North Korea’s nuclear device possibly a boosted fission weapon

North Korea’s nuclear device possibly a boosted fission weapon

It is highly likely that rather than a thermonuclear explosion, the claim of a hydrogen bomb is disinformation by the North Korean regime. For practical reasons, these weapons use lithium deuteride and it is not known if North Korea has the infrastructure to produce such material. 

What may be more plausible is the development of what is known as a ‘boosted fission weapon.’ Simple fission weapons rely on splitting heavy uranium or plutonium atoms, and are quite inefficient. For example, the US ‘Little Boy’ weapon only fissioned 1.4% of its fissionable material, while the ‘Fat Man’ fissioned up to 17%. Efficiency can be improved by adding the hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium (DT) into the mix, which may also permit the development of smaller weapons.

If these are added to the intense environment of a fission explosion, being much lighter, they will fuse and produce enormous numbers of high energy neutrons. These will boost fission reactions when added, greatly enhancing the original explosion by factors of five or more. Simple fission weapons or boosted weapons can be used to set off a thermonuclear secondary, but shouldn’t be confused with them. Even so, if operationalised, any North Korean nuclear device could still cause considerable damage and is a source of considerable concern.


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