King bomb: the atomic bomb that was too powerful for this world

In 1961, the Soviet Union tested a nuclear bombsuch a force that it would be too large for military use. And this event had far-reaching consequences of various kinds. That very morning, on October 30, 1961, the Soviet Tu-95 bomber rose from the Olenya air base on the Kola Peninsula, in the far north of Russia.

This Tu-95 was specially upgradedversion of the aircraft that entered service several years earlier; a large, big-shouldered, four-engine monster that was supposed to carry an arsenal of Soviet nuclear bombs.

In that decade in Soviet nuclearhuge breakthroughs have occurred in research. The Second World War placed the USA and the USSR in one camp, but the post-war period was replaced by a cold in relations, and then their freezing. And the Soviet Union, which was faced with the fact of rivalry of one of the largest superpowers in the world, had only one choice: to join the race, and quickly.

On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union testedits first nuclear device, known as "Joe-1" in the West - in the distant steppes of Kazakhstan, collecting it according to the results of the work of spies who entered the American atomic bomb program. During the years of intervention, the test program quickly took off and began, and about 80 devices were blown up during its course; in 1958 alone, the USSR tested 36 nuclear bombs.

But nothing compared to this test.

Tu-95 carried a huge bomb under the belly. It was too large to fit inside the bomb bay of an airplane, where such ammunition was usually transported. The bomb was 8 meters long, about 2.6 meters in diameter and weighed more than 27 tons. Physically, she was very similar in shape to the “Baby” and “Fat Man” dropped to Hiroshima and Nagasaki fifteen years before. In the USSR she was called both “Kuzkina mother” and “Tsar bomb”, and her last name is well preserved.

The Tsar bomb was not the most ordinary nuclear bomb. It was the result of a feverish attempt by scientists of the USSR to create the most powerful nuclear weapon and thereby support the desire of Nikita Khrushchev to make the world tremble with the power of Soviet technology. It was more than a metal monster, too big to fit even the largest plane. It was a city destroyer, an ultimate weapon.

This "Tupolev", painted in bright white withIn order to reduce the effect of the flash of the bomb, it reached its destination. Novaya Zemlya, a sparsely populated archipelago in the Barents Sea, over the frozen northern edges of the USSR. The pilot Tupolev, Major Andrei Durnovtsev, drove the plane to the Soviet training ground at Mityushikha to a height of about 10 kilometers. A small advanced Tu-16 bomber flew nearby, ready to shoot an impending explosion and take air intakes from the explosion zone for further analysis.

So that two planes had a chance to survive - and there wereno more than 50% - the Tsar bomb was equipped with a giant parachute weighing about a ton. The bomb was supposed to slowly descend to a predetermined height - 3940 meters - and then explode. And then, two bombers will be already 50 kilometers from it. That should have been enough to survive the explosion.

The Tsar bomb blew up at 11:32 Moscow time. At the site of the explosion, a ball of fire formed almost 10 kilometers wide. The ball of fire rose higher under the influence of its own shock wave. The flash was visible from a distance of 1000 kilometers from everywhere.

The mushroom cloud at the site of the explosion grew 64 kilometers high, and its hat expanded until it spread 100 kilometers from edge to edge. Surely the sight was indescribable.

For New Earth, the consequences were catastrophic. In the village of Severny, 55 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion, all the houses were completely destroyed. It was reported that in Soviet districts, hundreds of kilometers from the zone, explosions were damaged of all kinds - houses collapsed, roofs sagged, glass flew out, doors broke. The radio did not work for an hour.

"Tupolev" Durnovtseva was lucky; The Tsar Bomb blast caused the giant bomber to drop 1,000 meters before the pilot could regain control of it.

One Soviet cameraman who witnessed detonation described the following:

“Clouds under and at a distance from the aircraftilluminated by a powerful flash. A sea of ​​light dispersed under the hatch and even the clouds began to glow and became transparent. At this moment, our plane was between two layers of clouds and below, in a crevice, a huge, bright, orange ball blossomed. The ball was powerful and magnificent, like Jupiter. Slowly and quietly he crept up. Having broken through a thick layer of clouds, it continued to grow. He seemed to suck the whole Earth. The sight was fantastic, unreal, supernatural. "

The bomb king has released incredible energy -Now it is estimated at 57 megatons, or 57 million tons of TNT equivalent. This is 1,500 times more than both bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were released, and 10 times more powerful than all the ammunition spent during World War II. The sensors recorded a bomb blast that passed the Earth not once, not twice, but three.

Such an explosion cannot be kept secret. The United States had a spy plane several tens of kilometers from the explosion. It had a special optical device, a bhangemeter, useful for calculating the strength of remote nuclear explosions. The data for this aircraft - code-named Speedlight - was used by the Foreign Arms Assessment Panel to calculate the results of this covert test.

International condemnation did not take longwait, not only from the United States and Great Britain, but also from the Scandinavian neighbors of the USSR, such as Sweden. The only bright spot in this mushroom cloud was that since the ball of fire did not come in contact with the Earth, there was astonishingly little radiation.

It could have been otherwise. Initially, the Tsar bomb was conceived twice as powerful.


One of the architects of this formidable devicethere was a Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov - a man who would later become world famous for his attempts to rid the world of the very weapons that he helped create. He was a veteran of the Soviet atomic bomb development program from the very beginning and became part of the team that created the first atomic bombs for the USSR.

Sakharov began work on a multilayer devicefission-fusion-fission, a bomb that creates additional energy from the nuclear processes in its core. This included wrapping deuterium, a stable hydrogen isotope, with a layer of unenriched uranium. Uranus had to capture neutrons from burning deuterium and also start a reaction. Sakharov called her "puff." This breakthrough allowed the USSR to create the first hydrogen bomb, a device much more powerful than the atomic bombs several years before.

Khrushchev instructed Sakharov to come up with a bomb that was more powerful than all the others already tested by then.

The Soviet Union needed to show that hecould get ahead of the US in a nuclear arms race, according to Philip Coyle, former President of the US nuclear weapons test under President Bill Clinton. He spent 30 years helping to create and test atomic weapons. “The United States was far ahead because of the work that they did in preparing the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And then they did a lot of testing in the atmosphere before the Russians did their first. ”

“We were ahead and the Soviets tried somethingto do to tell the world what to reckon with. The Tsar bomb was primarily intended to make the world stop and recognize the Soviet Union as an equal, ”says Coyle.

The initial design is a three-layer bomb withuranium layers dividing each step would have a yield of 100 megatons. 3,000 times bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The Soviet Union had already experienced large devices in the atmosphere, equivalent to several megatons, but this bomb would have become simply gigantic compared to those. Some scientists have begun to believe that it is too big.

With such enormous force, there would be no guarantee that a giant bomb would not fall into a swamp in the north of the USSR, leaving behind a huge cloud of radioactive fallout.

Partly, Sakharov was afraid of this, says Frank von Hippel, a physicist and head of public and international affairs at Princeton University.

“He was really worried about the amount of radioactivity the bomb could create,” he says. “And the genetic implications for future generations.”

“And that was the beginning of the journey from the bomb designer to the dissident.”

Prior to the test, the layers of uranium, which were supposed to disperse the bomb to incredible power, were replaced by layers of lead, which reduced the intensity of the nuclear reaction.

The Soviet Union created such a powerful weapon that scientists did not want to test it at full power. And the problems with this destructive device were not limited to this.

Tu-95 bombers designed to carrySoviet Union nuclear weapons were designed to transport much lighter weapons. The Tsar bomb was so big that it couldn’t be placed on a rocket, and so heavy that the planes carrying it couldn’t deliver it to the target and stay with the right amount of fuel to return. Anyway, if the bomb was as powerful as it was conceived, the planes might not have returned.

There may be too many nuclear weapons,says Coyle, who is now a senior fellow at the Arms Control Center in Washington. “It's hard to find a use for it unless you want to destroy very large cities,” he says. “It's just too big to use.”

Von Hippel agrees. “These things (large freely falling nuclear bombs) were designed so that you could destroy the target, being a kilometer away from it. The direction of movement has changed - in the direction of increasing the accuracy of missiles and the number of warheads. "

The Tsar bomb led to other consequences. It caused so much apprehension - five times more than any other test before it - that led to the taboo on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1963. Von Hippel says Sakharov was particularly concerned about the amount of radioactive carbon-14 that was released into the atmosphere - an isotope with a particularly long half-life. It was partially softened by carbon from fossil fuels in the atmosphere.

Sakharov was worried that the bomb that would bemore tested, will not push off under the influence of its own blast wave - like the Tsar bomb - and cause global radioactive fallout, spread toxic dirt all over the planet.

Sakharov became an ardent supporter of the ban onpartial tests of 1963 and an outspoken critic of nuclear proliferation. And in the late 1960s - and missile defense, which, he rightly believed, would spur a new nuclear arms race. He was increasingly ostracized by the state and subsequently became a dissident, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 and called the “conscience of mankind,” says von Hippel.

It seems that the Tsar bomb caused a completely different kind of rainfall.

According to the BBC