Lose-lose situation: How destructive is a hydrogen bomb?

  • Testing a hydrogen bomb is a “lose-lose situation”
  • A hydrogen bomb is +1,000 times more powerful than atomic bomb
  • A lot can go wrong if missile goes awry

If an executioner offers the condemned the choice of death by hanging, being shot, or poisoned, all choices lead to death — a lose-lose situation. So it is with a hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) test, where the entire world, like it or not, is put in a destructive lose-lose situation.

Though in theory, an H-bomb could be dropped from a plane, Pyongyang is likely to opt for a missile, says Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT and expert on deterrence and nuclear policy.

“The worst-case scenario would be a Juche bird test,” says Narang. “That would be not only provocative, but a lot can go wrong if the missile goes awry.”

North Korean state media often employ the word “Juche,” the North Korean state ideology of self-reliance, when referring to the country’s nuclear tests.

H-bombs are far more powerful – by about 1,000 times or more – than atomic bombs, producing many times more explosive energy. If an H-bomb hits the Pacific, it will detonate in a blinding flash and produce a mushroom cloud. Its immediate effects would depend on how high above water the bomb detonates.

The initial blast would kill instantly most life in the strike zone— fish and other marine life. It would send radioactive particles flying through the air and into the water, while the wind would carry the dangerous particles over hundreds of miles. Exposure to radiation would cause severe health problems for nearby marine life, with smoke from the blast site blocking the sunlight that sea life forms depend on to survive.

Radioactivity, known to damage cells in humans, animals, and plants by causing changes in their genes, could lead to crippling mutations in future generations. The eggs and larvae of marine organisms are especially sensitive to radiation, and affected animals could pass the exposure up the food chain.

Should the radioactive fallout reach land, it could have damaging and long-lasting effects on humans and wildlife, with radioactive particles contaminating air, soil, and water supply.

In any case, testing a H-bomb is a “lose-lose situation,” where a person or country has choices, but where no choice leads to a net gain for anyone. If everybody loses, what’s the point?

As Mr. Spock would say, “It’s not logical.”



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