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Nuclear Glossary Page

Often, whilst researching information for this web site, I would come across a term which I did not fully understand, or for which for which no meaning was apparent. This page will hopefully allow you to  understand more fully the information I've provided for you.

Click on the terms for a brief description of their meaning.

Blast Wave

A pulse of air which increases sharply at the front, accompanied by strong winds, caused by a powerful explosion.

Critical Mass

The minimum mass of a fissionable material that will just maintain a fission chain reaction. For an explosion to occur the system must be "super-critical", i.e. the mass of the material must exceed the critical mass under existing conditions.

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Cruise Missile

A pilot-less jet-propelled missile capable of carrying a nuclear or conventional warhead. Cruise missiles can be launched from land, sea or air.


A sharp pulse of long-wave electo-magnetic radiation caused by a nuclear explosion. The intense electo and magnetic fields produced can easily damage all unprotected electronic equipment. We are unable, at this moment in time, to protect our equipment fully from such effects. The EMP has no effect on living organisms.


The term given to particles of dust and debris which have been sucked into a mushroom cloud and become eradiated (made radioactive). These particles can fall to the ground near the site of the explosion or be carried thousands of miles in the upper atmosphere. More fall out is produced by ground-blast nuclear weapons.


Top of pageFirestorm

Stationary mass fire usually occurring in urban areas. The rapid use of oxygen by the fires causes an inrush of wind, which supplies fresh oxygen to keep the fires burning.


This is a type of nuclear reaction which releases vast amounts of energy when heavy elements (often uranium 235 or plutonium 239) are split apart to create a lighter atoms. Nuclear fission is less effective than fusion.  

Flash Blindness

Caused by the reflex glance at the immense bright light given off during a nuclear explosion. Its effects range from temporary blindness to permanent loss of sight.


This is a type of nuclear reaction which releases vast amounts of energy when two atomic nuclei are combined (or fused) to create a heavier nucleus. This is how the Suns creates its energy, and is the basis of Hydrogen bombs. Also referred to as thermonuclear reactions. 

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Gamma Radiation

High frequently electro magnetic radiation emitted from nuclei when they decay. Gamma radiation is visible, similar to light, and is hard to shield against.


Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) are weapons which are ground launched and have a range in excess of 3400 miles. They can contain a conventional or nuclear payload.


The amount of energy released by detonating 1,000 tons of TNT.


The amount of explosive energy released by the detonation of 1,000,000 tons of TNT.

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Over Pressure

The pressure (usually expressed in pounds per square inch) above what would be considered normal for a particular area. This raise in pressure is caused by the rapid expansion of gases occurring after a nuclear explosion. The highest over pressure is usually found the exact moment the shockwave hits a specific location.


This describes the process in which more and more countries develop and deploy nuclear weapons.


A large pressure wave formed in air, water or underground caused by the explosion of nuclear devices.

Strategic Air Command

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was formed in 1946. It is the arm of the US Air force which controls the USA long-range nuclear strike force. This is based at Offutt Air force base in Nebraska.

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Surface Blast

Another name for a ground blast.


A thermo-nuclear bomb is one which massive amounts of energy are rapidly released due to the effects of fusion of hydrogen atoms. The intense heat needed to initiate a thermo-nuclear blast is created using a fission bomb located within the thermo-nuclear device.

Trinity Test

In July 1945 a test was carried out of an implosion device, called "Gadget",  in the Southern New Mexico desert. The yield was 15 kilotons and was proof that nuclear reactions could produce devastating weapons. 


The total effective energy released in a nuclear explosion. Usually expressed in the terms of tonnage of TNT required to create a similar explosion.


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