Neutron bomb

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A neutron bomb, or enhanced radiation weapon (ERW), is a type of nuclear weapon designed specifically to release a large portion of its energy as energetic neutron radiation rather than explosive energy. An ERW explosion is typically about one-tenth as powerful as that of a comparable fission-type atomic bomb because standard thermonuclear weapons create increased explosive yield by capturing their neutron radiation.[1] Although their extreme blast and heat effects are not eliminated, the increased radiation released by ERWs is meant to be a major source of casualties, able to penetrate buildings and armored vehicles to kill personnel that would otherwise be protected from the explosion.

Contents

History

Conception of the neutron bomb is generally credited to Samuel T. Cohen of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who developed the concept in 1958.[2] Testing was authorized and carried out in 1963 at an underground Nevada test facility.[3] Development was subsequently postponed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 following protests against his administration's plans to deploy neutron warheads in Europe. President Ronald Reagan restarted production in 1981.[4]

Three types of ERW were built by the United States.[5] The W66 warhead, for the anti-ICBM Sprint missile system, was produced and deployed in the mid 1970s and retired soon thereafter, along with the missile system. The W70 Mod 3 warhead was developed for the short-range, tactical Lance missile, and the W79 Mod 0 was developed for artillery shells. The latter two types were retired by President George H. W. Bush in 1992, following the end of the Cold War.[6][7] The last W70 Mod 3 warhead was dismantled in 1996,[8] and the last W79 Mod 0 was dismantled by 2003, when the dismantling of all W79 variants was completed.[9]

Besides the United States and Soviet Union, France and China are understood to have tested neutron or enhanced radiation bombs in the past, with France apparently leading the field with an early test of the technology in 1967[10] and an "actual" neutron bomb in 1980.[11] The 1999 Cox Report indicates that China is able to produce neutron bombs,[12] although no country is currently known to deploy them.

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