|“||If you don't know what an atomic bomb is, then imagine the worst thing possible. Atomic bombs were worse than that.||”|
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter; a modern thermonuclear weapon weighing little more than a thousand kilograms can produce an explosion comparable to the detonation of more than a billion kilograms of conventional high explosive.
Nuclear weapons were first used on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945 at the end of the Second World War. These two explosions could be seen as the start of the eventual end of the modern world that would come 132 years later, because it set a dangerous example for humanity that would come after this, that a war could be ended with nuclear weapons. The atomic bomb, a purely fission-based weapon, and the hydrogen bomb, a fission-fusion thermonuclear weapon, were both developed in the Fallout universe, with hydrogen bombs being considerably more dangerous because of the sheer size of their explosive yields.
In the Fallout world, megaton-class thermonuclear weapons had largely been retired by the major nuclear powers in favor of much smaller-yield warheads by the time of the Great War. An average strategic warhead in 2077 (with a few exceptions, such as the weapons which fell on Washington D.C.) had a yield of about 200-750 kilotons, but with a massive increase in radioactive fallout in place of thermal shock, much like a neutron bomb in our own world. However, despite the apparent reduction in raw explosive power, this arsenal was far more dangerous to the Earth's ecosystem, as it deposited far greater amounts of fallout in the atmosphere than had been assumed by pre-War models.
China, the United States of America, the Soviet Union, the European Commonwealth's member states and other countries around the world possessed massive nuclear stockpiles, which they were unafraid to use. A large amount of nuclear weapons were used during the Great War, and many electronics were mangled by the EMP that resulted from their explosions.
In Fallout, the Glow is testament to the horror of nuclear war, a radioactive hellhole destroyed by a direct nuclear hit. In the same game, the Vault Dweller also discovers an unused nuke sitting in the Master's vault, to be used as last resort against an undefeatable enemy.
A nuclear bomb also rests on the Enclave Oil Rig, and is, once again, used to obliterate the main enemy of the game (detonated by an explosion of the on-board nuclear reactor).
Nuclear weapons feature prominently in Fallout 3, in the form of a C-23 Megaton - Megaton's nuke, the Fat Man and its unique variant, the experimental MIRV, which are two tactical nuclear catapults, a bunker full of nuclear bombs, Vertibirds with nuclear carpet bombs, Liberty Prime's inexhaustible backpack arsenal of medium-sized bombs, various orbital weapons platforms such as Highwater-Trousers, and Bradley-Hercules - the Enclave-controlled satellite which destroys Liberty Prime in the Broken Steel add-on. Equally, near Fort Constantine, the PC has the ability to launch a Ballistic missile from a concrete silo, via a computer terminal, to an unmarked destination.
In Lonesome Road many nuclear weapons are scattered throughout the Divide namely in an old missile silo. There are also some un-detonated warheads scattered around in the divide that can be detonated using a Laser detonator. For more info see the page: Lonesome Road
A nuclear device also rests on the Secret Vault, as an emergency decontamination procedures (a self-destruct system) if the Vault started to become too dangerous. A special monorail located in the first complex of the laboratories section should be used to evacuate the vault dwellers quickly to a secret exit in the mountains. The Initiate activates it to obliterate all of its researches and all of the experimental deathclaws, radbugs, super mutants, robots, and the heavily mutated Attis, destroying both the Secret Vault and the city of Los.
The yield of the weapons in the games is never explicitly given. While it is stated that entire continents were scorched by nuclear weapons, their effects in the game are not even remotely similar to that description. Therefore, ten thousand or more nukes may have devastated the land.
The way the weapons are portrayed in the games is inconsistent; in the classic Fallout games, nuclear weapons are feared, respected, and exceedingly rare (not to mention that arguably the most intelligent being in the Fallout world, the Master, is unwilling to unleash the power of the atom again). In Fallout 3 nuclear weapons are commonplace and devoid of their traits from previous games. You can detonate a city with a nuclear bomb in the first few hours of the game, blow up cars in nuclear explosions and carry a personal tactical nuclear launcher.
However, the Fat Man fires a "mini" nuke, with a smaller yield. The Megaton bomb was quite destructive, and it is likely there were many more than one bomb dropped on the U.S. so the scale of the explosion is accurate while the lack of craters is not. This could be explained by the difficulty of changing the world map significantly.
The term nuke is also, in the Fallout Universe, a generic name for anything that resembles a missile. When Liberty Prime is destroyed in Fallout 3, there is no radioactive fallout, nor is there a scorched blast zone or mushroom cloud—the explosion is tiny in comparison to an real nuclear weapon. The same can be said about the Mobile Base Crawler in the Broken Steel add-on when it is destroyed by an orbital strike—again, there was just an explosion, and no radioactive, flaming byproducts of a nuclear detonation. This may indicate the missiles aboard B.O.M.B.-001 or other orbital platforms were not actually primed with warheads, but were missiles waiting to be armed.
Another inconsistency with Fallout 3's nuclear missile theory is the shape of the actual weapons themselves. Some, like the one within Megaton are 1940s "Fat Man" atomic bombs: powerful, but were quickly surpassed by even stronger thermonuclear (or "hydrogen") weapons, which were not barrel-shaped but were more streamlined in appearance.
It seems unlikely that the USAF would opt for both vertical-dropped and silo-launched nuclear weapons, since the latter are much more secure and accurate. The vertical-dropped bombs are not computerized and must rely upon bomber aircraft to be deployed. Ballistic missiles are launched via computer terminals and follow pre-set trajectories. Some nations, (like cold-war Great Britain) had only bomber aircraft and submarines to deliver their nuclear weapons. The United States, however, had silos and did not require bomber aircraft. In other words, if a nation had the option of silos and ballistic missiles, they'd opt for those rather than the cumbersome vertical-drop technique.
Nuclear weapons appear in all Fallout games.