Scott Horton Interviews Gordon Prather

Scott Horton, August 16, 2008

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Dr. Gordon Prather discusses the different uses for varying yield nuclear weapons for missile defense, the tactical and strategic handicaps of our missile defense systems, what it takes to build a nuclear weapon and the difference between a nuclear weapons program and what the Iranians are doing.

MP3 here. (31:09)

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. — ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

8 Responses to “Gordon Prather”

  1. Maybe I missed it or can’t remember the DU-angle to the Iranian story.

    If the Iranians got things really up and going with their nuclear energy program and they would enrich no further than about say 4-5% U235 or something like that. Would they not be able to use the U238 and make DU weapons and armour and perhaps sell it to parties that could conceivably make the costs in lives, but more important in money, to the Israeli to maintain their occupation and slow-motion ethnic cleansing or periodically invade certain countries rise even more steeper than already is the case?

    Or is it that simply not possible, given quantities, regulations and inspections or other reasons?

  2. Did i hear that right? Dr. Gordon Strangelove thinks the U.S. should put anti-nuke nuke missiles all over the place to counter the Russians?

  3. If you are referring to the part about 15 minutes into the interview, after the part about the AABM “depressed trajectory and such” capabilities of the modified Russian Iskander SS-26 missiles, then that is not what I deduced from it, rather the exact opposite. “Who knows how crazy people think…” And neither did I get the impression of any suggestion about nuclear ABM interceptor missiles (which would be completely moronic if not straightforward suicidal) but conversely an AABM system conceivably could be. At least that is how I understood it.

    And “Dr. Gordon Strangelove?” Man, have you ever even read or heard mr Prather before?

  4. Yeah, I usually like his stuff, maybe I misinterpreted. I was surprised that Prather seems to think missile defense is plausible, even if interceptor nukes were used. My understanding is that any ‘defense’ against ICBMs can be countered, usually at 1/100th of the cost of the ‘defense’ system. Even if a missile shield is 99% effective, and Russia launched 1000 missiles, that means 10 cities gone. Even if it’s 100% effective, there’s always the option of putting them in shipping crates and mailing them, or using other unconventional delivery methods. Not only is ‘missile defense’ massive charity for the defense contractors, ‘missile defense’ actually makes us less safe by making conflict more likely.

  5. I agree with you, a “missile shield” is just another ploy for an arms-race, or in plain English: profits.

    An extra danger is that with a missile shield on it’s border in countries like Poland, while Warszawa, much like Washington has no shortage of complete idiots and dangerous fools, the Russians could feel their warning time is considerably shortened, since they first are going to have to eliminate the ABM systems on their borders before launching retaliatory attacks.

    In the short time that humanity has these nuclear weapons (just try to mark it on an evolutionary timescale, you’ll either won’t have the pencil sharp, or a road long enough to do it) we have had some serious incidents in the past that could easily have escalated into a “nuclear exchange” (which I have a hard time to imagine not escalate further.) This time any possible Stanislav Petrov simply may not have the luxury of time to save the world another time. If not this time then the next, there are no “ifs” in this game.

  6. Dr Prather says that 120 lbs. is normally considered about the minimum for a U235 fission bomb core. Does this mean that there is no such thing as a ‘suitcase nuke’? If so, someone should tell Alex Jones.

  7. um, sorry – found my answere here:

    “The smallest possible bomb-like object would be a single critical mass of plutonium (or U-233) at maximum density under normal conditions. An unreflected spherical alpha-phase critical mass of Pu-239 weighs 10.5 kg and is 10.1 cm across … Since the critical mass for alpha-phase plutonium is 10.5 kg, and an additional 20-30% of mass is needed to make a significant explosion, this implies 13 kg or so. A thin beryllium reflector can reduce this by a couple of kilograms, but the necessary high explosive, packaging, triggering system, etc. will add mass, so the true absolute minimum probably lies in the range of 11-15 kg (and is probably closer to 15 than 11). This is probably a fair description of the W-54 Davy Crockett warhead. This warhead was the lightest ever deployed by the US, with a minimum mass of about 23 kg (it also came in heavier packages) and had yields ranging from 10 tons up to 1 Kt in various versions. The warhead was basically egg-shaped with the minor axis of 27.3 cm and a major axis of 40 cm. The test devices for this design fired in Hardtack Phase II (shots Hamilton and Humboldt on 15 October and 29 October 1958) weighed only 16 kg, impressively close to the minimum mass estimated above. These devices were 28 cm by 30 cm …
    http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/News/DoSuitcaseNukesExist.html

  8. compare this figure:

    “An installation (at Dimona, Israel) for processing irradiated fuel was completed with French assistance in the mid-1960s. Between 15 and 40-60 kilograms of fissionable plutonium can be processed annually. This facility probably has the capacity to produce plutonium for five to ten nuclear warheads a year. ”
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/israel/dimona.htm

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