Hydrogen Bomb

views updated May 17 2018


HYDROGEN BOMB, a type of nuclear weapon, also known as the "superbomb," that derives some of its energy from the fusion of the nuclei of light elements, typically isotopes of hydrogen. Physicists recognized the fusion or thermonuclear reaction as the source of the sun's energy as early as 1938.During World War II, scientists of the Manhattan Project saw the possibility of creating a thermonuclear weapon, but they decided to concentrate first on building a fission or atomic bomb because any fusion bomb would likely require a fission device to initiate its thermonuclear "burning."

Although by 1945 the United States had developed and used the atomic bomb, only modest theoretical re-search on fusion was done before the first Soviet atomic test of August 1949. Many of the scientists of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and its General Advisory Committee opposed development of the hydrogen bomb on both practical and moral grounds, but advocates within Congress, the military, and elsewhere argued that any restraint shown by the United States in the matter would not be reciprocated by a Soviet Union still ruled by Joseph Stalin. Following a theoretical design breakthrough in February 1951 by Stanislaw Ulamand Edward Teller, the United States conducted the world's first thermonuclear test in November 1952. The device exploded with a force equivalent to more than 10 million tons of TNT, approximately seven hundred times the power of the fission bomb at Hiroshima. Within hours of the blast, the resulting mushroom cloud had spread across one hundred miles of sky, its stem alone measuring thirty miles across. In August 1953 the Soviet Union detonated its first boosted fission weapon, a bomb that used thermo-nuclear fuel to increase in a limited way its explosive yield, and in November 1955 the Soviet Union tested its first "true" thermonuclear weapon. By the 1960s, largely due to the hydrogen bomb, both superpowers had acquired the ability to obliterate as much of the other as they wished in a matter of hours. The world had entered the era of "mutual assured destruction."


Federation of American Scientists. "The High Energy Weapons Archive: A Guide to Nuclear Weapons." Available at http://nuketesting.enviroweb.org/hew/.

Hewlett, Richard G., and Francis Duncan. A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Volume 2: Atomic Shield, 1947–1952. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972. Comprehensive official history.

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Richard G.Hewlett


See alsoArms Race and Disarmament ; Nuclear Weapons .

hydrogen bomb

views updated Jun 08 2018

hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) Nuclear weapon developed by the USA in the late 1940s, and first exploded in 1952 in the Pacific. The explosion results from nuclear fusion when hydrogen nuclei are joined to form helium nuclei, releasing great destructive energy and radioactive fallout. An atomic bomb is used as the trigger.

hydrogen bomb

views updated May 21 2018

hy·dro·gen bomb • n. an immensely powerful bomb whose destructive power comes from the rapid release of energy during the nuclear fusion of isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium), using an atom bomb as a trigger. Compare with atom bomb.

Hydrogen Bomb

views updated May 29 2018

Hydrogen Bomb. See Nuclear Weapons.

hydrogen bomb

views updated Jun 11 2018

hydrogen bomb. See nuclear energy.