Surprisingly Deadly

There’s no date on this one I just stumbled across, so I’m not sure when it was posted — but read the timeless story of America’s first lithium-fueled thermonuclear bomb:


American lithium enrichment had just started and very little lithium-6 was available. Lithium-6 breaks down into tritium when zapped. Lithium-7, they thought, reacted poorly to neutron bombardment. But in fact, lithium-7 creates gobs of tritium, much more than lithium-6.

A little knowledge turned out to be a very dangerous thing.

With thousands of personnel and hundreds of ships geared up for the test, commanders faced great pressure to get moving. With the clock running and the weather iffy, they detonated the Bravo shot just after 6:00 AM local time on March 1, 1954.

Unbeknownst to the scientists and soldiers, lithium-7 actually responds better to neutron bombardment than lithium-6. The resulting explosion yielded 15 megatons, the largest atmospheric detonation in American history.

Thanks to lithium-7’s unexpected “tritium bonus,” the Shrimp’s blast equaled the entire destructive power of all the bombs the Allies dropped in World War II.

A Japanese fishing boat well outside the supposed danger zone suffered one fatality and several injuries due to radiation.

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