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I am wondering about measured data on how efficient fission bombs were say the first ones.

Since the fission in chain reaction releases large amounts of energy in fractions of a second, I imagine the material will explode when the rapid rise in heat provides the necessary thermal motion energy to expand.

But I can imagine that this could happen before all the fissile material is burned, and maybe knowing the relative fractions of products (fissile fragments) could give such estimate.

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    $\begingroup$ You can measure the energy of the blast wave by measuring the pressure change in the shock wave. See, for example, the answer http://physics.stackexchange.com/a/222184/59023. Once you have this, you can determine (roughly) the energy released in the explosion, which will give you an estimate of how many atoms split... $\endgroup$ – honeste_vivere Jan 22 '16 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ As Nicola wrote, analysis of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs suggest that only a few percent of the existing fissile material in fact did undergo fission. Presumably modern bombs are far more efficient (to mis-use the word "efficient" in a horrific way). $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jan 22 '16 at 15:36
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Basically Fission Bomb efficiency depends significantly on the neutron flux intensity before it blows itself apart hence the elements to be considered are

  • the mechanism used to achieve supercritical mass
  • the “neutron boosting” strategy

Regarding the critical mass generation mechanism as far as I can remember Little Boy’s used a gun type one and it was very inefficient (under 2%) [1] A great improvement of one order of magnitude [1] has been first tested on Fat Man and fine tuned later using Explosive Lens [2] to transform a divergent wavefront created by conventional explosive into a convergent one. This technique is used to create an implosion to achieve a critical mass much larger than any gun type mechanism can produce.

Regarding the neutron boosting strategy it basically exploits the high temperature reached at the first stages of the fission chain reaction to trigger nuclear fusion in a small quantity of deuterium and tritium so to produce extra neutron and increase the effective flux interacting with the fuel. Boosting should allow for another order of magnitude improvement with respect to implosion-only devices.

[1] http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/little-boy-and-fat-man

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explosive_lens

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  • $\begingroup$ The value 2% refers to "percentage of fissile material that underwent fission"? Any reference to that value? $\endgroup$ – rmhleo Jan 22 '16 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Edited adding the reference for the efficiency as well as its definition $\endgroup$ – Nicola Bernini Jan 22 '16 at 15:48

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