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COUNTDOWN by Sarah  Scoles Kirkus Star


The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons

by Sarah Scoles

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 2024
ISBN: 9781645030058
Publisher: Bold Type Books

Worries about nuclear Armageddon, on the back burner for decades, seem to be reviving.

In early November 2023, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was revoking its ratification of the 1996 global nuclear test ban treaty. In this astute assessment of the current situation regarding nuclear weapons, Scoles, a contributing writer at Popular Science and author of Making Contact and They Are Already Here, offers a must-read overview of America’s nuclear arsenal, emphasizing the technical details of keeping it up to date in the absence of testing, along with efforts at avoiding catastrophic surprises such as accidental explosions, unwanted actions by other nuclear powers, and simple theft of radioactive material for “trafficking or malicious use,” which has occurred more than 300 times during the past 30 years. The author reminds us that by 1992, the year after the Cold War ended, the U.S. had performed 1,054 nuclear tests—and none since. Readers wondering if these complex devices still work after resting in warehouses for three decades may be encouraged to know that government officials are also concerned about their viability. The Departments of Defense and Energy have long supported immense, expensive research programs in arcane areas of nuclear chemistry and physics. As backup, the government will soon resume production of fresh plutonium “pits”—hollow spheres that form the heart of a hydrogen bomb—for the first time since the 1980s. In her interviews, Scoles discovered that few of these scientists, engineers, and bureaucrats are war hawks; instead, they’re a mixture of people who constantly debate whether or not maintaining a nuclear arsenal deters a nuclear war. She also explores the work of antinuclear activists. Older readers who remember this debate from the Cold War years will not feel nostalgic; all readers will learn much vital information, some of it disturbing.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the current nuclear-weapon landscape.