North Korea has the Hydrogen Bomb

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Or so they claim, and judging from the latest quake from their test on Sunday they probably do.  If an H-bomb were dropped on Seoul, some two million people would be killed.  Greater devastation would be wreaked on Tokyo and Los Angeles.

North Korea is Exhibit A in the limitations of the rational actor school of foreign relations.  That posits that foreign policy should be based upon the belief that the foreign policy of other states can be understood, and better dealt with, by assuming that the leaders of the state are rational.  Two problems:  even a cursory study of history reveals that some leaders of nations have not been rational, and rationality in any case, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  This is not going to end well, especially for the people luckless enough to be born in North Korea.








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  1. The reason why hydrogen bombs release far more energy than uranium or plutonium bombs is because of the binding energy per nucleon curve:

    Iron is at the top of the curve. Hydrogen is at the bottom left connected by a sharply descending line. Uranium is at the top right connected by a slightly descending line. In fission (where a neutron hits a U-233 or U-235 or Pu-239 nucleus), the nucleus of the atom splits apart. The fission fragments are located nearer the center of the curve. The difference between their binding energy and that of the fissioned atom is the amount of rest mass converted into energy. That delta in binding energy released isn’t nearly as great as when hydrogen nuclei on the left of the curve fuse together. The reason why is owing to the greater steepness of the curve on the left. Thus, hydrogen bombs are far more powerful than uranium or plutonium bombs – by an order of magnitude.

    Now why then if fusion gives so much more energy can’t we build fusion power plants to replace fission? Because of the coulomb force of the positive charges in hydrogen nuclei. Hydrogen atoms require a lot of force to come togther – hence a fission bomb trigger to compress the hydrogen to star-like conditions. Pure fission on the other hand requires just a neutrally charged neutron hitting a the nucleus of a heavy metal atom. Whereas the like charges of hydrogen nuclei repel each other, nothing repels a neutrally charge neutron hitting a nucleus of a uranium or plutonium atom. And for a power plant, a great amount of energy is needed via lasers of particle beams or magnetic confinement to force the nuclei of hydrogen atoms together past the repulsive Coulomb barrier to the point where the strong nuclear force can take over and result in fusion. The amount of energy needed by the lasers or particle beams or magnetic confinement exceeds the amount given off by the fusion itself. Thermonuclear weapons overcome this with a fission bomb trigger that explosively compresses the fusion fuel via x-rays or similar mechanisms. But explosive compression cannot be used for a power plant because of safety concerns (besides, there would be no power plant left after the first compression!).

    Now all that said, the truth is far more complicated. I haven’t gone over fast fission, or use of deuterium, tritium or Helium-3 fusion fuels, a Tokomaks or all the rest. 40+ years of training and experience cannot be distilled into a sound bite, especially when a lot of it requires preliminary scientific and engineering knowledge which most people simply lack (not their job skills). But I hope this helps explain why an H-Bomb is so much more powerful than an A-Bomb.

  2. Thank you LQC. Your comment is very interesting. My comment concerns the word “rational” in describing national leaders. “rationality in any case, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.” Reason is an attribute of the rational soul. For individuals who deny and refuse to acknowledge God, their rational soul is not their fountain of virtue and wisdom. Lust for power, greed and selfishness direct their actions. Free will, their God-given free will causes them to deny free will and freedom to their citizens and neighbors. There is no love for their neighbor as themselves. They do not love themselves and it is all God’s fault.
    Perhaps when the H-bomb hits Los Angeles, this generation will believe in God and let us pray.

  3. Mary De Voe.

    You just might be right.
    If 3, 8 or 12 million people we’re demolished in an instant would it bring others back to Christ? Would they be shaken to the core enough to sincerely seek out God?
    For the sake of the fictional millions I would hope so. Otherwise the generation that is content without God could suffer much worse and for eternity an unequal heat.

    Holding back the arm of Justice is a reality.
    Mary, Our Mother, pleading for more time…more conversions.

  4. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

    To achieve the millions of souls effected in LA would aquire multiple devices.
    Thanks for clearing that up.

    Even a small 6kt bomb would cause great devastation.

    Nuke your own city… outrageous.

  5. North Korea has the ICBMs to deliver a warhead to South Korea,
    Japan, even the western US. But the North Korean leadership is
    also insane enough to sell to rogue states like Iran or even ISIS.
    And they needn’t sell actual warheads– nuclear waste can make
    quite the dirty bomb, hidden in a shipping container and delivered
    to an American port to explode. If North Korea wants to bomb the
    US, they have several options– warhead delivered by ICBM to bomb
    a city, warhead delivered into the upper atmosphere to create an EMP,
    or a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material to form a
    “dirty bomb”. And North Korea needn’t get their hands dirty, either–
    they could just sell to a proxy like ISIS which would be more than happy
    to do the job.

    Let’s all take a moment to reflect on the fecklessness of the previous
    administrations –from Carter through Obama– that has brought us to
    this pass. They all kicked the can down the road, avoiding hard decisions,
    and now, … here we are.

  6. With all the nuclear and missile developments in North Korea Kim is becoming a global problem. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) requires rational actors. Kim’s history of provocative statements is contrary to MAD. It was one thing for Kim and his family to threaten when they were China’s regional rottweiler to be a thorn in the side to other nations. With nukes, and the means to deliver them at a global range, doesn’t he end up becoming a walking, talking Cuban Missile crisis for anyone reachable by his nukes and missiles?

  7. If I were Trump I would tell China and Russia the following:
    “You can play with us. Let’s get Kim’s military to take him out. Korea becomes a nuclear free zone. In return we unify Korea as a prosperous democratic country. The U.S. will significantly reduce its military presence in Korea and Japan. The former DPRK military gets to comfortably retire, or get training to become UN peacekeepers.”
    “You don’t play with us. We will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Comprehensive Test Ban treaties, encourage South Korea and Japan to do the same, and open up the Nevada Test Site so they can test their latest creations, just like we allowed the Brits to do. We do have a few leftover boreholes that are just waiting.”
    “Your choice. Don’t take too long to choose.”

  8. LQC – thanks for the overview. I recently (after reading about a US test of an inert gravity bomb) went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on nuclear weapons. I’ve got double majors in biology and physics and one of my good friends was a nuclear engineering student who ended up going into IT…it was fascinating to learn that some of what I thought I knew wasn’t exactly correct. For example, I thought that “H-bombs” generally were a fission trigger that provided enough energy to ignite a fusion payload. What I didn’t know previously was that descriptions is imprecise; there is essentially a “symbiotic” relationship between fission and fusion, both with fusion boosting of the primary fission bomb and the way in which the fusion reaction of the secondary feeds the fission of the shell (ablation)…which I presume is the reference to fast fission that you made. As a result, most of the energy in those type of devices is apparently due to fission even though fusion provides all of the neutrons for that stage of the explosion. Of course, perhaps I mis-read, or…perhaps it’s the accuracy of Wikipedia.

    Two questions for you, if you have the inclination to review and respond:
    1. I was looking into EMP, effects and hardening and such. I found it interesting that an apparently common myth of EMP is that modern cars with electronics would be effected by such an attack. I stumbled across this post ( ) which suggests that Faraday cage effects protect against some of the EMP effects:
    “We tested a sample of 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory, with automobile vintages ranging from 1986 through 2002… the testing was continued up to the field intensity limits of the simulation capability (approximately 50 kV/m)….[a lot of stuff snipped for brevity]…Based on these test results, we expect few automobile effects at EMP field levels below 25 kV/m. Approximately 10 percent or more of the automobiles exposed to higher field levels may experience serious EMP effects, including engine stall, that require driver intervention to correct.”
    Does that seem correct? And, what would the expected field levels be from various EMP attacks? My quick investigation suggests that altitude is one important variable in this, as higher altitudes (if I read correctly) allow the nuclear blast gamma rays greater capacity to create the ionized particles that generate the pulse.

    2. On a completely unrelated vein, but since you discussed fusion and fission power plants…have you ever heard of “focus fusion”? I ran across this a decade ago, and it seems legit based on my admittedly non-expert physics background…and my former nuclear engineering friend has never followed through when I asked him to look it over to see if it was snake oil or not. In short, this seems to be an approach to end-run around the difficulties of the tokamak design and use a higher temperature but more controllable dense plasma focus to facilitate aneutronic fusion of hydrogen with boron. What’s curious for me is that I first read about this around 2005 or 2006, and then a researcher associated with the project gave a Google talk in 2007…subsequently, there’s a search result from 2012 claiming it’s all snake oil, but then there’s a report that the team has reached a temperature record of 1.8 billion C and a 0.25 J yield from fusion. Outside of all of this, there was a brief news buzz independent of this team a few years ago about Lockheed Martin talking about a semi-trailer sized reactor (very similar to guesstimates from the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics / Focus Fusion team). Sites: and . I wonder if you think this is a plausible route toward fusion power?

  9. John by any other name,

    There are different kinds of H-Bombs. In one kind, a fission detonation is used to initiate a fusion detonation. In another kind, a fission detonation is still used to initiate a fusion detonation, but isotopes are selected for the fusion fuel to maximize fast neutron production which goes on to cause a second fission detonation. The second type of bomb is very dirty and spreads a lot of radioactive contamination. The first type of bomb, if designed right, can still release a lot of neutrons, but they are used to kill the local population without contaminating the land with radioactive fallout.

    I suspect you are correct about the metal of an automobile acting as a Faraday cage to shield the inner electronics from an EMP burst. Electronics un-shielded by a Faraday cage arrangement would of course remain susceptible to an EMP.

    Yes, I heard about Lockheed Martin’s skunk works efforts at Compact Fusion. I am pessimistic anything will come of this. They talk a good game, but so far it’s just been talk. I prefer General Fusion’s brute force approach of Magnetized Target Fusion instead of Magnetic Confinement Fusion (Russia’s Tokomaks, Germany’s Stellators and France’s ITER) and Inertial Confinement Fusion (the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Please view the video located here – scroll down the page.

    General Fusion injects fusion fuel into the center of a liquid lead-lithium bath and uses an assembly of steam pistons to generate a compression wave to force the positively charged fusion fuel nuclei together in the lead-lithium bath. The bath absorbs the resulting energy, generating heat which can be carried away by pumping the liquid lead-lithium through a steam generator where feedwater is turned into steam to drive a steam turbine-generator. The cooled liquid lead-lithium is returned to the steam piston reactor and a small amount of the steam from the steam generator is of course siphoned off to repeat the piston compression process.

    All these other companies are using fancy mathematically novel ways of trying to induce fusion by overcoming the repulsive force of positively charged nuclei. General Fusion is using good old fashion brute force in a simple, easy to understand way. No lasers. No fancy rotating magnetic fields. Just steam smashing pistons into a lead-lithium bath.

    BTW, there was a proposal back in the 60s to build a fission-fusion hybrid reactor. Fusion would generate the neutrons needed to breed fissile U-233 from fertile Th-232, and the U-233 could then be used in light water fission reactors as fuel. Nothing came of it of course.

    One last thing. In SECY-09-0064 the US NRC promised that it would regulate fusion if and when it becomes viable:

    You can be sure that as soon as that happens, fusion will suffer from the same regulatory strangulation that fission currently suffers. I have worked in Naval and commercial nuclear power for 40+ years. Washington, DC has civil masters, not civil servants.

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