Thursday, October 27, 2011

the last of the B-53's

Video - Tsar Bomba Explosion

NPR | MICHELE NORRIS, host: The United States is taking one of its nuclear options off the table today. The B-53 is a 10,000-pound relic of the Cold War days. A bomb so big it could have obliterated a big city in a single blow. Well, now near Amarillo, Texas, the last B-53 is being dismantled.

And Hans Kristensen joins us now to talk about that. He directs the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. So glad you came into the studio.

HANS KRISTENSEN: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Can you tell us a little bit more about the B-53, how did it compare to other weapons? And how was it intended to be used?

KRISTENSEN: It was a city buster, literally. In its first incarnation, it was a warhead on the tip of a long-range ballistic missile called the Titan. And it was designed to blow-up cities. And a later version was converted into a gravity bomb, which is the one that we now see being taken apart. That was built for the B-52 long-range bomber.

And, of course, over the years the mission changed that delivery vehicles became more accurate. And so, instead of being a city-busting weapon, it turned into a bunker-busting weapon, where it was designed to literally dig up underground command and control facilities in the Soviet Union, later Russia.

NORRIS: So, facilities perhaps in the side of mountains and things like that.

KRISTENSEN: Correct. They can be under a, you know, great big granite formation to protect better or they can just be very deep in general.

NORRIS: What does this thing look like?

KRISTENSEN: Well, it's a size of a little car. I've been standing right next to one of them and it's humongous. And it's so big that the large B-52 bomber could only carry two of them in its belly. I mean, one in each bomb bay, and it was full.

NORRIS: How do you dismantle a monster bomb like this?


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. And there are very strict manuals on exactly what you have to do, how much pressure can you apply to each screw, what kind of glue holds the chemical high explosives together around the spear of uranium - highly enriched uranium, in this case. Also, how to handle it because you don't want to drop some of this stuff.

The high explosives are not what we have in the most modern weapons that are called insensitive high explosives. These are sort of conventional high explosives. And if you drop them they can explode. 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.

NORRIS: This is part of a global effort to step away from the Cold War and the machinery of the Cold War. In your estimation, how much progress has been made in that effort? How much is yet to be done, not just here but around the world?

KRISTENSEN: Well, as everything, it depends on when you compare it to. Because, I mean, we had arsenals on our side at a peak somewhere around 32,000 weapons in our stockpile. Today, we're down to 5,000. On the Soviet side, they had at their peak some 45,000 weapons in their stockpile. And they're now down to perhaps eight. So, a big job has been done.

But, as you can imagine, five and 8,000 weapons is still an enormous amount of overcapacity for the kind of world we live in today. These large arsenals, they were built, you have to remember, to battle, to fight nuclear wars - large arsenals against large arsenals. So, now we're struggling with how to drawdown these big arsenals and make them more applicable to the kind of world we live in today.

NORRIS: I've been speaking with Hans Kristensen about the dismantling of the last B-53 bomb. He's the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Thanks so much for coming in.

KRISTENSEN: Thanks for having me.


nanakwame said...

So, now we're struggling with how to drawdown these big arsenals and make them more applicable to the kind of world we live in today.
What does that mean - on drones?

CNu said...

Well, you saw the cruise missile delivery system involved with the 2007 USAF snafu? That should nourish the imagination just a little. The b-52 is nothing more than a long-range mobile missile launcher - not a tactical weapons delivery system anymore.

nanakwame said...

They sure dropped some big ones in The Nam, man what craters they were more than a city block. And they still love the American culture.
Everything is going small and faster, thanks to Physics - Doc

CNu said...

Nana, did you see a lot of thermobarics used in Vietnam? Russians got all kinda thermbaric ordinance, but I've never seen a comparable u.s. catalog. I recall reading about moabs at tora bora, but I get the feeling that u.s. thermobaric ordinance and utilization is kept on the QT.

nanakwame said...

No I don't recall though. We used flame throwers to set enemy on fire. What a sight at 4 in the morning.
The American military was developing electronic warfare though early, and the improvement in weaponry came after the war.  The M16 sucked made by GM once.  Now it's miniature grenades, grenade launcher off the rifle, and rapid loading of automatics. I pretty sure is there. The soldier as a fighting machine is f_kin amazing today.  I believe folks would s_t in their pants if they witness the fire power of today on a city block.

Ed Dunn said...

Actually, they are going to sh*t in their pants when they find out the technology that will be soon implemented to secure these blocks. A lot of nice things came out of that 10 years and $800 billion in terms of military technology that will be brought to civilian use. 

nanakwame said...

Yes they don't show this too much Blue Thunder 1983

Firepower no matter how vicious, would never stop a righteous movement of the common person, a  lesson from the Nam; though I believe the future is a spiritual/conscious motion at core. For borders are in actuality worthless, the drug war should have taught us that. Christianity at first was a true global attempt at one Race, one Catholic; the bishops f**ked that up.

Ed Dunn said...

nanakwame, you are speaking of raw firepower but not firepower combined with moore's law of scientific evolution. This video alone should speak for itself:

Ashlee(: said...

what is the element in the bomb?!!!?!

CNu said...

The warhead of the B53 used oralloy (highly enriched uranium) instead of plutonium for fission, with a mix of lithium-6 deuteride fuel for fusion. The explosive lens comprised a mixture of RDX and TNT, which was not insensitive. Two variants were made: the B53-Y1, a "dirty" weapon using a U-238-encased secondary, and the B53-Y2 "clean" version with a non-fissile (lead or tungsten) secondary casing. Explosive yield was approximately nine megatons.