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U.S.'s most powerful nuclear bomb being dismantled

By Associated Press


AMARILLO, Texas » 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 completion of the dismantling program is a year ahead of schedule, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and aligns with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons.

Thomas D'Agostino, the nuclear administration's chief, called the bomb's elimination a "significant milestone."

First put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 pounds and was the size of a minivan. According to the American Federation of Scientists, it was 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

The B53 was designed to destroy facilities deep underground, and it was carried by B-52 bombers.

Since it was made using older technology by engineers who have since retired or died, developing a disassembly process took time. Engineers had to develop complex tools and new procedures to ensure safety.

"We knew going in that this was going to be a challenging project, and we put together an outstanding team with all of our partners to develop a way to achieve this objective safely and efficiently," said John Woolery, the plant's general manager.

Many of the B53s were disassembled in the 1980s, but a significant number remained in the U.S. arsenal until they were retired from the stockpile in 1997. Pantex spokesman Greg Cunningham said he couldn't comment on how many of the bombs have been disassembled at the Texas plant.

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.

The plant will play a large role in similar projects as older weapons are retired from the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal.

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LMO wrote:
Why is this news? Some of these bombs have already been dismantled, and there are more to be so. It's not like this is a signifigant event.
on October 25,2011 | 02:57AM
ethan wrote:
Don't believe this. The U.S. has some of the most powerful, accurate nuclear weapons on the planet.
on October 25,2011 | 06:35PM
ethan wrote:
Don't believe this. The U.S. has the most powerful, accurate nuclear weapons in the world.
on October 25,2011 | 06:39PM
Christopher_murp wrote:
Hopefully we have something as capable so we can take Iran's nuclear facilities offline, permanently.
on October 25,2011 | 04:39AM
sloturle wrote:
I don't understand why we need to do this since North Korea is ramping up their nuclear program. North Korea is the smartest countries when it comes to nuclear and all they do it make bombs. This is a bad move by Obama. What makes our country is our strength. Our MUSCLE. Without it were nothing. Power is leverage. The man who holds the strongest bomb has the most say in the world. Remember that.
on October 25,2011 | 07:27AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
I believe that with the current US arsenal we have the ability to blow up the entire world 50-70 times. The dismantling of this bomb type may reduce our ability to blow up the world five times or so. I dare say we are still in a powerful position...
on October 25,2011 | 10:31AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
I highly doubt the US doesn't have enough of an arsenal in stock, even after this dismantling. China, North Korea, Iran, Al Qaida, still a lot of threats in the world today. Fox Mulder would get to the bottom of this, no doubt....
on October 25,2011 | 08:21AM
thos wrote:
If one recalls correctly damage falls off inversely as the square of the distance but inversely as the cube of the yield. This old timer was as good a hard target killer as possible to manufacture back in the day, but with improvements in accuracy (circular error probable, to use the jargon) more advanced and much more accurate weapon delivery systems made this big bertha obsolete. Now hard targets can be killed with weapons of much smaller yield. If I had to guess, my surmise is that deep (stupid) cuts in our nuclear arsenal over the last 20 years have resulted in staff cutbacks at PANTEX (inter alia) that slowed but did not stop the labor intensive dis-assembly process. The larger issue is why have we let our arsenal degrade through wretched neglect. The day may come when we rue our carelessness.
on October 25,2011 | 09:42AM
entrkn wrote:
Good riddance...
on October 25,2011 | 10:43AM
ethan wrote:
LMO, I'm not trying to disrespect you, however, I think that you need to understand that the next theater for war is the Pacific. I work at a military facility and have access to retired officers that still work within the confines of "defense". This type of story is nothing more than propaganda. The comment you left is what the U.S. military wants the general public to believe.
on October 25,2011 | 06:58PM
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