Gamma-ray weapons could trigger next arms race

August 19, 2003 | Source: news service

An exotic kind of nuclear explosive being developed by the US Department of Defense could blur the critical distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons. The work has also raised fears that weapons based on this technology could trigger the next arms race.

One gram of fully charged hafnium isomer could store more energy than 50 kilograms of TNT. Miniature missiles could be made with warheads that are far more powerful than existing conventional weapons.

The effect of a nuclear-isomer explosion would be to release high-energy gamma rays capable of killing any living thing in the immediate area. It would cause little fallout compared to a fission explosion, but any undetonated isomer would be dispersed as small radioactive particles, making it a somewhat “dirty” bomb.