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1978: Carter delays N-bomb production

The controversial neutron bomb developed by the Americans has been put on the back burner.

The bomb - properly called an Enhanced Radiation Weapon or ERW - is a specialised thermonuclear weapon which produces a minimal blast but releases large amounts of lethal radiation.

It is designed to kill people while minimising damage to property unlike a conventional nuclear missile.

President Jimmy Carter's administration had wanted to install neutron warheads on the Lance missile and artillery shells planned for deployment in Europe.

'Capitalist' bomb

US military chiefs believed the weapon would be ideal to use against an advancing Soviet army in Europe.

But many left-wingers and liberals in Europe and America dubbed it the "capitalist" bomb and condemned it for making nuclear war more likely.

They said the massive destruction and wide fallout area associated with conventional nuclear weapons was the chief deterrent to their use.

There have been mass protests against the N-bomb across Europe and several countries including Norway, Belgium and Holland have refused to have the N-bomb on their soil.

The decision to postpone production of the bomb came after a week of diplomatic confusion for which President Carter has been blamed.

However, he has kept open the option of proceeding with production at a later date so he can use it as a "bargaining chip" with the Russians in arms reduction negotiations.

The development of the neutron bomb is credited to US scientist Sam Cohen in 1958.

It was his idea to remove uranium casing from a hydrogen bomb to allow neutrons to travel greater distances and penetrate heavily shielded armour and structures.

But in the 1960s President Kennedy decided against producing neutron weapons because it could have jeopardized the nuclear test moratorium in force at the time.

In Context
Jimmy Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, changed US policy and gave the order for the production of neutron warheads to start in 1981.

However, only a small number were produced and they were never deployed alongside America's other nuclear forces in Europe because of the controversy surrounding them.

France, which also tested and produced neutron warheads during the early 1980s, abandoned them in 1986 because of domestic and foreign pressure.

However, in 1999 China announced it had the technology to build a neutron bomb.


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