A second newspaper yesterday rushed into print with what the Justice Department said are hydrogen bomb secrets, inflaming a controversy on national security that promises to go on for months.
The Chicago Tribune published an 18-page account of the principles behind the hydrogen bomb by California computer programmer Charles Hansen, which had been published two days previously by a small Wisconsin newspaper, the Madison Press Connection. The Justice Department abandoned its efforts to suppress publication of the Hansen paper after the Press Connection publsiehd its copy of the Hansen document.
Even though the government abandoned its efforts on Monday to stop the Progressive magazine from publishing a similar article on hydrogen bomb secrets, the controversy is still alive over what should be secret and what should not. It still involves a basic issue of press freedom: Does a newspaper or magazine violate the Atomic Energy Act if it disseminates classified nuclear information?
Included in Hansen's document is a detailed account of eight separate explosions which he says must take place almost instantaneously to set off a hydrogen bomb. Hansen says these explosions were "implemented in American weapons in a fiendishly clever and ingeniously simple way," which he then describes for almost half of his 18-page document.
Hansen goes on to say that the first hydrogen bombs tested by the United States used more than 200 pounds of uranium, tritium, lithium and deuterium fuel compressed into a space smaller than the end of a teaspoon. He says the first weapon tested was the Mike shot at Eniwetak Atoll in 1952. It was followed by six shots in the Castle series of 1954 which proved that the liquid fuel used in the 1952 shot could be converted to a powder more easily used in a weapon.
Almost halfway through this account, Hansen says two fission bombs are wrapped around a hydrogen bomb to trigger its explosion by compressing it.
"These two fission triggers must fire simultaneously or no fusion will occur," Hansen writes. "The purpose of this is to allow a symmetrical compression of the fusion fuel between them."
In rich detail, Hansen then describes the positioning of a neutron generator inside each trigger to accelerate its explosions. He outlines an arrangement of spheres, shells and layers of beryllium and uranium that Hansen says are built into the hydrogen bomb to provide temperatures and pressures that must be reached just after ignition to sustain a thermonuclear explosion.
"The firing sequence of a high-yield nuclear weapon such as this design is a complex and precise affair," Hansen said. "Every event must occur without fall at the right moment or the bomb will either fizzle or produce a low yield."
In what Justice Department sources said was the crucial secret in Hansen's information, the California computer expert describes the eight separate explosions he says must occur "within microseconds" for nuclear fusion.
First, Hansen says, spherical "lenses" detonate around the fission triggers, "creating an inwardly directed implosion wave" which crushes the entire bomb to one third original size. Then, Hansen says, a billionth of a second later, a neutron generator fires to begin the first fission reaction and a billionth of a second after that the heat and pressure produced by fission is enough to begin a fusion reaction.
Hansen tells the way the device directs X-rays, which wind up inside the bomb's main fusion fuel mass and raise the temperature to at least 20 million degrees. At this point, Hansen says, tritium is spawned and combines with deuterium to raise the temperature to more than 50 million degrees.
The last explosion takes place, according to Hansen, when the bomb's uranium shell is suddenly swamped with high energy neutrons from the second fusion explosion, creating "a very large fission explosion which can yield up to 50 or 60 percent" of the bomb's total force.
Justice Department sources say the details in Hansen's document could only have come from classified documents and sources. At least a few nuclear scientists who have seen Hansen's document agree with Justice.
"I've just read the Hansen document," said Dr. George Rathjens of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "and there is information in it that was classified secret until yesterday."
Princeton University's Dr. Theodore B. Taylor, a one-time nuclear weapons designer, said: "The method of operation of a hydrogen bomb involves a principle that has never been declassified." Did Hansen's document breach that classification? Taylor refused comment but Rathjens was willing to say: "No question about it, at least some of it."
The controversy over publication of such material picked up more heat yesterday when the Chicato Tribune published the Hansen document instead of Sunday as it planned previously. Meanwhile, the Justice Department said it was opening a preliminary criminal inquiry into the source of Hansen's information.
Special correspondent Paul Grabowicz contributed to this article.