Castle Bravo - Neutron Shmootron - What's The Difference?

Oops!  Only 10 additional megatons and hundreds of square miles of radioactive fish 

The yield of 15 megatons was 3 times that of the 5 Mt predicted by its designers.  The cause of the higher yield was a theoretical error made by designers of the device at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They considered only the lithium-6 isotope in the lithium-deuteride secondary to be reactive; the lithium-7 isotope, accounting for 60% of the lithium content, was assumed to be inert. It was expected that the lithium-6 isotope would absorb a neutron from the fissioning plutonium and emit an alpha particle and tritium in the process, of which the latter would then fuse with the deuterium and increase the yield in a predicted manner. Lithium-6 indeed reacted in this manner.

It was assumed that the lithium-7 would absorb one neutron, producing lithium-8, which decays (through beryllium-8) to a pair of alpha particles on a timescale of seconds, vastly longer than the timescale of nuclear detonation. However, when lithium-7 is bombarded with energetic neutrons, rather than simply absorbing a neutron, it captures the neutron and decays almost instantly into an alpha particle, a tritium nucleus, and another neutron. As a result, much more tritium was produced than expected, the extra tritium fusing with deuterium and producing an extra neutron. The extra neutron produced by fusion and the extra neutron released directly by lithium-7 decay produced a much larger neutron flux. The result was greatly increased fissioning of the uranium tamper and increased yield.

This resultant extra fuel (both lithium-6 and lithium-7) contributed greatly to the fusion reactions and neutron production and in this manner greatly increased the device's explosive output. The test used lithium with a high percentage of lithium-7 only because lithium-6 was then scarce and expensive; the later Castle Union test used almost pure lithium-6. Had sufficient lithium-6 been available, the usability of the common lithium-7 might not have been discovered.

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