Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inexplicable! The story of the B53

Does it blow anyone else's mind that the most powerful weapon in the US arsenal is a holdover from the 1950s and therefore has almost no safety features whatsoever?

The B53 is a nine megaton bomb. That's 600 times more powerful than the bomb that completely destroyed Hiroshima, enough to deliver lethal burns to almost everything in a 1000 square mile area and spread radiation across an enormous swath of the planet. It is only now, twenty years after the end of the cold war, being dismantled – a process that will take years.

It was slated to be replaced by the ICBM-based W53 (a newer, safer weapon with the same 9-megaton yield) until a maintenance worker dropped a wrench into the silo of an Arkansas-based Titan II missile, causing it to explode and hurl the warhead all the way to the missile complex entrance gate. Because of this accident, the B53 was reassigned to active duty until 1997.

And I'm serious about it having virtually no safety features. It's not going to go off if you get it wet, or if its plane gets struck by lightning. But you know the launch codes that presidents use in the popular imagination to unlock and launch and then possibly to abort nuclear weapons? The codes that ensure that only the president can arm a nuke? In real life those are called a Permissive Action Link. SInce they were introduced during the Kennedy administration, the B53 doesn't have one.

The air force nicknamed the B53 "The Crowd Pleaser." Because they are horrifying like that.


  1. Since this isn't the first time, I thought it was important that I give this post the appropriate tag.

  2. HAHA YES!

    I just, you know, think something should be done faster than it is being done.

  3. but don't you have to go back and tag the other ones now? Otherwise this will appear to be the only post where he scares the living shit out of us. And personally I think the ones where he points out how many times our existing nuclear stockpile could cause Armageddon is plenty scary.