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I had been thinking about whether it is possible to stop an incoming missile or not. I found something quite interesting here.

So, there many people said that it will be possible to stop an incoming missile (at least in some cases) by firing an anti-missile at it and the nuclear weapon will break into "a lot of little pieces" and "harmlessly fall to the ground".

However as I had learnt in our class, a nuclear weapon contains two small masses of radioactive materials separated by a lead barrier such that each mass is below critical mass but the sum total of two masses is greater than critical mass. So when the lead barrier is removed, chain reaction starts and explosion occurs. So, I think that in case an anti-missile hits the nuclear weapon, it would break and as soon as the lead barrier breaks the two masses in air will have sum larger than critical mass and chain reaction will start. So there will be explosion in the air and large amount of radioactive particles will fall to the ground resulting in future deaths.

So, the reason I feel that I might be wrong is that the two masses will remain separated in air so they might not be considered as a mass greater than critical mass so no explosion.

Any light regarding this matter will be highly helpful. Thanks.

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    $\begingroup$ While your description of how a nuclear weapon works is not accurate, Jimmy360's comment below is correct: in order for a nuclear weapon to develop its full energy a lot of things have to happen in a very precise and timely manner. Even a strong enough "bump" against the weapon will prevent that and at most the weapon will "fizzle" at a tiny fraction of its design energy. A high speed collision with a kill vehicle is more than enough to render a nuclear warhead completely useless. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne I guess that Conrad Turner also gave the same answer elaborately...so I chose his answer as the accepted answer. $\endgroup$ Commented May 22, 2015 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ I am not offended, if that's what you mean. I hope that you are getting a few good pointers here. :-) $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne What do you mean by "few good pointers"? $\endgroup$ Commented May 22, 2015 at 8:36

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There are two general types of atomic warhead, the gun type where two sub-critical masses of Uranium 235 which when triggered one is fired at the other to create a critical mass, the other is an implosion device where a hollow sphere of Plutonium 239 is compressed by the detonation of an explosive jacket. Such devices comprise the trigger for themo-nuclear warheads (hydrogen bombs).

To get such a warhead to detonate properly requires the correct firing of the conventional explosives which unites and compresses the critical mass of fissile material. I suppose that with a poorly designed gun type warhead it would be possible to get the thing to detonate due to a sympathetic detonation of the conventional charge, but a badly designed implosion device would not detonate correctly this way. You should also note that many proposals for anti-ballistic missile weapons do not carry explosive warheads but are intended to achieve their purpose by impacting the target at high speed to give a kinetic energy kill.

Also in the current era, weapon designers go to great lengths to prevent conventional explosives in weapons detonating when they are not supposed to, making sympathetic detonation of a nuclear warhead when hit by an anti-missile weapon even less likely.

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Nuclear weapons work precisely. The removal of the lead is only one step. A controlled explosion launches one subcritical mass at the other. An anti-missile strike would not trigger such a precise mechanism, but instead, would break it.

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