What Can North Korea Really Do With an H-bomb?

A hydrogen bomb can be far more powerful than the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in World War II

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
In this Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017 photo, fireworks explode after civilians and military personnel participated in a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, to mark their country's sixth underground nuclear test
In this Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017 photo, fireworks explode for a mass rally in Pyongyang, North Korea, to mark their countryto mark their country's sixth underground nuclear testCredit: AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin

A North Korean state agency threatened on Thursday to use nuclear weapons to "sink" Japan and reduce the United States to "ashes and darkness" for supporting a UN Security Council resolution and sanctions over its latest nuclear test.

The threat comes a week after North Korea claimed it successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb in its latest nuclear test in early September. Outside experts haven't been able to verify that claim, but say it's plausible. If true, it would represent a major step forward in North Korea's effort to develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.

More powerful than an A-bomb

A hydrogen bomb can be far more powerful than the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in World War II. The U.S. conducted the first successful tests of hydrogen bombs in the 1950s. Their yields of 10,000 kilotons and more were several hundred times larger than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Experts believe the yield of North Korea's latest test was at least 140 kilotons, which would make it some seven to eight times as powerful as Hiroshima (15 kilotons) and Nagasaki (about 20).

Uses the power of the sun

Atomic bombs rely on fission, or the splitting of the nucleus of an atom, just as nuclear power plants do. The hydrogen bomb uses both fission and fusion - the fusing together of atomic nuclei - to produce more explosive energy. It's the same process that keeps the sun and other stars burning. H-bombs are also known as thermonuclear bombs, because of the extremely high temperature needed to induce fusion. A typical hydrogen bomb is two-stage: First, an atomic fission bomb detonates, and that in turn starts the fusion of a hydrogen isotope in a second section.

Small enough to fit on a missile

The atomic bombs that hit Japan were huge and had to be dropped from planes flying overhead. With its higher power, a hydrogen bomb can be made small enough to fit on the head of an intercontinental missile. The hydrogen bomb is the standard for the five nations with the greatest nuclear weapons capability: Russia, the U.S., France, China and the U.K. Other nations may either have it or be working on it, despite a worldwide effort to contain such proliferation.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

The Orion nebula, photographed in 2009 by the Spitzer Telescope.

What if the Big Bang Never Actually Happened?

בן גוריון

'Strangers in My House': Letters Expelled Palestinian Sent Ben-Gurion in 1948, Revealed

AIPAC

AIPAC vs. American Jews: The Toxic Victories of the 'pro-Israel' Lobby

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in May.

‘This Is Crazy’: Israeli Embassy Memo Stirs Political Storm in the Balkans

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza.

Israel Rewards Hamas for Its Restraint During Gaza Op

Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant was killed following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza strip, on Sunday.

Gazans Are Tired of Pointless Wars and Destruction, and Hamas Listens to Them