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NUKE WAR: Global nuclear weapons arsenal deadliest ever

Not since the Cold War, when major global powers stockpiled thousands of nukes, has the prospect of global nuclear holocaust been as sobering

Compton Herald | nuclear weapons
Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945. This was the first photograph of the Little Boy bomb casing to ever be released by the U.S. government. It was declassified in 1960. Courtesy U.S. government Department of Defense/National Archives

Destructive power of today’s nuclear weapons unfathomable; A-blasts of yesteryear are matchsticks by comparison

Compton Herald | Nuke War

A three-part Compton Herald feature exploring the evolution of the nuclear weapons race, and the potential for cataclysmic warfare Photo: Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons


If President Donald Trump truly understood the horrific cataclysmic power of nuclear weapons, he would refrain from further threats to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. There will be no winner in a nuclear exchange. Any notion of “fire and fury” by the U.S. would result in a global conflagration; hence the Mutual (or Mutually) Assured Destruction (MAD) Doctrine — is intended to discourage war.

Not since the Cold War has the prospect of global nuclear holocaust been as sobering as the years when major global powers stockpiled multiple thousands of nukes. The callous bluster by Trump and Kim has ignited this fear.

Trump mimics Truman’s warning to Japan

History has documented the devastation of nuclear cataclysm witnessed in the incineration of more than a quarter million human beings in the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

According to U.S. Department of Defense records, on July 25, 1945, President Harry S. Truman, issued orders for atomic attacks on four Japanese cities, if Japan refused to surrender, with the warning — “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Truman didn’t disclose the means by which the destruction would come. President Trump’s recent threat to Kim Jong-un was suspiciously reminiscent of Truman’s ultimatum to Japan.

His threat was not idle, however. On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped a uranium gun-type bomb dubbed Little Boy, on Hiroshima. Three days later, on Aug. 9, a plutonium implosion-type bomb dubbed Fat Man, was unleashed on Nagasaki. Within the first 2-4 months following the bombings, the effects of the detonations killed an estimated 90,000-146,000 people in Hiroshima, and 39,000-80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day.

During the following months, large numbers died from the cumulative effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, though an estimated 20,000 Japanese servicemen were killed in the blasts.

Legacy nuclear weapons that led arms race

There is no doubt the devastation from the atomic bombs on Japan was hellish. The Little Boy and Fat Man weapons had an energy yield of 15 and 21 kilotons or the equivalent of 15,000 and 21,000 tons of TNT, respectively. One kiloton is a metric of weight equal to 1,000 tons of TNT.

In contrast, the destruction that would be unleashed by nukes today is terrifying. The weapons today are infinitely more powerful. One megaton yields 1 million tons of TNT. The most powerful thermonuclear device ever built yielded a ghastly 50 megatons.

Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb: The now dismantled Soviet Union created the Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb, the most powerful thermonuclear device ever, with a yield of 50 megatons. It was exploded by the Soviet Union on Oct. 30, 1961 over Novaya Zemlya Island in the Russian Arctic Sea. The bomb was air dropped by a Soviet Tu-95 bomber using a huge fall-retardation parachute. The detonation occurred 4 kilometers or 2 ½ miles above the ground. The blast is believed to be equivalent to the explosive power from the simultaneous detonation of 3,300 Hiroshima bombs.

B41 nuclear bomb: The B41 or Mk-41 with a yield of 25 megatons — half that of the Tsar Bomba — is the most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever created by the U.S. About 500 bombs were produced between 1960-62 and remained in service until July 1976, when they were dismantled. The weapon was never tested.

TX-21 “Shrimp” (Castle Bravo): The TX-21 “Shrimp” thermonuclear weapon was exploded by the U.S., during its biggest ever nuclear weapon test on March 1, 1954. The Castle Bravo bomb was detonated at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and yielded an explosive force of 14.8 megatons. The TX-21 was exploded seven feet above the surface of the ground. Radioactive fallout spread over more than 6,835 miles and was dispersed over some parts of Asia, Australia, the U.S., and Europe.

Mk-17/EC-17 – 10Mt to 15Mt: The Mk-17, weighing over 18 tons, was the heaviest thermonuclear nuclear device ever made by the U.S. It was also the first operational hydrogen bomb of the U.S. Air Force. The Mk-17 had an estimated yield of 10-15 megatons. About 200 Mk-17 bombs were produced by 1955 and the bomb was retired from the USAF service in 1957. The large, heavy bomb weighed 41,400 pounds. The bomb was air dropped by B-36 bombers using a single 64-foot parachute to delay the fall to provide the aircraft time to escape the impact of the blast wave.

MK 24/B-24 – 10Mt: The Mk-24 thermonuclear bomb, one of the most powerful nuclear weapons built by the U.S., was designed based on the Yankee test device. Yankee was one of the six detonations in the Castle nuclear detonation test series. The Mk-24 was produced in a number of configurations with an explosive force ranging from 10-15 megatons. The weapon was eventually retired from the USAF service in 1956.

Ivy Mike H-Bomb: The Ivy Mike hydrogen bomb was based on the thermonuclear device demonstrated during the Test George conducted by the U.S. on May 9, 1951, as part of Operation Greenhouse series of four nuclear device detonation tests. The Ivy Mike test yielded an explosion of 10.4 megatons, 700 times the explosive force of the weapons unleashed on Japan.

Mk-36 nuclear bomb: The Mk-36 was a two-stage thermonuclear bomb used a multi-stage fusion to generate an explosive force of up to 10 megatons. Two versions, Y1 and Y2, were produced. The U.S. produced 940 Mk-36 bombs during 1956-58 and converted 275 bombs into Mk-21s.

B53 (Mk-53): The B53/Mk-53 was the oldest and one of the highest yield nuclear bombs in the U.S. inventory. The weapon had an estimated yield of 9Mt and was retired from the USAF service in 1997. It was deployed aboard B-47, B-52 and B-58 bombers. The nuclear weapon was designed to be air dropped using five parachutes, while the free fall delivery was also possible by jettisoning the “can” with the parachutes.

Mk-16 (TX-16/EC-16): The Mk-16 hydrogen bomb was the only liquid fuel thermonuclear weapon ever built by the U.S. It was based on the Ivy Mike hydrogen bomb and had an estimated yield of up to 7 megatons. The TX-16 bomb measured 61.4 inches in diameter and 296.7 inches in length. The weapon retired from the service by April 1954 as it was replaced by solid-fueled thermonuclear weapons such as TX-14 and Mk-17.

Mk-14 / TX-14: The Mk-14, which was the first fielded solid-fuel thermonuclear weapon of the U.S., yielded 6.9 megatons when it was exploded during the Castle Union nuclear test in April 1954. The Mk-14s retired in October 1954 and some of them were recycled into the Mk-17 weapons by September 1956.

Next week: Part II: “Today’s global nuclear weapons states and their arsenals”

The following sources contributed to this report:
Arms Control Association, Federation of American Scientists, International Panel on Fissile Materials, U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Department of State.

Federation of American Scientists, CIA World Fact book, Nuclear Threat Initiative, U.S. Census Bureau; army-technology.com

U.S. Department of Nonproliferation Policy, U.S. Department of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy.

<p>Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.</p>

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