Tuesday, October 25, 2011

US News:

U.S.-made 'monster' nuclear warhead B53 dismantled
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Updated 4h 33m ago
Closing a Cold War chapter, technicians Tuesday dismantled the last of the most powerful U.S. nuclear bombs ever built.

An inert non-nuclear B53 training weapon is displayed during an event commemorating the dismantling of the final B53 nuclear bomb Tuesday at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.By Roberto Rodriguez, The Amarillo Globe News, via AP

The B53 nuclear bomb was made to deliver a 9-megaton blast about 600 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

Starting in 1962, about 300 of the 10,000-pound, minivan-size bombs were made, meant to be carried on bombers kept on 24-hour alert at the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions.

"Obviously, this was one of the largest weapons we had. It was a big one," says Greg Cunningham of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. At the plant, a ceremony marked the removal of high explosives from the last of the final 50 B53 bombs held in a reserve after the weapon's 1997 retirement.

"Monster really is the word. It would have created a fireball several miles wide," says noted nuclear history author Richard Rhodes.

"The world is a safer place with this dismantlement," said NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino, in a statement. "The B53 was a weapon developed in another time for a different world."

The B53 was a thermonuclear device: An atomic bomb set off a larger hydrogen one, creating a tremendously powerful blast intended to annihilate Russian command bunkers deep underground. It was replaced by smaller, more accurate "bunker buster" weapons.

Uranium from the dismantled bombs will be sent to the Energy Department's Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility.

"The good news is we are taking some of our old nuclear weapons apart," says Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a national security think tank based in Washington, D.C. "On the other hand, it's not like we still don't have plenty." Bomb dismantlement work at the Pantex plant, scheduled until 2022, he notes, has been slowed by weapon modernization work underway there.

Under 2010 treaty obligations, U.S. active strategic nuclear warheads will drop to 1,550 by 2018. About 5,000 nuclear weapons now remain deployed by the U.S. military, Kristensen notes.

Although President Obama has called for lowering nuclear weapons numbers, the administration urged a Senate committee this month to support efforts to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, an estimated decade-long $85 billion commitment.

"We're not losing any military capability with this (B53) weapon's disappearance," says nuclear security expert Micheal Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations.
For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment