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Weapon of global destruction
The fallout would have a half-life of 5.27 years and would be intensely radioactive, a combination which caused Szilárd to suggest that such bombs could wipe out all life on the planet. One gram of 60Co contains approximately fifty curies (1.85 terabecquerels) of radioactivity. Held at close range, this amount of cobalt-60 would irradiate a person with approximately 0.5 gray of ionizing radiation per minute. A prompt, full body dose of approximately three to four grays would kill 50% of the population in thirty days, and could be accumulated in just a few minutes of exposure to a gram of 60Co.
Smaller amounts of 60Co would take longer to kill, but would be effective over a large area. Even so, critics of the cobalt bomb concept point out that the mass needed would still be unreasonably large: 1 gram of 60Co per square kilometer of Earth's surface is 510 tonnes. The sheer size and cost of such a weapon makes it unlikely to be built, although it is technically possible because there is no maximum size limit for a thermonuclear bomb.
What is unusual about this type of bomb is that the half-life is long enough to settle out before significant decay has occurred, and to make it impractical to wait out in shelters, yet is short enough that intense radiation is produced. After fifteen to twenty years, the 60Co radiation would decrease by a factor of eight to sixteen, presumably making the area habitable again. The 60Co would have decayed to stable, and thus harmless, 60Ni.
Cobalt bombs in the media
Inspired by Szilárd's warnings, science fiction authors have occasionally made cobalt bombs the doomsday weapons in their works:
The United Kingdom reputedly conducted a nuclear experiment involving cobalt as a radioactive tracer in 1957, at the Tadje site, Maralinga range, Australia, but it was announced to be a failure .
In the twenty-first century, new attention came to 60Co as a weapon of mass destruction, as the possibility of creating a dirty bomb to disperse this material might produce a swath of death downwind from it, over a significant area, as a terrorist attack. This is simpler than an actual nuclear weapon cobalt bomb, with a smaller range, though it is suggested that it could kill tens of thousands of people in a dense urban area .
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cobalt_bomb". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|