Monday, September 28, 2009

98. Californium


Nuclear Handguns

With its prodigious spontaneous fission rate, Cf-252 serves well as a compact, intense, fission-spectrum neutron source, and is thus the only isotope of californium of any significant industrial importance. Militarily, however, it's Cf-251 that really kicks butt.

Here's why: As a rule, isotopes with even-numbered masses have high spontaneous fission rates and are less fissile. Those with odd numbers are highly fissile and have lower spontaneous fission rates. So the even isotopes are good for radiation sources, the odd ones for explosives.

Cf-251 is extremely fissile, with a comparatively low spontaneous fission rate, and an 800-year half-life. A critical mass of 1.7 kg can easily be made into a .45-caliber projectile.

The world's only nuclear sidearm is the Screaming Eagle handgun, manufactured by Remington under contract to the DOD. It is not an easy weapon to master. Given the weight and considerable heat of the projectile, the Screaming Eagle requires a brawny infantryman and a "two-handed" stance. The exact yield of such a projectile is, of course, classified. But industry estimates range from 0.5 to 40 kilotons of TNT per bullet.

The range of the Screaming Eagle handgun is up to 1.5 miles. The blast radius of its projectile is 2 miles. It is for this reason that an infantryman rated to carry the Screaming Eagle should be not only brawny but dumb as mud.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.


  1. The Davy Crockett nuclear recoilless rifle had similar issues.

  2. Very interesting and funny writing style!