Military and War Weapons Neutron Bomb

About the military and war weapon the neutron bomb, origins and history, the nuclear weapon today.



Description. Developed but not yet manufactured or deployed, neutron bombs are nuclear devices which have been officially labeled "enhanced radiation weapons." Deriving its name from the fact that it emits a tremendous yield of lethal neutron radioactivity when exploded, the neutron bomb effectively kills people while doing limited damage to buildings and other property. Although its radiation is deadly to humans, the neutron bomb generates only 10% of the blast and heat of the thermonuclear bombs now in existence. Supposedly, the neutron bomb creates only a fraction of the fallout of thermonuclear weapons, but some experts argue that extensive use of neutron bombs would result in toxic clouds of fallout which could sweep over large areas.

The neutron bomb is designed as a tactical nuclear weapon to be used on small-scale battlefields. Employed as warheads in Lance missiles with a 75-mi. range or as 8-in. shells for artillery with an 8-mi. range, 1-kiloton neutron bombs would be aimed to explode 130 yd. above the enemy. Within a 140-yd. radius below the explosion, all structures would be demolished and all people killed. Any person within a half-mile radius would receive an 8,000-rad dose of radiation (a chest X-ray involves less than one rad) and die instantly. People within a mile radius of the detonation would die of radiation sickness, from a day to a month later. After 24 hours, the radiation would reputedly dissipate sufficiently to allow the area to be occupied.

Origin. Shrouded by military and government secrecy, research on neutron bombs began in 1958 at the University of California's Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. To direct the project, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission appointed Edward Teller, who had worked on the Los Alamos A-bomb project during W.W. II and had developed the world's first thermonuclear H-bomb in 1952. In the early 1960s, news that a neutron bomb was being developed was publicly released, possibly in order to sabotage the Geneva nuclear test-ban treaty then being negotiated. After 1962 and the signing of the test-ban treaty, no more was heard about the project, but it now appears that the scientists at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory constructed a neutron bomb in 1963.

First Use. Never as yet used in warfare, the neutron bomb was first tested in underground caverns 70 mi. north of Las Vegas, Nev., in 1963. How many times the neutron bomb has been tested since that date is not known, but an unofficial statement by the U.S. Energy Research and Development Agency, which is in charge of the neutron bomb, indicates that it was last tested in 1976 in Nevada.

Weapon Today. Although NATO commander Gen. Alexander Haig commented in July, 1977, that everyone in the "family" had known about its development, the neutron bomb had hardly ever been mentioned publicly for 15 years. In 1977 an alert journalist named Walter Pincus discovered in the small print of the Energy Research and Development Agency's budget, which was before the Senate, that $10 million had been allocated for the construction of neutron bomb warheads and shells. Apparently in 1976 Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and President Ford had included the item in the fiscal 1978 budget proposal and had prepared for Congress a report on the impact of and necessity for the neutron bomb. Curiously, this report was lost and never reached Congress.

In July, 1977, with the neutron bomb again in public view, the Senate passed the appropriations bill for the weapon after a heated debate, and the House soon followed suit. Decisions concerning further testing, production, and deployment of the neutron bomb were left up to President Carter. In a press conference in August, 1977, Carter gave the go-ahead on neutron bomb testing and manufacture but reserved judgment on its eventual deployment, even though he had urged in his inaugural address "the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth." In 1978 Carter changed his mind again and postponed manufacture of the bomb.

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