North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addresses the fourth conference of artillery personnel of the KPA in Pyongyang, December 5, 2015

commentary

(CNN)

December 16, 2015

Does North Korea Really Have an H-Bomb?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addresses the fourth conference of artillery personnel of the KPA.

Photo by KCNA/Reuters

by Bruce W. Bennett

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed that his country had become a "powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a hydrogen bomb," a so-called H-bomb. If true, the advance would mark a significant step up in the state's arsenal, and would be further cause for concern over an unpredictable and perhaps unstable regime.

But it's a big “if.”

Countries working on nuclear weapons usually first develop nuclear weapons that use fission to break large atoms like uranium or plutonium into smaller atoms, creating considerable energy. A subsequent step is to develop fusion weapons, where small atoms like hydrogen are combined to generate immense amounts of energy. Nuclear weapons that primarily use fusion are thus called hydrogen bombs.

The size of the explosion, known as the yield, is usually measured relative to how much TNT would be required to create a comparable explosion…

The remainder of this commentary is available on cnn.com.


Bruce Bennett is a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on CNN on December 15, 2015. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.