In 1961, the Soviet Union experienced a nuclear bomb of such strength that it would be too large to be used in military conditions. And this event had far-reaching consequences of a different kind. Thus, in the morning, October 30, 1961, the Soviet Tu-95 bomber rose from the Deer airbase on the Kola Peninsula, in the far north of Russia.
This Tu-95 was a specially improved version of the aircraft, which had been in service a few years earlier; a large, rattling, four-engine monster that was supposed to carry the arsenal of Soviet nuclear bombs.
During that decade, huge breakthroughs took place in Soviet nuclear research. The Second World War placed the US and the USSR in one camp, but the post-war period gave way to a cold in relations, and then to their freezing. And the Soviet Union, which was faced with the fact of the rivalry of one of the world's largest superpowers, had only one choice: to join the race, and quickly.
On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device, known as the Joe-1 in the West – in the remote steppes of Kazakhstan, gathering it as a result of the work of spies penetrating the American atomic bomb program. Over the years of intervention, the test program quickly took off and began, and about 80 devices were blown up for its course; only in 1958 the USSR tested 36 nuclear bombs.
But nothing compared with this test.
The Tu-95 carried a huge bomb under its belly. It was too large to fit inside the bomb compartment of the aircraft, where such ammunition was usually transported. Bombs were 8 meters long, about 2.6 meters in diameter and weighed more than 27 tons. Physically, it was very similar in shape to "Baby" and "Fat Man", dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki fifteen years before. In the USSR, it was called both "Kuzkina mother" and "Tsar-bomb", and the last name behind it was well preserved.
The Tsar bomb was not the most common nuclear bomb. It was the result of a feverish attempt by the scientists of the USSR to create the most powerful nuclear weapons and, thereby, to support Nikita Khrushchev's desire to make the world tremble with the power of Soviet technology. It was more than a metal monster, too big to fit even the biggest airplane. It was the destroyer of cities, the ultimate weapon.
This "Tupolev", painted in bright white with the aim of reducing the effect of a bomb explosion, reached its destination. New Earth, sparsely populated archipelago in the Barents Sea, over the frozen northern edges of the USSR. The pilot of Tupolev, Major Andrey Durnovtsev, took the plane to the Soviet polygon at Mityushie to an altitude of about 10 kilometers. A small advanced Tu-16 bomber flew side by side, ready to shoot the coming explosion and do air fences from the explosion zone for further analysis.
That two planes had chances to survive – and there were not more than 50% of them – The Tsar bomb was equipped with a giant parachute weighing about a ton. The bomb had to slowly descend to a predetermined height of 3940 meters and then explode. And then, two bombers will be already 50 kilometers from it. This should be enough to survive the explosion.
The Tsar bomb was detonated at 11:32 Moscow time. At the site of the explosion, a fireball with a width of almost 10 kilometers was formed. The fireball rose higher under the action of its own shock wave. The outbreak was visible from a distance of 1000 kilometers from anywhere.
A mushroom cloud at the site of the explosion grew to a height of 64 kilometers, and his hat widened until it broke 100 kilometers from edge to edge. Surely the sight was indescribable.
For Novaya Zemlya, the consequences were catastrophic. In the village of Severnoye, 55 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion, all the houses were completely destroyed. It was reported that in the Soviet areas, hundreds of kilometers from the zone, the explosions were of all sorts of damage – the houses collapsed, the roofs sagged, the windows flew out, the doors broke. Radio communication did not work for an hour.
Durnovtsev was lucky for Tupolev; the explosive wave of the Tsar bomb led to the fact that the giant bomber fell to 1000 meters before the pilot was able to restore control over him.
A Soviet operator who witnessed detonation told the following:
"Clouds under the aircraft and at a distance from it lit a powerful flash. The sea of light went under the hatchway and even the clouds began to glow and became transparent. At this point, our plane was between two layers of clouds and below, in the crevice, a huge, bright, orange balloon blossomed. The ball was powerful and majestic, like Jupiter. Slowly and quietly he crept upward. Striking a thick layer of clouds, he continued to grow. It seemed that he sucked the whole Earth. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural. "
The Tsar bomb has produced incredible energy – now it is estimated at 57 megatons, or 57 million tons of TNT equivalent. This is 1500 times more than the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 10 times more powerful than all the ammunition expended during World War II. The sensors registered a blast wave of a bomb that bypassed the Earth not one, not two times, but three.
Such an explosion can not be kept a secret. The United States had an espionage 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 of this aircraft – code-named Speedlight – was used by the Foreign Arms Assessment Group to calculate the results of this secret test.
International condemnation did not take long to wait, not only from the United States and Britain, but also the Scandinavian neighbors of the USSR, such as Sweden. The only bright spot in this mushroom cloud was that since the fireball did not touch the Earth, the radiation was amazingly small.
Everything could be different. Initially, the Tsar bomb was thought twice more powerful.
One of the architects of this formidable device was the Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, a man who would later become world famous for his attempts to rid the world of the very weapons he helped create. He was a veteran of the Soviet program to develop atomic bombs 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 fission-fission-fission device, a bomb that creates additional energy from nuclear processes in its core. This involved wrapping deuterium – a stable isotope of hydrogen – with a layer of unenriched uranium. Uranium was to catch neutrons from burning deuterium and also begin a reaction. Sakharov called it "puff". This breakthrough allowed the USSR to create the first hydrogen bomb, a device much more powerful than atomic bombs a few years before.
Khrushchev instructed Sakharov to come up with a bomb that was more powerful than all the others, already experienced by that time.
The Soviet Union needed to show that it could outrun the US in the nuclear arms race, according to Philip Coyle, former head of nuclear weapons tests in the US under President Bill Clinton. He spent 30 years helping to create and test atomic weapons. "The United States was far ahead of the work that was done in the preparation of bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And then we conducted many tests in the atmosphere even before the Russians had their first. "
"We were ahead and the Soviets were trying to do something to tell the world what to consider with them. The Tsar bomb was primarily intended to make the world stop and recognize the Soviet Union as an equal, "says Coyle.
The original design – a three-layer bomb with uranium layers separating each stage – would have a yield of 100 megatons. 3000 times more than the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union already by then had experienced large devices in the atmosphere equivalent to several megatons, but this bomb would have become simply gigantic in comparison with those. Some scientists have begun to believe that it is too large.
With such tremendous force, there would be no guarantee that the giant bomb would not fall into the swamp in the north of the USSR, leaving behind a huge cloud of radioactive fallout.
This was exactly what the Saharov feared, in part, says Frank von Hippel, physicist and head of the Department of Public and International Relations of Princeton University.
"He really was worried about the amount of radioactivity that a bomb could create," he says. "And about the genetic consequences for future generations."
"And this was the beginning of the journey from the designer bombs to the dissident."
Prior to testing, layers of uranium that 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 check it at full capacity. And these problems were not confined to this destructive device.
The Tu-95 bombers, designed to carry the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons, were designed to carry much lighter weapons. The king-bomb was so big that it could not be placed on a rocket, and so heavy that the aircraft carrying it could not deliver it to the target and stay with the right amount of fuel for return. And anyway, if the bomb was as powerful as it was intended, the planes might not come back.
There may even be too many nuclear weapons, says Coyle, who is now working as a senior employee of the Arms Control Center in Washington. "It's hard to find an application if you do not want to destroy very large cities," he says. "It's just too big to use it."
Von Hippel agrees. "These things (large free-falling nuclear bombs) were designed so that you could destroy the target, being a kilometer away from it. The direction of the movement has changed – in the direction of increasing the accuracy of missiles and the number of warheads. "
The Tsar bomb also led to other consequences. It caused so much concern – five times more than any other test before it – which led to the taboo on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in 1963. Von Hippel says that Sakharov was particularly concerned about the amount of radioactive carbon-14 that was emitted into the atmosphere-an isotope with an especially long half-life. In part, it was mitigated by carbon from fossil fuels in the atmosphere.
Sakharov was worried that the bomb, which would be more tested, would not pounce under the action of its own blast wave-like the Tsar bomb-and cause global radioactive fallout, spread toxic mud all over the planet.
Sakharov became an ardent supporter of the ban on partial tests in 1963 and an outspoken critic of nuclear proliferation. And in the late 1960s – and missile defense, which, as 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 was called "the conscience of mankind," says von Hippel.
It seems that the bomb king caused precipitation of a completely different kind.
Based on the materials of the BBC