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posted by martyb on Friday March 27 2015, @05:12PM   Printer-friendly
from the bah-dah-BOOM! dept.

The atom bomb — leveler of Hiroshima and instant killer of some 80,000 people — is just a pale cousin compared to the hydrogen bomb, another product of American ingenuity, that easily packs the punch of a thousand Hiroshimas. That is why Washington has for decades done everything in its power to keep the details of its design out of the public domain. Now William J. Broad reports in the NYT that Kenneth W. Ford has defied a federal order to cut material from his new book that the government says teems with thermonuclear secrets. Ford says he included the disputed material because it had already been disclosed elsewhere and helped him paint a fuller picture of an important chapter of American history. But after he volunteered the manuscript for a security review, federal officials told him to remove about 10 percent of the text, or roughly 5,000 words. “They wanted to eviscerate the book,” says Ford. “My first thought was, ‘This is so ridiculous I won’t even respond.’ ” For instance, the federal agency wanted him to strike a reference to the size of the first hydrogen test device — its base was seven feet wide and 20 feet high. Dr. Ford responded that public photographs of the device, with men, jeeps and a forklift nearby, gave a scale of comparison that clearly revealed its overall dimensions.

Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs are attractive to nations and militaries because their fuel is relatively cheap. Inside a thick metal casing, the weapon relies on a small atom bomb that works like a match to ignite the hydrogen fuel. Today, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the only declared members of the thermonuclear club, each possessing hundreds or thousands of hydrogen bombs. Military experts suspect that Israel has dozens of hydrogen bombs. India, Pakistan and North Korea are seen as interested in acquiring the potent weapon. The big secret the book discusses is thermal equilibrium, the discovery that the temperature of the hydrogen fuel and the radiation could match each other during the explosion (PDF). World Scientific, a publisher in Singapore, recently made Dr. Ford’s book public in electronic form, with print versions to follow. Ford remains convinced the book “contains nothing whatsoever whose dissemination could, by any stretch of the imagination, damage the United States or help a country that is trying to build a hydrogen bomb.” “Were I to follow all — or even most — of your suggestions,” says Ford, “it would destroy the book.”

 
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  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Friday March 27 2015, @06:14PM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Friday March 27 2015, @06:14PM (#163261)

    1. Get a lot of hydrogen
    2. Compress it.

    Should I be expecting a visit from my local FBI agent?

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  • (Score: 4, Funny) by bob_super on Friday March 27 2015, @06:21PM

    by bob_super (1357) on Friday March 27 2015, @06:21PM (#163266)

    You could have detailed it a bit more:
    2a) Get a lot of refined U
    2b) Compress it near the H.
    There's also that tricky business of not letting the U going critical disperse the H rather than compress it.

    Brb, someone's at the door.

  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Saturday March 28 2015, @01:29AM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday March 28 2015, @01:29AM (#163378)

    That's not really how it works. What you do is get a bunch of deuterium ("heavy hydrogen"), and put it next to a fission bomb. The heat from the fission bomb (1E7 K, IIRC) is great enough to cause the deuterium to fuse into helium, releasing far more energy.

    I had a college class that went over the basics of how A-bombs and H-bombs worked for a day or two; this stuff isn't that complicated, and it's not a secret. Otherwise they wouldn't teach it to college kids in engineering school. What's hard is actually getting the materials and making it all work. Deuterium, in particular, isn't that easy to get: it naturally occurs in water, but only of course at very tiny concentrations, so harvesting it usually requires giant buildings and a lot of industrial apparatus. Same goes for the A-bomb: you need Uranium-238, not the regular isotope U235, so you have to get your hands on enough Uranium and then enrich it, which is easier said than done.