NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A New Nuclear Threat?

November 29, 1999

Overlooked in the debate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) -- which the U.S. Senate rejected -- is the emergence of a new type of nuclear weapon that can be tested and deployed without detection, says Sam Cohen, the inventor of the neutron bomb. This new type of weapon wasn't included in the CTBT, because physicists thought then that they were impractical to develop.

Such nuclear devices are devoid of fissionable materials -- such as uranium or plutonium -- and their use will not cause the dreaded radioactive fallout that can result from the use of strategic or tactical nuclear munitions, says Cohen.

  • These so-called "pure fusion" warheads use heavy isotopes of hydrogen-deuterium and tritium.
  • Although tritium is radioactive, the amount used in pure fusion warheads would be on the order of one gram.
  • Used in nuclear device perhaps as small as a baseball, such warheads could be very low-yield, on the order of 10 tons of TNT equivalent -- compared to thousands or millions of tons for other types of nuclear bombs.

Thus, such devices could be detonated for testing without detection. Moreover, Cohen says, "there is a significant body of compelling evidence" that the Russians, who have been working on them for a decade or more, have made such devices a reality.

But despite the rejection of the CTBT, the U.S. will not have such weapons in the foreseeable future, says Cohen, because Congress prohibited the development and production of new tactical weapons.

Source: Sam Cohen, "The Fatal Time Bomb," Insight, November 22, 1999.


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