The Justice Department went to court late last night to try to prevent allegedly classified information on hydrogen bombs from being published in a magazine article.

A department spokesman said the action was against the Progressive magazine of Madison, Wis., two of its editors and the author of the scheduled article. "How a Hydrogen Bomb Works," because magazine officials declined to delete the classified material.

The magazine's editor, Erwin Knoll, said that while he had been advised of the department's action, he could not comment.

However, Knoll said "we have not yet decided in which issue the article will appear." The article's title, as listed in Justice Department papers, was inaccurate, Knoll said. Asked if there was classified information in it, Knoll declined comment.

In support of the motion for a temporary restraining order, Justice Department attorneys attached affidavits from several government officials who are experts in the nuclear weapons field.

Thomas R. Pickering, an assistant secretary of state, said publication could result in making it easier for foreign nations to develop "advanced, highyield weapons. Both the time to make this progression and the uncertainty would be reduced. In my opinion, the decade it might take some countries to develop thermonuclear weapons could be reduced to a few years."

Charles N. Van Doren, assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said that of all the manuscripts he had reviewed in 12 years in the field: "This one, if made public, appears to be the most flagrant example of deliberate dissemination of sensitive weapons design information and the most likely to damage U.S. interests in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities."

According to papers filed in U.S. Dstrict Court for the western district of Wisconsin, the government learned about the planned publication last week when the magazine mailed a copy of the article to the Department of Energy, asking officials there to review it for "technical accuracy."

According to the Justice Department court papers, the action against the Progressive magazine is "not barred" by the Supreme Court's refusal to block publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by the New York Times. First, the department alleged, the current action was permitted specifically under the Atomic Energy Act. Furthermore, th government said, the article in question is not "history," but "technical information on the design and operation of a hydrogen bomb."

In summary, the department said that "the potentially grave consequences to the security of the United States and the world itself resulting from the threatened disclosures are obvious and frightening."

The government contended that it did not propose to block the entire article, only those portions containing "secret, restricted data."

The article's author, Howard Morland, who Knoll would identify only as a freelance who specializes in energy and unclear weapons, wrote an article in the February Progressive entitled "Tritium: The New Genie."

Taking issue with the Justice Department's citation of the H-bomb article -- "How a hydrogen Bomb Works" -- Knoll said, "That's not the title we intended for our article."

The Progressive, founded 70 years ago by Robert La Follette Sr., a Progressive Party leader, is concerned about the nuclear arms race, Knoll said.

"The nuclear arms race is one of our constant and priority concerns... we have had many articles" on it, he said.

Knoll said that the 40,000-circulation monthly magazine is "opposed to militarism, opposed to corporate concentration, opposed to corporate power:"

The Progressive magazine, he added, can be "described as a radical magazine, or a populist magazine or a progressive magazine."