How a hydrogen bomb works: North Korea's new device could yield a devastating blast thousands of times more powerful than Hiroshima or Nagasaki
2017-Sep-04 | By News Admin
  •     North Korea on Sunday claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb causing an underground blast
  •     Experts concur that it was an 'advanced' nuclear weapon roughly five times larger than the Nagasaki nuke
  •     Thermonuclear weapons, also known as hydrogen bombs, have no theoretical upper limit on yield
  •     The 100-kiloton blast detected in North Korea's latest test is within range of both H-bombs and regular nukes

North Korea claimed on Sunday to have successfully tested an hydrogen bomb, but what exactly makes an H-bomb different from an atom bomb?

Hydrogen bombs, or H-bombs, are thermonuclear weapons - a more advanced and powerful form of nuclear bomb.

The earliest nuclear weapons, including those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were fission bombs that split atoms into pieces.

While these nuclear weapons - known atom bombs - primarily use fission to create energy, thermonuclear H-bombs use both fission and fusion.

They work in a two-stage process, by using an initial fission reaction to trigger a fusion reaction, smashing the nuclei of atoms together in the same nuclear process that powers the sun.

Kim Jong-un was pictured inspecting the device – the design and scale of which indicated it had a powerful thermonuclear warhead. The multi-stage mechanism of a basic hydrogen bomb is explained bottom left

Photos released Sunday show the country's leader Kim Jong-un inspecting the hydrogen device that it promised would be loaded on a new intercontinental ballistic missile

The result of the thermonuclear design is a devastating blast that can be thousands of times more powerful than traditional atomic bomb designs, which have an upper yield limit of about 500 kilotons.

Thermonuclear weapons can additionally use the fusion reaction to trigger a second fission reaction, with no theoretical upper limit on yield. The largest weapon ever tested was a Russian device with a 50,000 kiloton yield. 

The US first tested a hydrogen bomb in 1952, with a 1,000 kiloton yield. H-bombs have never been used in war.

Experts believe the latest North Korean device exploded with a 100 kiloton yield, which could be within the yield range of either traditional atomic or thermonuclear weapons.

Either way, it seems clear the test was of a powerful nuclear weapon capable of destroying swaths of a city. 

'We have nothing to cause us to doubt that this was a test of an advanced nuclear device,' one US intelligence official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US official said, however, that it would take some time to complete a thorough analysis of the size of the blast and type of device detonated.

Top US military officials responded to the North Korean test by alluding to the possibility of 'total annihilation' for the secretive regime. 

South Korea's official news agency reports the quake struck where North Korea's nuclear test site Punggye-ri is located

Overhead pictures of Punggye-ri nuclear test site from August 17, published by 38 North. The detonation occurred close to this location, and vibrations were felt in China and Russia

In Japan (left), pedestrians were seen horrified at the news on a public display, while (right) North Koreans reacted with joy


At the heart of every atom is a nucleus. If you break that apart, or combine two nuclei together, it can create huge amounts of energy.

This energy is what both hydrogen and atom bombs harness to produce a massive explosion.

The main difference, however, is that what is called an atomic bomb is primarily a fission device, whereas hydrogen bombs use both fission and fusion.

During fission, the nuclei of heavy atoms split into smaller, lighter nuclei, which releases energy in the process. 

Fusion operates in reverse. When exposed to high temperatures and pressures, lightweight nuclei can combine together to form heavier nuclei, releasing energy.

This process is what powers stars like our sun to make them so hot and bright, but it can be extremely difficult to recreate on Earth.

This is because in order to trigger fusion, there needs to be huge amounts of energy in the first place.

Thermonuclear H-bombs are in fact two bombs: a fission bomb and a fusion bomb.

Inside a H-bomb, a  fission bomb releases a blast of X-ray radiation, which is focused onto a fusion bomb.

This sets off the fusion bomb, creating an explosion powerful enough to merge atoms, convert some of this into pure energy, and trigger an extremely powerful blast.

This graphic shows two different models of atomic bombs. The goal of each is detonate traditional explosives (tan) to squeeze a fissionable material, like plutonium-239 (teal) or uranium-235 (yellow), into a 'supercritical' mass that splits atoms. The device on the left is an implosion-type fission bomb, like the Fat Man bomb detonated over Nagasaki, and it compresses everything inward

In a terse statement outside the White House on Sunday afternoon, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump had been briefed on each of the 'many military options' available during a meeting with national security heads.

'We made it clear that we have the ability to defend ourselves and our allies, South Korea and Japan, from any attack and that our agreements with our allies are iron-clad,' he said. 

'Any threat to the United States or its territories including Guam, or our allies, will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.' 

He urged Kim Jong-Un to 'take heed' of the UN Security Council's 'unified' objection to the test of the 100-kiloton bomb test, which caused a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. 

'We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country - namely North Korea,' Mattis concluded, 'but as I said, we have many options to do so.'

 Sources : Dailymail