The atomic bomb, also known as the A-bomb or simply The Bomb, is a device that converts a small amount of uranium into energy, thereby creating an explosion capable of reducing a large metropolitan area to a smoldering crater. Furthermore, residual radiation can intoxicate the target and surrounding areas for decades or even centuries to come. When combined with suitable delivery systems, The Bomb is arguably the only real-world doomsday device. As such, it has dominated geopolitics ever since its power was first demonstrated.
Atomic devices come in two main types: the fission bomb, which works by unleashing the energy resulting from the nuclear fission of Uranium or Plutonium, and the more powerful fission-fusion bomb (AKA. the thermonuclear bomb) in which the fission explosion is used to kick-start a hot-fusion reaction.
A bomb may be air-burst (detonated so that the fireball doesn't touch the ground) or ground burst (detonated on or near the ground). An air burst weapon will inflict superficial damage over a wide area and generate substantial electromagnetic pulse impact but is unlikely to breach hardened targets or create significant fallout. Ground bursters, by contrast, inflict more intense damage on a smaller area and are more likely to penetrate fortifications - but will vaporise and project a large plume of radiated fallout.
Recent advances have also developed the sub-surface bursting atomic device, in which the warhead penetrates deeply enough into the earth that the blast is completely contained. This form of explosion is expected to shock-liquify the ground generating earthquake like effects on the surface and destroy underground installations without creating airborne fallout.
There are several other variations, including the neutron bomb (which releases an increased proportion of its energy as fast neutrons rather than blast or radioactive fallout) and the cobalt bomb which is designed to increase the level of radioactive fallout contamination which it creates.
After the theoretical possibility became clear during the 1930s, the United States began actual development during World War II, in what has become known as the Manhattan Project. Japan capitulated after the US used the bomb against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These remain the only two times the bomb has been used offensively.
There were also even less sane plans to use atomics for civil engineering purposes - peaceful nuclear explosions in fact. A more advanced understanding of the realities of nuclear radiation and fallout put a stop to this sort of thing quite swiftly.
Game and Story Use
- An espionage plot can revolve around stopping people planning to acquire or sell atomic bombs or the capability to produce them.
- For a time travel or alternate history plot, changing which country develops the bomb at which moment in history will have a dramatic impact on the course of events.
- A pulp-era adventure could involve scientists —evil or otherwise — who are trying to invent an Atomic Bomb.
- "After the Bomb" is a common premise (if not THE standard premise) for Post-Apocalyptic settings.
- You can even have a cult of mutants who worship an unexploded bomb. That's always fun!