crew would die  would choose not to tell them.  Which is more dangerous, the numbers that would die in a terrorist backed nuclear attack or the numbers who would die under the stampeding masses confused by trying to find escape from a supposed nuclear targeted location?  Calculating the impact of such information, the devastating effect of fear would undermine the ability of world citizens to find peace and security. The only possible pulse indicative of such terror would be seen in the major world powers response to such a possibility, as well as the more glaring silence or unusual missing information on the matter; for example, the on going concern for matters at Incirlik NATO airbase in Turkey with associated power failure.  Though the attempted military coup has been prevented, at 13:59 hrs UTC July 16, 2016, no word on nuclear weapons accounting at the Incirlik NATO airbase has been forth coming.

What was the function of Turkey’s military coup?  By claiming soldiers were deceived by anti-Erdogan authorities to perceive the coup was a military ‘exercise’ the majority of military combatants may obtain absolution in efforts to maintain stability of Turkish troops. Those willing to sacrifice their lives being among the mindset of those Muslims for whom laying down their lives is recognized as martyrdom for Allah’s honor; what could be gained from a coup well calculated to wind up with the capture of many and death sentence for organizers?  Note I didn’t say a coup that failed, but rather a military coup planned to translate the martyrdom of many into significant power for critical players interacting with IS (formerly ISIS/ISIL). The Incirlik airbase. as a NATO site in Europe, though classified, is of critical importance to the US military as it houses some 50-90 tactical nuclear weapons. Significant concern was expressed for NATO nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik airbase, yet accountability was not verified during the critical power outage to classified sites. At this time no further word has been received regarding troops access to NATO nuclear arms which were among jets and tanks that were activated for the purpose of the coup. How possible is it that avoiding the temptation to access greater power for the coup through nuclear weapons was successfully resisted? 

Naturally little can be found regarding the current state of US tactical nuclear weapons technological advancement. However, by applying basic nuclear science to the former state of tactical nuclear weapons from the 1950’s, it’s possible to extrapolate the size and mobility of current tactical nuclear weapons beyond restrictions imposed by current levels of classified security.

Below is the Davy Crockett recoilless spigot gun developed in the late 1950s for use against Soviet and North Korean armor and troops in case war broke out in Europe or the Korean peninsula. As one can see, sixty years ago tactical nuclear weapons were small enough to be transported with the effort of a few men.


Below the Davy Crockett gun in comparison to one man.
Davy Crockett tactical nuclear weapon.


Below, the Davy Crockett tactical nuclear weapon ready for firing with four men present.

It's easy to see that sixty years ago nuclear technology had made nuclear weapons were small and light enough to be handled by a few men. As it was in 1950 the state of nuclear technology was strongly dependent on the spherical mass of fissile material; what has changed in the last sixty years is advancements made with the important implosion device necessary for translating a given mass to super critical states necessary for rapid nuclear fission to occur; also, advancements in the nature of fissile nuclides used to reach criticality by employing nuclides which permit smaller size and mass. Thus todays tactical nuclear weapons combine advancements which employ more efficient implosion mechanisms and greater nuclide density (mass/cm²) making for smaller warheads capable of criticality. With such advancements applied to implosion-type nuclear weapons, a spherical mass of fissile material which is substantially less than a critical mass, can be made explosively supercritical rapidly by very quickly increasing mass density. Indeed, sophisticated nuclear weapons programs can make a functional device from less material than more primitive weapons programs require. (1)

The shape with minimal critical mass and the smallest physical dimensions is a sphere. Bare-sphere critical masses at normal density of some actinides are listed in the following table.

Nuclide Half life
Critical mass
uranium-233 159,200 15 11 [2]
uranium-235 703,800,000 52 17 [2]
neptunium-236 154,000 7 8.7 [3]
neptunium-237 2,144,000 60 18 [4][5]
plutonium-238 87.7 9.04–10.07 9.5–9.9 [6]
plutonium-239 * 24,110 10 9.9 [2][6]
plutonium-240 * 6561 40 15 [2]
plutonium-241 * 14.3 12 10.5 [7]
plutonium-242 375,000 75–100 19–21 [7]
americium-241 * 432.2 55–77 20–23 [8]
americium-242m 141 9–14 11–13 [8]
americium-243 7370 180–280 30–35 [8]
curium-243 29.1 7.34–10 10–11 [9]
curium-244 18.1 13.5–30 12.4–16 [9]
curium-245 8500 9.41–12.3 11–12 [9]
curium-246 4760 39–70.1 18–21 [9]
curium-247 15,600,000 6.94–7.06 9.9 [9]
californium-249 351 6 9 [3]
californium-251 290 5 8.5 [3]
californium-252 2.6 2.73 6.9 [10]

The critical mass for lower-grade uranium depends strongly on the grade: with 20% U-235 it is over 400 kg; with 15% U-235, it is well over 600 kg.

The critical mass is inversely proportional to the square of the density. If the density is 1% more and the mass 2% less, then the volume is 3% less and the diameter 1% less. The probability for a neutron per cm travelled to hit a nucleus is proportional to the density. It follows that 1% greater density means that the distance travelled before leaving the system is 1% less. This is something that must be taken into consideration when attempting more precise estimates of critical masses of plutonium isotopes than the approximate values given above, because plutonium metal has a large number of different crystal phases which can have widely varying densities.

Thus, the ability to build smaller more powerful nuclear weapons depends on rapidly increasing the density of fissile material. In the above chart is a list of nuclides capable of producing fission reactions dependent upon mass and diameter (size); it doesn't take a nuclear scientist to see that some nuclides have much smaller mass for criticality based on diameter.  It's easy to see the size of critical mass difference between Uranium 235 used in the Hiroshima bomb (17 cm) and Plutonium 239 used in the Nagasaki bomb (9.9 cm). The task of making smaller tactical nuclear weapons depends on using nuclide materials with smaller critical mass and diameter which can be made super critical through compactly designed implosion spheres.

As stated above, the earlier publicized 1950's design for the Davy Crockett tactical nuclear weapon reveals a highly mobile weapon capable of movement and transport. Knowing that a few men could handle such a weapon, we determine the basic weight for a critical mass for various nuclides without the additional implosion materials to determine if a couple of men could possibly handle such a weapon. Considering baseline criticality or the absolute minimum mass for a given nuclide, the weight of uranium-235 would be 115 pounds and for plutonium-239 would be 22 pounds. 

To ascertain how much more compact and portable today's tactical nuclear weapon's are for soldiers to lift and carry, one only need examine the more basic 1950's design then apply the compacting effects afforded by the above findings with newer implosion devices and more efficient nuclides,


Conclusion: If the military personnel involved in the recent coup in Turkey could acquire fighter jets, tanks, armored transport carriers and soldiers and other military personnel to pull off a viable military coup, how difficult would it be to make off with a few or many of the tactical nuclear weapon stored at the Incirlik NATO airbase?  If just one or more nuclear weapons were stolen during the military coup, even if the coup failed to establish an ongoing presence, would it not have succeeded if the nuclear weapons were successfully taken? What are the possibilities that the purpose of the coup was simply a distraction set up to provide enough confusion to obfuscate the acquisition of nuclear weapons; with soldiers being considered for possible exoneration from wrongs committed while operating under the supposition of a military exercise, and perpetrators suffering glorious Islamic martyrdom, how unsuccessful was the coup if the critical nuclear power card has been won with the games involving the terrorist acts of IS (formerly ISIS/ISIL)


July 16, 2016