When Paul and the Fremen use something called Atomics to breach the shield wall- were they using atomic/nuclear weapons as we understand them?

  • I have to wonder how similar "atomics" are to scientifically possible nuclear bombs. The answer to the question scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/262031/… quotes Paul talking about finding and moving the Atreides house atomics implying that two people can do so. I do not think that it is physically possible for two people to move nuclear bombs that have sufficient power to be a planetary government's deterrent against other planetary governments. Deterrance on that scale requires bombs with much greater total mass and volume. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 17:15
  • @M.A.Golding- I wouldn't be so sure- back in the 90's I often heard people being afraid of terrorists being able to smuggle nukes in suitcases.
    – Nu'Daq
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 17:22
  • @M. A. Golding: not sure about your guess there. So called "tactial nuclear munition" where developed during the cold war to be able to be used in cannons or hand delivered. The B54 weight was 58.5 pounds (26.5 kg) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W54#Special_Atomic_Demolition_Munition_3
    – ghellquist
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 20:28
  • 1
    @M.A.Golding This site puts the currently realized nuclear devices at 3-6 kilotons/kg. IIRC 33 kg is a standard one-person lift weight guideline, putting a "two person movable" bomb somewhere at 200-400 kt. But that weight includes casing, electronics, focusing devices, etc. If you apply "scifi" reduction & efficiency improvements, you could probably reasonably get at least another order of magnitude out of that.
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


The simple answer is yes according to the Dune Wiki page on Atomics, although as the page itself points out some of the information listed there may not be canon.

The page defines Atomics as

Atomics, referred to the process of nuclear fission, and more specifically to nuclear weapons of mass destruction. A particularly famous type of atomic weapon was the stone burner.

The page also notes that

The actual and suspected use of atomics made several appearances throughout intergalactic history. Notable among these were the following critical events:

  • The destruction of part of the Shield Wall by Paul Atreides just prior to the Battle of Arrakeen, which led to the defeat of the forces of House Harkonnen and the Sardaukar, and the the Ascension of House Atreides.

The way the atomics are discussed in David Lynch's film does seem to suggest they are bombs. No mushroom cloud is depicted which I suspect is due to the budget of the special effects department. Gurney, Paul and Stilgar are portrayed as wearing radiation suits prior to the atomics being detonated though.

  • 2
    I'm pleased you brought up the "Stoneburners" - those are literally bombs that melt down through the ground - the same meaning as a nuclear reactor "melting down", where they heat up enough to burn/melt the concrete and stone surrounding the reactor.
    – bob1
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 4:19
  • 1
    @bob1 I don't think the Stoneburners were intended to be "melting through" by producing heat through fission, though. From what I remember from the book, I was under impression they were a "nuclear shaped charge", similar to the concept of Casaba-Howitzer project charges - i.e. channeling the energy of the explosion to produce a narrow, high-velocity jet of superheated plasma to burn through the crust of the planet. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 5:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.