Nuclear weapons, disarmament and nuclear proliferation

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
CHIM/03 FIS/04
Learning objectives
We provide an introduction to the many aspects of nuclear (and chemical) weapons, their effects, their control, the possibility of their elimination or their reduction in numbers and to the detailed analysis of the international treaties that deal with nuclear (and chemical) weapons. We will discuss the actual spread of nuclear and chemical weapons and the military strategies that deal with their possible use. We will discuss the present risks of the use of nuclear and chemical weapons.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course, the students are expected to have a clear
understanding about:

1. the physical principles that are involved in the construction of nuclear weapons. The students will be able to distinguish between the various categories of nuclear weapons (fission bombs, fission-fusion-fission "thermonuclear" weapons and the so called "neutron bombs"). The students will know, in principle, the steps needed in order to build the various types of nuclear weapons.

2. the effects of nuclear weapons (shock wave, thermic radiation, nuclear
radiation). The students will have a clear knowledge of the consquences of the nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the various nuclear tests.

3. the history of the nuclear arms race and the present distribution of nuclear weapons. The students will know about the various nuclear negotiations and the relevant treaties (signed, discussed but not signed, expired , etc) that limited the spread of nuclear wapoons. The students will know about the nature of various nuclear delivery systems (Missiles with their range and their basing systems, aircraft, etc) and their worldwide ditribution.

4. the existing relation between civilian nuclear energy technology and nuclear weapons. The students will know about the risks of further distribution of nuclear weapons and the problems related to possible nuclear terrorism. The students will know about the structure of the international institutions that control the spread of nuclear weapons and the prohibition of nuclear tests.

5. the present risks of the use of nuclear wepaons and the risks about the collapse of the non proliferation regime. The students will be aware about the nature of the nuclear risks and about the regions where nuclear risks are more significant (Middle East, South Asia, North East Asia). The situation concerning the Iranian nuclear programs will be discussed in detail.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
Course syllabus
Unit 1. Physical principles of nuclear wepaons. Various types of nuclear devices (fission bombs, thermonuclear bombs, the so called "neutron bombs"). Effects of Nuclear Weapons: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Effects of nuclear explosions in the air or on the ground (Marshall Islands, Semipalatinsk, etc)

Unit 2. History of the global spread of nuclear weapons. The first treaties that regulate or prohibit the possession or the tests of nuclear weapons. The NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) and the treaties that prohibit nuclear tets. The history and the motivations that lead to the various nuclear arms control treaties will be discussed. A particular emphasis will be given to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Unit 3. Ballistic Missiles and other delivery systems of nuclear weapons. Introduction to Ballistic Missile Defense. The ABM treaty. The evolution of nuclear stategies. New technologies for nuclear delivery systems (like the hypersonic missiles). The problem of cybersecurity and the consequences in terms of nuclear risks.

Unit 4. Various types of civilian nuclear reactors and the issue of transition from civilian nuclear technology to military nuclear technology. Introduction to uranium enrichment and plutonium separation (reprocessing). Security of nuclear power plants. Main nuclear accidents (Mayak, Three Miles Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima).

Unit 5. Nuclear safety and security. Instititutions that monitor nuclear activities (such as the IAEA in Vienna). Agreements between members of the NPT and the IAEA (safeguards agreements). The additional protocol.

Unit 6. Chemical Weapons: how they work. Treaties that prohibit the possession of Chemical Weapons and require their dismantlement. Recent cases of use of chemical weapons. The OPCW in the Hague. Biological weapons and the treaty that forbids them.

Unit 7. The most relevant controversies concerning Nuclear Weapons (including the Iranian nuclear problem). Present risks of nuclear weapons use. The Nuclear States that are not parties to the Non Proliferation Treaty: Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea. Present risks of nuclear proliferation.

Unit 8. A short history of Arms Control and Disarmament treaties (USA vs USSR - Russia). International law and nuclear disarmament. The problem of nuclear sharing and the presence of American nuclear weapons in some NATO countries (including Italy). The present crisis of nuclear disarmament treaties

Unit 9. Nuclear weapon free zones; the issue of a Middle Eastern zone free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Possible total elimination of nuclear weapons and the present proposed UN treaty on their elimination.
Prerequisites for admission
It is a course (6 credits) for students of the master program in Physics or Chemistry that can be accessible also to students who are ending the three year program. The course can also be accessible to students of Political Science or (International) Law, provided that these students acquire some basic knoweledge of the physical principles that concern nuclear weapons construction and their effects.
Teaching Resources
Notes distributed to students and the reference quoted there.
Assessment methods and Criteria
The exams will be only oral. Students will be required to talk about a subject of their choice for about 10 minutes. Then students will be interrogated on the entire set of topics discussed in the course.
FIS/04 - NUCLEAR AND SUBNUCLEAR PHYSICS - University credits: 0
Lessons: 42 hours