Required Essay 3 Version 1 (RE3v1)


The new Trump administration has expressed criticism of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. A group of incoming members of Congress have asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to provide a report on the scientific background necessary to understand certain aspects of the deal. 

As an analyst at the CRS, your task is to discuss some of the most important nuclear-explosive nuclides, describe how they can be produced and used to create a nuclear explosion, and explain why restricting the availability of nuclear-explosive materials is important for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Base your report on the information in the slides shown in class and in the readings posted on the Reading Assignments page.

Your report should be between 3 and 4 pages. Use the following structure:

  1. A brief summary.
  2. An introductory paragraph that describes some of the most important nuclear-explosive nuclides.
  3. A paragraph that (a) lists the isotope requirements for making a uranium weapon, (b) lists the technologies currently available to produce uranium that meets these requirements, and (c) notes and describes the particular technology that is currently favored.
  4. A paragraph that describes the simplest way to create a nuclear explosion using weapons-grade uranium.
  5. A paragraph that lists the usually quoted isotope requirements for making a plutonium weapon and describes the technologies used to produce plutonium that meets these requirements.
  6. A paragraph that describes how to create a nuclear explosion using weapons-grade plutonium.
  7. A paragraph that explains why the production method that is optimal for producing weapons-grade plutonium is incompatible with efficient power generation.
  8. A paragraph that describes why it is more difficult to make a bomb using reactor-grade plutonium than using weapons-grade plutonium. Indicate whether it is possible to create a nuclear explosion using reactor-grade plutonium.
  9. A final paragraph that explains briefly why restricting the availability of nuclear explosive nuclides is the most effective way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Your essay should be at least 3 pages in length but must not be longer than 4 pages, when printed in the format specified in the Student Handbook, including the title, headers, and footers. To check this, you should print the exact version you are going to submit. If your paper is longer than 4 pages when printed, the score it would have received will be marked down heavily.

The Student Handbook provides complete guidance for preparing and submitting writing assignments. Before you turn in your essay, be sure to review the writing assignment submission checklist in the Handbook.

Additional formatting requirements from the Congressional Research Service:

  • Your report should begin with a title that briefly describes the content of the report.
    • Center the title.
    • Set the title in bold, 16-pt font.
  • After the title, include a brief (2-4 sentence) summary of the content of your report.
    • Include a “Summary” header to clearly indicate this section.
    • The header should be set in bold, 14-pt font.
  • Each section should begin with a section heading.
    • You do not need a separate section for each paragraph above. Instead, break the material above into two or more sections based on your view of how the topics relate to each other.
    • Set each heading in bold, 14-pt font.
    • Keep these short.
  • Key terms should be in bold the first time you use them.
  • Use footnotes for citation.
    • Footnotes can be in 10-pt font.

If you would like to see examples of reports from the Congressional Research Service, consider the following:


In writing your report, assume that your reader is a college-educated member of congress who is familiar with the material that has been presented in the lecture-discussions and the material in the readings that have already been assigned.

You do not need to define terms that have been defined in previous essays or provide citations for these terms.

You should define other terms and provide citations for these definitions, but you do not need to place any standard definitions in quotes.

You do not need to provide citations when the information you use is common knowledge. In deciding what is common knowledge, consider what is known by a typical University of Illinois student who is not a student in Physics 280. If in doubt, include a citation.

Citation of sources:

As the sources you are to use in preparing this essay are clearly specified, there should be no doubt about what sources are being used for this assignment. Nevertheless, for practice we require explicit citations of all sources used for any definitions in the Required Essays.

To save space in the Required Essays, which are only a few pages long, we recommend referring to the pertinent sources using the following styles:

  Class Slides on Nuclear Weapons 17p280 Nuclear Weapons, slide 3
  Physics and Technology of NEM NEM, page 221-226
  Reactor-Grade and Weapons-Grade Plutonium in Nuclear Explosives DOE Pu Report, page 2

Do not include a bibliography or a list of references.

Further guidance:
  • Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence.
  • Omit any information that is not essential for addressing the points listed above.
  • Make your paragraphs clear, concise, and to the point.
  • Avoid repetition and unnecessary words, especially adjectives and adverbs, and use active voice.