Tomorrow, the Department of Energy will begin disassembly and disposal of the last "monster weapon" on the planet: a 10,000-pound B53 nuclear warhead with a yield of nine megatons, which packs roughly 750 times more energy than the nuke that was used on Hiroshima.
The B53 is a relic of an era where weapons made up for their lack of intelligent guidance through sheer destructive power. If you have a weapon capable of decimating anything within a radius of one mile, for example, pinpoint accuracy now involves a mile-sized pin.
The B53's pin was much larger than a mile. "Horrendous" may be an accurate way to describe the accuracy of this thing, but it just didn't matter: a nine-megaton nuclear detonation is enough to create a fireball three miles wide. Most structures within about 10 miles of the blast site would be destroyed, and any unprotected person within about 1,000 square miles would receive lethal burns. To put those distances in perspective, we're talking about the complete destruction of New York City and its surrounding boroughs, and a sizable chunk of New Jersey, all with just one of these weapons.
But the usage case of the B53 didn't involve just one weapon. Designed primarily to destroy hardened Soviet underground bunkers, "multiple" B53s were to be deployed at ground level just south of Moscow in the event of an all-out nuclear war in an attempt to destroy the Soviet leadership. We're not sure exactly how many B53s would have been used, but as recently as 1997, the U.S. still had 50 of these things ready to go.
Happily (I guess?), we've gotten very good at making weapons that aren't idiotic, and the B53 was rendered obsolete by the variable "dial-a-yield" B61, a much smaller precision-guided nuclear penetrator with yields that can be set anywhere from one to 340 kilotons. Disassembly of the B53s began in 1997, and the very last one is due to have its uranium core extracted tomorrow.
We don't have anything else like it (not even close), and neither do the Russians. Of course, we still have a couple thousand smaller nukes that should be sufficient to do whatever jobs the big ones were supposed to do a bunch of times over, but it's still a bit of a relief to see the last of these indiscriminately destructive objects cease to exist.
Via Danger Room