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'Red Mercury' is Lithium-6, Russian Weaponsmiths Say

Abstract:

The name 'red mercury' is a code word used in the USSR nuclear weapons program since the 1950s to describe enriched lithium-6. Lithium-6 has two nuclear weapons uses: as a reactor target for production of tritium, and in the form of lithium-6 deuteride as a thermonuclear weapon material. The most common production process uses large amounts of mercury as chemical agents. The code name originated because mercuric impurities contaminate the lithium- 6 during production, giving it a red color. 'Red mercury' has been identified by many European media reports as 'any of several simple mercuric compounds and tinctures offered for sale by Russian and European agents,' but none of these had any nuclear value. The uses for lithium-6 are consistent with claims about the uses of 'red mercury.' The USSR built a large complex in the early days of their nuclear weapon program to produce and stockpile lithium- 6. Some was also supplied to China in the 1950s. Russian and Western officials have both stated that no lithium-6 from Russian or Chinese inventories has been diverted since the disintegration of the USSR.

Abstract Number:  19930690
Headline:  'Red Mercury' is Lithium-6, Russian Weaponsmiths Say
Date:  22 July 1993
Bibliography:  Nucleonics Week, p. 10
Material:  'red mercury'

 

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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This article is part of a collection examining reported incidents of nuclear or radioactive materials trafficking in or originating from the Newly Independent States.