US DISMANTLING THE LAST OF THE BIG CITY BUSTERSNovember 1, 2011
In case you missed it, the USA is dismantling the last of its big city/region-busting thermonuclear bombs, the B53:
Note that figure: 600 times more powerful than the Little Boy uranium shotgun bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, a mere atomic popgun with a paltry yield of 15-17 kilotons. The B53 would come in at around 9000 kilotons, or a whopping 9 megatons, not quite the notorious yield of the runaway Castle Bravo test, and a long way from the gigantic 57 megatons of the Soviet Union's Tsar bomba, tested in 1961 at Novaya Zemlya, but still enough to crack a country or two. What the article isn't talking about, and what I'd like to talk a little about here, is first of all the dismantling itself, and secondly, the reasons for it.
First, the dismantling: The bomb's designers are long gone, and the dismantlers must rely upon blueprints of the bomb, and a very careful and delicate process. Of course, these bombs were deliberately designed, with all the best engineering know-how of the day, not to detonate accidentally, and the likelihood of them doing so is minimal. Nevertheless, we are dealing here with a classic three-stage bomb, a fission-fusion-fission bomb of the type my co-author and I discussed in The Grid of the Gods. In such a weapon, the high explosive implosion detonator that surrounds a ball of plutonium and U-235 must be removed. Without that implosion detonator to set off the fission primary, which acts as the "fuse" for the fusion secondary, the bomb simply won't work, and what you have left is a lot of highly and precisely engineered lithium-deuteride (in all likelihood), and a U-238 tertiary, plus some polonium and beryllium thrown in there for neutron emitters to provide an extra spit of thermal neutrons to increase the efficiency of the reaction. Ok...I'm talking technical here, but the point is, the most dangerous aspect of the dismantling is the removal of the high explosives from the implosion detonator...dangerous work, and one, needless to say, calling for nerves of steel. Brain surgeons have less stress. No one can but admire these people, dismantling these horrible weapons, and I for one say, good riddance.
Second, the why: We have to ask ourselves a disturbing question: why are Russia and the USA in this program of dismantling these weapons? Did they have a sudden infusion of sanity and altruism in the waning years of the Soviet era, and in the first flush of the fall of communism? Or was there another reason? I rather suspect that the last is the case: the only thing that has ever made sense to me as to why either nation would cut back on these enormous weapons and actually dismantle them was that they had something much better in the wings, something without all that nasty fallout, and just as destructive. Well, we know about the smart bombs, the bunker busting bombs, and the fuel-air-bombs (conventional devices with the explosive brissance of a tactical nuke, in the low kilotonnage to percentage kilotonnage range). But we must include here the possibilities of earthquake and weather weapons (wonderful plausible deniability!), and nasty things like GRASERS (gamma ray lasers) and so on. IN short, what I think we're seeing with the dismantling of such weapons is the subtle signal and sign that these two nations, at least, have moved into the "post-thermonuclear" age. Indeed, one need only recall the statements of the Russian delegations back in the Brezhnev era during the first SALT talks, and their strange insistence on limiting weapons "more destructive" even than hydrogen bombs.