Nuclear Physics: How to Zap an ICBM

After years of sophisticated underground nuclear tests in Nevada, U.S. weapons scientists are confident that they have finally conceived an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that can be effective. Sidestepping the complex problem of directly intercepting an attacking 17,000-m.p.h. intercontinental ballistic missile with a defensive missile —a feat equivalent to hitting a flying bullet with another bullet—they have designed a system that will use great bursts of X rays from exploding nuclear warheads to destroy enemy missiles at a distance.

To increase the intensity of X rays produced by a nuclear explosion, physicists can reduce the amount of uranium 238 in...

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