The last of the United States’ B53 nuclear bomb,the most destructive weapon in its arsenal that is about 600 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima,will be dismantled as part of President Barack Obama’s goal of reducing the number of atomic weapons.
B53s,described as “high yield strategic thermonuclear bombs,” were first introduced around 1962. The bomb which weighs about 10,000 pounds is roughly the size of a minivan. It was deployed at the height of the Cold War and was
targeted at Russia.
This was a big part of our Cold War strategic plan, said Steve Erhart,the top federal official at the Pantex weapons plant,about 27 km northeast of Amarillo,Texas.
The Pantex plant is America’s only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility and is charged with maintaining the safety,security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
Workers at the facility will spend less than an hour later today doing the final work to dismantle the last B53,Star-Telegram newspaper reported.
“Its dismantlement is a key point in history,” Erhart said. “It takes a lot of destructive power off of the earth.”
Officials from the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration will be among those gathering at Pantex to mark the end of the B53. Pantex officials said in a statement that this “ensures that the Cold War system will never again be part of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.”
The B53s were designed to be dropped from a B-52 bomber as a “bunker buster,” sending shock waves similar to an earthquake through the ground to collapse deep underground shelters near Moscow where high-ranking officials might be.
The bomb could burrow underground and destroy everything in its path. It contained about 300 pounds of high explosive around a uranium core,had a yield of 9 megatons,making it about 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima,Japan,during World War II,according to the Federation of American Scientists.
Because of the bomb’s size and age,officials said dismantling the weapon “did present some challenges,” Erhart said.
Some early versions of the weapon were retired in the 1960s,and the US began to disassemble some in the 1980s. The remaining B53s were retired from active arsenal in 1997.
Obama is keen to reduce the number of nuclear weapons,saying in 2009 that “to put an end to Cold War thinking,we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.” Last year,the National Nuclear Security Administration gave Pantex the authority to begin dismantling the B53 weapons system.