In October 2011, the US started the process to dismantle the last of its B53 bombs, the production of which epitomised the arms race of the Cold War. Many were dismantled during the 1980’s but the final B53 in the US military arsenal will be similarly dismantled in Texas. The B53 was officially in the US arsenal until 1997. Since then it has been in ‘storage’ having been superseded by smart bomb technology.

The B53, at 9 megatons, was one of America’s most powerful nuclear bombs. It was designed to create shockwaves so great that they would kill anyone sheltering underground – i.e. those who controlled the Soviet nuclear programme in the USSR who operated and effectively lived underground.

The B53 was 600 times more powerful than ‘Little Boy’ dropped by ‘Enola Gay’ over Hiroshima on August 6th1945. In the current era of smart bombs, the B53 was very much a throwback to the days of the nuclear arms race between the USA and USSR. The B53 was actually put into production during the most dangerous event of the Cold War – the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was produced up to 1965 and around 340 B53’s were built.

The B53 weighed 8,5000 lbs and at 3.80 metres in length, was the size of a minivan. It was primarily carried by B-52 bombers. The B53 was very much seen as a “monster weapon” and was built to compete with the USSR’s ‘Tsar’ bomb – the ‘king’ of bombs designed by Andrei Sakharov and at 50 megatons, the most powerful bomb ever exploded. The B53 would have created a fireball nearly 3 miles in diameter if it had ever been used in anger and the heat created would have almost certainly been lethal up to 18 miles from the blast’s epicentre. Most buildings would have been destroyed up to 10 miles from the actual blast. However, the B53 was primarily designed as a bunker buster to eradicate the Soviet Union’s command structure that existed in deep underground bunkers. 

The B53 will be disassembled at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo. In April 2010 Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed an agreement in Prague that would see a significant reduction in the number of nuclear weapons stocked by the USA and USSR and the dismantling of the final B53 was part of this deal.

October 2011