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The Military Science

US's Most Powerful Nuclear Bomb Being Dismantled 299

Posted by Soulskill
from the swords-to-nuclear-plowshares dept.
SpuriousLogic sends this excerpt from an AP report: "The last of the nation's most powerful nuclear bombs — a weapon hundreds of times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — is being disassembled nearly half a century after it was put into service at the height of the Cold War. The final components of the B53 bomb will be broken down Tuesday at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. ... The weapon is considered dismantled when the roughly 300 pounds of high explosives inside are separated from the special nuclear material, known as the pit. The uranium pits from bombs dismantled at Pantex will be stored on an interim basis at the plant, Cunningham said. The material and components are then processed, which includes sanitizing, recycling and disposal, the National Nuclear Security Administration said last fall when it announced the Texas plant's role in the B53 dismantling."
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US's Most Powerful Nuclear Bomb Being Dismantled

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  • Oops (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tenek (738297) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:00PM (#37833898)
    The final components will be accidentally dropped Tuesday at the Amarillo Crater...
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The final components will be accidentally dropped Tuesday at the Amarillo Crater...

      I read an article about the disassembly plant a few years ago; AFAIR they're dismantled inside sealed bunkers underground, so if the HE goes off everyone dies, the bunker collapses and the radioactive materials are safely buried until they can dig them up.

      Of course if it did trigger a nuclear explosion that wouldn't help much :).

      • Re:Oops (Score:5, Informative)

        by Luckyo (1726890) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:27PM (#37834290)

        It's pretty unlikely to trigger a nuclear explosion considering the requirements to reach criticality in a bomb. In most cases, you'll have explosives go off by accident on such a bomb, they don't do enough compression to cause criticality and end up being essentially a dirty bomb scattering highly enriched uranium or plutonium around.

        Which is what bunker is designed to protect against.

        • Oops, you mis-used a word there. You mean a 'critical mass' would not be caused and no nuclear detonation would result. The much more likely 'criticality' condition is a non-critical mass that causes the thermal explosion that has the same effect as a 'dirty' bomb.
          • Re:Oops (Score:4, Informative)

            by IAN (30) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @03:58PM (#37836842)

            Oops, you mis-used a word there. You mean a 'critical mass' would not be caused and no nuclear detonation would result. The much more likely 'criticality' condition is a non-critical mass that causes the thermal explosion that has the same effect as a 'dirty' bomb.

            Criticality -- the point at which a fuel assembly can sustain a nuclear chain reaction by itself.

            Critical mass -- the smallest mass of fuel for which the criticality is reached; depends on geometry, density, temperature etc.

            So the GP's usage is correct. To be really precise, one could note that weapon fuel should go from subcritical to prompt critical to achieve explosion, but that would be nitpicking in this context.

    • by luder (923306) *

      I don't know about that, but I have a feeling the US will activate its emergency broadcast system in the near future...

  • 9 Megatons (Score:5, Informative)

    by csshelton (949006) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:03PM (#37833932)
    Since it wasn't included in the synopsis...
    • by pnot (96038)

      Thank you, you beat me to it. I know that Hiroshimas are the standard unit of explosive force, but it's nice to state TNT equivalent just in case there happen to be any nerds reading this site.

      • by MachDelta (704883) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:23PM (#37834226)

        Wait, I thought our standard unit of measurement around here was the LOC?
        So, just how much damage does a LOC, when dropped from a great height, do to an urban area? Anyone know? This is Slashdot... someone knows.

        • Re:9 Megatons (Score:4, Insightful)

          by egamma (572162) <egamma&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:39PM (#37834468)

          Wait, I thought our standard unit of measurement around here was the LOC? So, just how much damage does a LOC, when dropped from a great height, do to an urban area? Anyone know? This is Slashdot... someone knows.

          p. Depends on how high the swallows were when they dropped it. And if they were African or European swallows. Also, are you including the bricks and stone, or just the books?

          • Also, are you including the bricks and stone, or just the books?

            Actually, a unit of LoC refers only to the books, not to the bricks, stone, librarians, or other building materials. Just as a can of tuna refers to the fish inside but not to the tin.

            • by lgw (121541)

              That can't be, since the LoC is also a standard unit of distance and volume, both of which refer to the building itself.

              Hmm, if we knew the mass of the LoC, we could calculate it's equivalent megatonnage on impact using one of those asteroid impact calculators ...

        • by Baloroth (2370816)

          Well, the LOC has 147 million items, 33 million of them books. At, say an average of 1kg each, that would be, say 40 million kilos? Probably more. Lets say 50 million kg, falling from infinity to the Earth's surface gives a total energy of 3.14*10^15 joules, at 4.184Gj/ton of TNT gives a total of 750kilotons of TNT. That would be about 57 Hiroshimas. Note that the LOC probably weighs at least 2-3 times that, but Google doesn't seem to know, so whatever.

          • by smithmc (451373) *

            Well, the LOC has 147 million items, 33 million of them books. At, say an average of 1kg each, that would be, say 40 million kilos? Probably more. Lets say 50 million kg, falling from infinity to the Earth's surface gives a total energy of 3.14*10^15 joules, at 4.184Gj/ton of TNT gives a total of 750kilotons of TNT. That would be about 57 Hiroshimas. Note that the LOC probably weighs at least 2-3 times that, but Google doesn't seem to know, so whatever.

            Of course, most of that would be dissipated as heat as the books/films etc. burned on the way down; very little of it would actually be translated into destructive force on impact.

        • by GumphMaster (772693) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @05:06PM (#37837796)

          So, just how much damage does a LOC, when dropped from a great height, do to an urban area?

          One line of code? Not much, but you better make sure that line is appropriately licensed or the damage done by thousands of lawyers descending on your location will be devastating. :)

      • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

        Hiroshima is a terrible standard of explosive force since thermonuclear weapons are much more efficient than Hiroshima or Nagasaki devices.

        Plus more modern aiming, delivery and detonation techniques make even a similar yield device more destructive.

        Grable shot showed the destructive power of the precursor wave against drag sensitive objects

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upshot-Knothole_Grable [wikipedia.org]

        So rather than detonate at 580 meters (Little Boy/Hiroshima), Grable is a similar yield and detonates at 160 meters and

  • by WebManWalking (1225366) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:04PM (#37833944)
    What I wanted to know most wasn't in the summary. The Fine Article tells me that the B53 is 9 megatons.
    • by anom (809433)

      Any projections of the casualties in megadeaths based on potential drop locations? You know, for the binder.

      • by neoform (551705)

        According to wikipedia, this bomb causes a fireball 5km wide with a lethal heat-blast of 29km wide...

        The number of people killed depends entirely on where you drop it...

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          The biggest portion causing fatalities would probably be heat emission and kinetic shockwave following it. Rather hard to say which one would demand more casualties, as it will depend on where it is dropped. Steel frame buildings will most likely protect from the heat of the blast outside epicenter at the very least though.

          And of course, at epicenter you're going to be fucked even if you're in a bunker. That caliber of a bomb is the type that can change the maps.

    • Re:9 megatons (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lev13than (581686) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:28PM (#37834316) Homepage

      Interesting that it pales in comparison to the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated, the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba [wikipedia.org]. However, the Soviets only made one of those while the Americans has 50 B53s, so what they lacked in tonnage they made up for in volume.

  • Good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:05PM (#37833950)
    This is a good thing, the B53 was a last ditch weapon intended to take out the hardened bunkers of the Soviet leadership, except it was air burst which is a highly, highly ineffective was to take out a bunker. The replacement is a much smaller, much less dirty penetrator weapon, the B61 Mod 11.
    • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:07PM (#37833988)

      While the logical part of me is glad this is gone, the engineering part of my brain is sad. :)

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        While the logical part of me is glad this is gone, the engineering part of my brain is sad. :)

        They should have detonated them and charged for tickets; there's lots of space for grandstands at the Nevada Test Site.

      • And so it should be, there was an article the year before last I think talking about how that a key component to some of our submarine launched nuclear weaponry was lost to us because it was so secret no one wrote it down. We need to be careful that we don't lose the engineering knowledge of these systems in case we have a critical, but more civil use for the devices.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Funny)

      by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:10PM (#37834028) Journal

      B61 Mod 11

      Doesn't that make it the B6?

    • by xMrFishx (1956084)
      A bunker buster, providing your bunker is within a few hundred miles or so. It was a city leveller. This is the bomb you drop to lose, not win. Noone should have that much destructive power at the touch of a button. The idea of it being used is beyond scary.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Which is why we didn't have it at a touch of a button.

        And there are perfectly valid scenarios for this weapon. Reduce navel forces, remove coastal facilities, and so on.

        Of course you would never use it anyplace you wanted to use again for 100 years.

        We don't seem to be living in the large countries at war world anymore. And that always causes me to be a little giddy.

        • by xMrFishx (1956084)
          I wasn't quite being as literal with the touch of a button statement, just the idea that it can be used is terrifying enough. You could probably drop it in the sea and create a tidal wave so big it would cover a medium sized country. It wouldn't just reduce navies near by, it would eradicate anything near the entire ocean.

          I for one am glad I have only existed (for all intents and purposes) post cold war, which does make me a young-ling compared to some of you lot, but everyone should know about what co
          • I wasn't quite being as literal with the touch of a button statement, just the idea that it can be used is terrifying enough. You could probably drop it in the sea and create a tidal wave so big it would cover a medium sized country. It wouldn't just reduce navies near by, it would eradicate anything near the entire ocean.

            You seriously underestimate what is needed to cause a decent tidal wave.
            If used as a "wave generator", this bomb could cause wet feet in a single harbour,
            and only if detonated close enough (under 20km, lets say. It probably even needs
            to be closer than that, I haven't done the math) but that's pretty much all.

            Earthquakes triggering big tsunamis are vastly more powerful, and also work differently:
            Big submarine earthquakes permanently displace huge amounts of water - in the case
            of the Japan tsunami, ov

            • by xMrFishx (1956084)
              Excellent point, I honestly hadn't considered how vastly different the idea of an explosion vs surface displacement was when it came to moving something like water. Now my sensationalist statements seem quite daft. Would it be possible then that an underwater nuclear explosion would be less devastating than an overground one due to absorption of energy by the water?
      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        You're correct, these are the part of strategic rather then tactical arsenal, and are a part of MAD deterrent far more then a bunker buster (though they could probably remove Ural mountains when needed). But these are old, and as ballistic missile deterrent came a bit later, it was upgraded to have MIRV payload where smaller bombs were scattered from a single warhead over larger kill zone.

        They are far more efficient when it comes to MAD scenario then a single huge bomb.

      • by khallow (566160)

        A bunker buster, providing your bunker is within a few hundred miles or so.

        Nonsense. I find it astounding how people can find ways to exaggerate the firepower of a nuclear bomb. For example, an airburst 9 megaton warhead centered on Manhattan Island in New York City would kill most people in NYC. According to Wikipedia, it'd cause lethal burns to any exposed people within 18 miles (incidentally including all of the city) of ground zero. But if you're in a bunker a hundred miles away? You won't even notice, aside possibly from some noise.

    • It would land with parachutes, wait for the dropping plane to clear the area, and explode. This would send a shock wave through the ground to the bunker.

      Even the new B61 has an airburst option, and dial-a-yield too (actually, even some older warheads had dial-a-yield, such as the Lance).

    • by nabsltd (1313397)

      This is a good thing, the B53 was a last ditch weapon intended to take out the hardened bunkers of the Soviet leadership, except it was air burst which is a highly, highly ineffective was to take out a bunker.

      The B53 had a reinforced nose that (along with parachutes) allowed it to be detonated on the ground, which should have been fairly effective.

      But, I'm getting the mental picture of such a bomb lying there while the bomb squad attempts to disarm it.

      • Me too, except I was imagining the Soviet bomb squad de-activating it, and some US general going loopy as he realises that's the only one they've got and the danged Russkies have just switched it off... "... so whadda we going to do now?!"

      • But, I'm getting the mental picture of such a bomb lying there while the bomb squad attempts to disarm it.

        There'd be no time for that. It would probably set to go off within a minute or two at the most. Your only hope to survive would be to start shooting at it.

  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:07PM (#37833986) Homepage
    They should have at least tried to sell it on eBay first to recoup some of those tax dolars -- pick up only, of course.
  • by Arlet (29997) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:12PM (#37834072)

    They should try it first, see if all the mechanisms still work after all these years.

    • by realxmp (518717)
      That would be fun, but the trouble is if it fizzled, or only the conventional explosives detonated, the fallout would be a right mare to cleanup.
    • by FlyingGuy (989135)

      Hmmm disassemble, remove the core, install dummy core, then re-assemble and drop. That would test everything but the actual nuclear bits.

  • Children in Amarillo are advised not to shout "boo" too loudly, lest they startle the workers just as they are disassembling B53.
    • by mbone (558574)

      Have you ever seen Pantex ? It is rather... large.

      It was designed to handle kilotons of chemical explosives at a time, and those just might go boom, so each building is separated by a very wide gap to the next. Even if trick or treat in Amarillo Texas involves hundreds of pounds of dynamite, I doubt the workers would hear it.

  • amusing quote (Score:2, Informative)

    by snarkh (118018)

    From the article:
    Today's bombs are smaller but more precise, reducing the amount of collateral damage, Kristensen said.

    Amusing, considering that he is talking about bombs tens of thousand times more powerful than the largest non-nuclear munitions.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      True, non the less. And I' not sure that statement refers only to nuclear weapons.

      If I did it over again, I would choose weaponeering.
      WE have bombs that are self guided, can go through several stories, and only explode 4 nano seconds after they hit the ground. This bomb destroying the inside of a building, while only shaking the windows of building across the street. How fucking cool is that?

      We can look at a naval ship yard, cripple it my destroying only a few specific buildings.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      Mutually Assured Destruction (holding each others' cities hostage) may have gotten the most publicity, but you only need a few hundred nukes to accomplish MAD. The reason the U.S. and Soviets built thousands of nuclear weapons was because each one was targeted at an individual hardened missile silo or mobile launcher (and to account for a percentage of your missiles failing or being taken out). Usually those aren't located in cities, so reducing the amount of collateral damage is somewhat relevant. (This
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:29PM (#37834328) Journal

    Or, roughly 200 grams of antimatter...

    • Don't need antimatter. Ordinary matter converted into energy will do (in Hiroshima I believe it was 0.23 g of uranium was transmuted into energy).
  • by cdrguru (88047) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @01:32PM (#37834372) Homepage

    The warhead on a Titan II missle was also 9 megatons, just for reference. Not sure if it was the same design, but 9 megatons wasn't really all that large a weapon. While it may be the largest weapon deployed, the Russians had a test device that would have yielded 100 megatons.

    I suspect a far more interesting value for nuclear weapon ratings would be the effective blast radius, both as an airburst and at ground level. 9 megatons might be something that would wipe out an entire large metropolitan area, or it might be something that would just take out a city center. The difference is significant.

    In today's climate, it is unlikely any state-level actor would really want to take out an entire metropolitan area. And certainly, anything that would be able to be moved by non-state-level actors would be unlikely to have a yield big enough to do that.

  • Will now go into monitoring communications between people!

    When government's don't need to worry about each other they have more time to worry about their citizens!

    I love you big brother, can I borrow your car? I'll spy on your GF (Canada) and report back to you I promise!
  • The B53 was not the most powerful bomb the US had in service. the B41 (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/B41_nuclear_bomb) had a theoretical maximum yield of 25 megatons, making it more powerful than even the Castle Bravo Shrimp device which had a yield of 15 megatons. The only stronger detonation was the Soviet RDS-220, or "Tsar Bomba", which had a yield of 57 megatons, reduced from 100 by replacing the uranium tamper with a lead one in order to reduce fallout.
  • Somebody dismantled us the bomb :(
  • NASA is running out of plutonium for RTG electric generators for deep space probes. They should recycle the weapons grade plutonium to make RTG fuel.

    • by getagrip (86081)
      RTGs for science missions require P238 which is manufactured in a completely different process. The major recycling use for weapons grade plutonium is to blend it down as fuel for nuclear plants so less uranium needs to be mined.
  • ...of value was lost. Let's move ahead and invest time and money in useful things.
  • by makubesu (1910402) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @05:52PM (#37838322)
    The well ordering principal disagrees.

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