By Shinelle Black
The New Year has begun, and many Americans are eager to have a prosperous year, to make memories with their families and to accomplish goals they have only ever dreamed of. While we continue to live our daily lives, there is an uninvited feeling of terror most days when we read the international news, or are brave enough to watch CNN. These days I try to avoid sources of international or national news. My only defense is “maybe if I don’t know I won’t think about it.”
The New Year seems to already be off to a worrying start in North Korea, which announced on January 5th that it had tested a hydrogen bomb. According to the New York Times, North Korean representatives claimed that the trial test was a “complete success.” The diplomatic representative stated, “This is a self-defense measure we have to take to defend our right to live in the face of the nuclear threats and blackmail by the United States and to guarantee the security of the Korean Peninsula.”
What is the American government going to do? According to Ned Price, an American national security spokesperson, the government “cannot confirm these claims at this time.” What exactly does that mean? Should we be scared, start making preparations for possible attacks? Those were the questions that were originally rolling through my mind, and then it hit me like a boulder over the head, including the splitting headache: I don’t know what a hydrogen bomb is. How does it work, and how large scale is the destruction it could cause?
I sat at my computer and began typing words so furiously I thought I would break Google. I researched the science behind the hydrogen bomb, the history behind the bomb and how it might it compare to the atomic bomb. I gave it some thought, and decided that knowing about what you are afraid of is better that just being scared. It’s like when you are a little kid, and you’re scared to go to your room, and you don’t know why, and then you realize you’re scared of the monster. It is then and only then that you can start to overcome that fear, or in this case to plan to face the issue because we can’t just close our eyes and make North Korea’s bomb disappear. What we can do is instead is educate ourselves and the people we love. That’s the point of this article, to share with you what I have learned.
What is the hydrogen bomb and how does it work?
The hydrogen bomb is a thermonuclear weapon. Its destructive power comes from a rapid release of energy. The idea of creating the hydrogen bomb came after the discovery that fission bombs were not very efficient. This caused some scientists to theorize that the opposite nuclear process — fusion — would produce a more effective product. Fusion occurs when the nuclei of two separate atoms combine to form a single heavier atom. When temperatures are extremely high, isotopes (variations of the same element with a different number of neutrons) of hydrogen including deuterium and tritium can easily fuse, causing an intensive amount of energy to be released over a large distance.
The process of creating a hydrogen bomb has been known for quite some time now. The first thermonuclear weapon was tested in 1952 in the United States, but why then did the US not create this weapon? There were four major problems, which supposedly North Korea has solved. The first is that the isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium are both gases, making them hard to store. The second complication is that tritium has a short half-life, and is not found in excessive amounts. The third matter of concern is the fuel in the bomb, which has to constantly be replenished. And then deuterium and tritium have to be compressed tightly at extremely high temperatures to initiate the fusion reaction.
What’s the major difference between that atomic and hydrogen bomb?
A hydrogen bomb is a fusion bomb, or thermonuclear weapon. The atomic bomb is fission bomb. The difference between starts at an atomic level. Fission bombs, like the ones dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, split the nucleus of the atom. When the neutrons of the atom’s nucleus break, some collide with the nuclei of nearby atoms, splitting them, too. The result of this reaction is an explosion. In a hydrogen bomb, atoms do not split, rather the nucleus of different isotopes fuse. This also causes an explosion.
How deadly is a hydrogen bomb compared to an atomic bomb? Much more deadly — a hydrogen bomb can demolish whole cities in seconds. Stephanie Pappas, a science journal writer, uses TNT explosions as an analogy to compare the two. According to Pappas, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the equivalent of 15 to 20 kilotons of TNT. In comparison, the 1952 thermonuclear test in America was the equivalent of 10,000 kiloton of TNT. That is a 9,980 kiloton difference. That’s enough to wipe out New York State’s power grid.
Does this scare you more that it calms you? For me, it feels like my brain is playing a game of tug of war between fear and assurance that our government will protect us. We can only hope that this year will be a safe for all Americans, and that we are able to achieve our dreams without devastating international interruptions.