Go to Home Page

Key Issues Nuclear Weapons The Basics The Neutron Bomb

The Neutron Bomb

The tactical neutron bomb is a nuclear weapon that maximizes damage to people but minimizes damage to buildings and equipment. It is also called an enhanced radiation warhead. The neutron bomb is a specialized thermonuclear weapon that produces a minimal blast but releases large amounts of lethal radiation which can penetrate armor or several feet of earth.

Sam Cohen is considered the father of the neutron bomb. In the summer of 1958 he began investigating the possibility of large thermonuclear weapons. In his research, Cohen argued that if the uranium casing of a hydrogen bomb were removed, the neutrons released would travel great distances, penetrating even well-shielded structures with lethal doses of radiation and harming anyone inside.

The idea of the neutron warhead has been hotly debated since its inception. At the time of its

Printer Friendly

More on the Web
Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues

introduction, some felt that its relatively small initial blast and fallout was ideal for use in densely populated areas, like Europe. Other proponents argued that deployment of the neutron warhead could be used as a bargaining chip against the Soviet SS-20 missile which was viewed as a threat to NATO forces in Europe. Opponents of the weapon argued that the neutron bomb made the idea of using nuclear weapons in war more conceivable. Because the neutron bomb would devastate the whole of a target, military planners might not be as hesitant to use the neutron bomb as they would a standard fission bomb.

Neutron Bomb Timeline

Summer 1958- While conducting researching on developing a large thermonuclear weapon, Sam Cohen introduces the idea of removing the uranium casing from a hydrogen bomb to allow neutrons to travel great distances and penetrate even heavily shielded armor and structures.

1961-The Kennedy administration decides against the idea of developing a neutron bomb and introducing it into the US nuclear arsenal because it may jeopardize the moratorium on nuclear testing being observed by the US and Soviet Union.

1961-The Soviet Union breaks the moratorium on nuclear testing allowing the US to proceed with developing the neutron bomb.

1962-The first neutron device is successfully tested.

1970s-The Carter administration proposes modernizing the US nuclear arsenal by installing neutron warheads on the Lance missiles and artillery shells planned for deployment in Europe.

1977-West Germans realize their country will likely be the battleground for use of the neutron bomb and begin hotly debating whether or not the weapon should be allowed on their soil.

1978-Succumbing to international and domestic pressure, President Carter decides to defer deployment of the neutron bomb, conditional to Soviet restraint in military production and force deployments.

1980-France announces that it has tested a neutron device.

1981-President Reagan re-authorizes the production of neutron warheads for the Lance missile and an 8-inch artillery shell, but because of strong opposition in Europe, he orders that all neutron weapons be stored in the US with the option to deploy overseas in the event of war. The USSR announces that it too has tested neutron weapons, but has no plans of deploying them.

1982-France begins production of the neutron warhead.

1986-France announces it will abandon the production of neutron warheads because of internal and external political pressure.

Definition of the Neutron Bomb

"Also called ENHANCED RADIATION WARHEAD, specialized type of small thermonuclear weapon that produces minimal blast and heat but which releases large amounts of lethal radiation. The neutron bomb delivers blast and heat effects that are confined to an area of only a few hundred yards in radius. But within a somewhat larger area it throws off a massive wave of neutron and gamma radiation, which can penetrate armor or several feet of earth. This radiation is extremely destructive to living tissue. Because of its short-range destructiveness and the absence of long-range effect, the neutron bomb would be highly effective against tank and infantry formations on the battlefield but would not endanger cities or other population centers only a few miles away. It can be carried in a Lance missile or delivered by an 8-inch (200-millimetre) howitzer, or possibly by attack aircraft. In strategic terms, the neutron bomb has a theoretical deterrent effect: discouraging an armored ground assault by arousing the fear of neutron bomb counterattack. The bomb would disable enemy tank crews in minutes, and those exposed would die within days. U.S. production of the bomb was postponed in 1978 and resumed in 1981."

Source: http://www.britannica.com/seo/n/neutron-bomb/