Let's imagine that tomorrow we (well, only those 18 or older, so not me) all wake up and find a nuclear bomb next to our bedsides1. The bombs are about the sizes of hand grenades2 and are easy to transport3. Each person can only set off their own nuclear bomb.

Once society adjusts to this fact, things will change, and change quickly. For example, wars will suddenly be much different, given that each side can blow up quite a lot of things.

How will wars be fought if everyone gets such a hand grenade?

We have to ignore the obvious, which is that some madman will set off his/her nuclear weapon rather quickly. Let's assume that something like that doesn't happen.

The yield of each weapon is about 10 tons of TNT.4

1 Very unlikely.
2 Also unlikely.
3 Still unlikely.
4 The unlikeliest of them all.

  • $\begingroup$ Quick clarification question.... what is the yield on those bombs? Kinda important to know if they are a pocket boom that is only enough to flatten a town, or if it is big enough to sink islands... $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty I'll add that. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ Is this warfare in the usual nation-state vs nation-state? Or Asymmetrical warfare of nation-state vs non-state group (ie, USA vs Taliban)? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 18:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 25Kton weapons are not suitable for a grenade. Maybe 10 or 15tons instead. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think there would be wars anymore. I think nobody would like to offend anyone - neither by words nor by actions - out of the fear of "explosive consequences". $\endgroup$
    – mg30rg
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 22:11

5 Answers 5


I know you said no nut cases, but you gave them the bomb too. Governments take second fiddle to them...

You still have to worry about mutual destruction. You can't throw a 25Kt hand grenade far enough to save your self, unless dropping it from a plane gives you a chance to survive.

Fringe groups are going to make the difference here. martyr's are going to change the face of the world. The 'Islamic' extremists have their prayers answered. One of the biggest resources they lack are bombs and the ability to get them to the people who will use them to the location they plan to set them off. We won't have wars for awhile because we'll be dealing with all the nut cases pulling the pin for greater causes.

Hopefully, when things settle down, everyone who has survived is a little wiser and more cautious about killing others for any reason. A new world will rise from the ashes of the nut jobs. This could include anyone who has a grudge against anyone else and is willing to die to take them out.

"Obama is ruining the country, I'll blow up the white house"

"I'm dying of cancer, I'll take out Mecca by sky diving in"

"If I can't have Shania Twain, nobody else will have her either"

The planet would be a smoking ruin. Wouldn't need governments to make war.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is of course assuming we don't all die... $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ Would you be able to attach the warhead...err grenade to an arrow Rambo style and get the distance you need to escape? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @James don't think so, the Hiroshima bomb was ~15Kt. Dropping it from a plane appears to be the best bet, and we don't know how long the fuse is either... $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ Why does wanting Shania Twain make someone a nutcase? $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 0:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Only if they won't share! ;) $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 0:28

The smallest "practical" weapon ever fielded was the "Davy Crockett", which used a warhead in the sub kiloton range. Even using a recoilless cannon to fire the round still put the crew in the blast and flash radius of the weapon, which provided little incentive to actually use such a thing. So the first issue is that these nuclear hand grenades are essentially suicide weapons unless attached to a delivery system which puts the user out of harm's reach.

Carrying a nuclear hand grenade in your pocket is one thing, towing a small artillery piece, rocket launcher or drone catapult with the drone is a bit more obvious, and of course anyone who is keen on preventing you from deploying your nuke would only have to incapacitate the launching system, reducing you to a nuclear suicide bomber (not really much of an improvement, really).

The real effect of this is to eliminate the idea of nation states and fundamentally change the nature of "war". Nation States evolved to establish a monopoly on violence (above a certain scale), and war is conventionally defined as "the continuation of politics by other means". When every individual is a nuclear power, then most of the functions of the nation state are mooted. Gathering or protecting resources from other nations or criminals is not going to be possible by a nation state if your next door neighbour can use nuclear power to frustrate people's aims (much less the local chapter of the Hell's Angels). The only way to be "safe" is to hide out in the woods somewhere with a self contained farm, but even that could be discovered and threatened, so safety is only relative and temporary.

Eventually society wold collapse because no effective defense would be possible from criminals or madmen, everyone would have to try to stay isolated in a paranoid state, waiting for the day someone will come out and "nuke" them.

  • $\begingroup$ Why do so many people not get it about the Davy Crockett?? It could be handled in reasonable safety--you dive into your foxhole while the round is in flight. The lethal threat from the bomb is a line-of-sight threat, a foxhole gives you plenty of shielding. (Beware of being downwind, though!) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 23:21

10 tons of tnt is still pretty big, and I doubt many people can throw hard enough to actually survive the explosion.

Assuming we somehow avoid suicide bombers and other nut jobs...
The first people will hear of it is when someone wakes up, finds it, and decides to pull the pin just to see what it does.

This takes out the terminally curious and their neighbors.

Of those that survive, many will turn theirs in when the governments outlaw the grenades and require all citizens to turn them in.

Some will get stashed away to be saved for later, especially by people that don't trust the government.

Since you can't set off anyone else's grenade, and no one else can set yours off, there isn't much point in stealing them, but some people will still try for a little while.

After a while the biggest threat will be drunk idiots who decide to see who can throw the furthest.
"Here, hold my beer." will continue to be the most popular last words.

  • $\begingroup$ All I can say, good luck getting the grenades from people. The government will say "Turn them in". People will respond "Make me". The only reliable way to terminate somebody without guaranteeing the death of the cop/soldier is via a drone, but even so, all civilians within the city die. I'm not sure anybody would surrender theirs, as everyone will tell themselves "Them Japs [or insert any other country people don't like] let their citizens keep them nukers. We should protect ourselves! Second amendment baby! [at least in America]" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DevilApple227 I'm not so sure. A nuke is a lot different than a gun in anyone's mind, the second amendment protects guns, but not bombs, and maybe the government offers up a bounty/incentive to turn them in. The liberals would right off, and most of the conservatives as well. It's useless for self defense, and unless you're into suicide it's mostly useless for attacking too. You'd probably get 80-90% fast, and more would trickle in later. I did say that "some will be stashed away", but mostly by people that don't really plan to use them except as a last resort. Maybe a PSA about their power? $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, after a couple are set off by accident, and with the news coverage, the vast majority of sane people wouldn't want it anywhere near them. Spread some conspiracy rumors that the Government has a way to set them off remotely, and most survivalist types that would keep them would do it somewhere far away from their homes, which reduces the chance of them being used even more. The hardest is the "Assuming we somehow avoid suicide bombers and other nut jobs..." $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, legally, the second ammendment only applies to guns, but there will be plenty that will see this as a "sign of God" that you should keep your own safety. Plus, there will be some interest in self defense, as if somebody were to rob your house, for example. You could create a stalemate by saying that you will pull the pin if they don't back off, which forces them to bet their life on the fact that you won't pull the pin. I think quite a few people would back off, just in case. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ If you look at the types of weapons in civilian ownership when the US Constitution was written: Yes, amendment #2 applied to bombs at that time. Also cannon, and fully-equipped military-grade warships. The restrictions started to creep in later, just like they effectively circumvented the prohibition on keeping an standing army. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 21:02

This is a 10t surface blast in Boston. The human arm can't throw far enough to escape the blast effects thus making these grenades into suicide weapons. In the more usual nation-state vs. nation-state kinds of battles/wars, countries that place a high emphasis on human life will be at a distinct disadvantage from those that through fanaticism or culture place zero value on an individual human life. Russia and many east asian countries fall into this latter category.

Stand off distance becomes a very precious commodity for unshielded infantry. No one will want to get into close combat range with enemy troops in order to overrun a position because the nuclear hand grenade from a dying enemy will wipe out any numerical advantage the attackers may have and deny access to the blast area for many years. Military bases will have a very large exclusion zone around them to prevent anyone from getting close enough to damage the base. Structures will be hardened to survive anything but a direct hit.

Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented a strategic nuclear exchange since the dawn of the Atomic Age. This calculus applied to nation-states because they were the only people that had nukes. Now, with everyone having nuclear hand grenades, the same calculus applies to the common soldier. They will have to ask and answer the question:

Do I want to kill myself and the enemy but also kill all my buddies who are nearby?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ With decent radiation protection clothing, a grenade launcher like the M79 would give just enough range (350m) to make it not suicidal. The user would still need to take some cover but would have a second or two for that. A light mortar would be better still (700m+ range). Radiation protection would probably still be wise. Both would need modifications to the grenade and/or weapon but I doubt they would be too difficult. $\endgroup$
    – Avon
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Walks into a bar "Pardon me, let me just hang up my mortar over here" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 15:25

If a power plant was made to run on 25kT bombs, there would be enough energy to power the world for over 2000 years (assuming $8.1\cdot 10^{12} W$ energy consumption). On the other hand, the 10T bombs would only last for ~9 months. However it could be more useful to make use of the high energy density. 25kT is equivalent to $1.164g\cdot c^2$ and 10T is $0.4655mg\cdot c^2$ so the energy density is a few orders of magnitude less than that of antimatter.

If the imminent destruction problems are overcome, this could be of great use to the human race, this energy can be used to implement programs to increase efficiency and develop new energy sources (this could stretch it out for much longer) or can increase waste (depleting it much quicker).

However there is a problem, the owners of the bombs cannot be expected to live for millennia, so most bombs could become useless after several decades (no-one can detonate them) so unless all this energy is somehow stored, it would be lost.

Much more likely scenario: everyone would die very quickly.

  • $\begingroup$ Just because the chemical explosive trigger degrades doesn't mean that the nuclear fuel couldn't be used to power a reactor. That much already-refined fuel floating around would still be quite useful. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 21:07

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