A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the difference between a hydrogen bomb and an atom bomb?

January 12, 1996

Dear Cecil:

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HYDROGEN BOMB AND AN ATOMIC BOMB?! HOW LETHAL ARE THEY?! PLEASE FIND OUT!!!

Cecil replies:

I told you not to buy stuff at those Kiev flea markets. The original atomic bomb used nuclear fission, in which big atoms (uranium or plutonium) were split into littler ones in a chain reaction, releasing vast amounts of energy. The hydrogen bomb employs nuclear fusion, in which little atoms (various forms of hydrogen) fuse together to make bigger ones (helium), essentially the same process that occurs in the sun.

Fusion bombs are a thousand times more powerful than fission bombs, which are a million times more powerful than chemical ones. Wouldn't you be just as happy with, say, a cherry bomb?

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams

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