Dismantling The Biggest Nuclear Bomb

Oct 28, 2011
Originally published on October 26, 2011 11:04 am

The Energy Department has quietly dismantled the last of its enormous B-53 nuclear bombs. Workers at a nuclear management plant just north of Amarillo, Texas, separated some 300 pounds of high explosive from the uranium that surrounds it inside the bomb.

It's a complex procedure. On Tuesday, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told NPR's All Things Considered that working on the B-53 was like doing surgery on a small sedan:

KRISTENSEN: Well, it's like taking a car apart except you do it much more carefully. The, you know, nuts and bolts, the glue - you name it. I mean, it's just peeling apart layer by layer...Also, how to handle it because you don't want to drop some of this stuff...And so, they take these weapons apart in these weapons bays, as they call them, that are underground hardened concrete-steel structures that can contain a blast if these high explosives go off.

He adds these bombs were so 'humongous' that they weren't known as bunker-busters - they were city-busters. The B-53 was so big a jet could only carry two bombs at a time, and their capacity for destruction was staggering. Wired Magazine calculates the atom bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima during World War Two was 12 kilotons. A single B-53 had 9,000 kilotons. Wired estimates the U.S. once had more than 300 of them.

Kristensen wrote more than a year ago about the safety issues of the B-53, and notes the U.S. now relies on a newer, smaller bomb in its nuclear arsenal.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.