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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: 1) by kstox on Saturday March 28 2015, @03:34AM

    by kstox (2066) on Saturday March 28 2015, @03:34AM (#163416)

    As long as he has shown the material is all publicly accessible, the government really doesn't have a leg to stand on.

    The interesting thing about fusion warheads is that precision means a lot, or you have to build them really big. A little
    off, and it wont light.

    The scary thing is how many of the fine details have been forgotten. In one recent incident, they had forgotten how
    to make the foam which was crucial to one design. They since have figured it out.

    We really should allow an occasional test of one of these puppies. People seem to be forgetting how incredibly powerful
    and horrendous these weapons are.

    And finally, the scariest thing. You can scale fusion devices. In theory, tertiary devices can be built that would have yields approaching a gigaton.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @04:26AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @04:26AM (#163435)

    > As long as he has shown the material is all publicly accessible, the government really doesn't have a leg to stand on.

    I wouldn't be so sure. I'm too lazy to dig up all the specifics. But there is a working process for classifying the synthesis of public information. The idea is that a variety of independent facts are not sensitive on their own. But the act of combining them is a potential means of revealing classified information. It isn't the facts, it is the organization. Kind of like how all the letters of alphabet don't mean anything individually, but combine in certain groups with a specific order they can communicate a lot more information.

    Whether that would apply here is another question. I'm just pointing out that the combination of facts can be more revealing than the just the facts on their own.