The US is burying the Cold War hatchet and doing so in style. It is dismantling the most powerful nuclear bomb ever created, believed to be over 500 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. It was designed and armed in 1962, but, thankfully, never used. Named enigmatically as B53, it was to be carried by B-52 bombers and was capable of ripping apart even underground bunker facilities, should the Cold War have heated up.
The B53 was a monster. It weighed in at 10,000 pounds (or 4.5 tonnes) and could release 9 megatons of TNT energy (or 38 PJ, 1 PJ = 1015 J a million billion joules)!! It formed a formidable arsenal, consisting of 340 individuals of its kind, built for B-47, B-52 and B-58 bomber planes. It used highly enriched Uranium (oralloy). It was meant to be used as a bunker buster a surface blast would send shockwaves that would shatter the Earth, enabling the underground parts to be exposed. Multiple strikes(!) would eliminate technical facilities or even the leadership bunkered underground.
The disassembling process for the B53 arsenal began in 1980’s, but a few of them kept their place in the stockpile. In 1997, it was decided to retire them from the arsenal. The process took longer than expected, because the technology was old and most of the experts are either old or deceased. It took place at the Pantex plant at Amarillo, Texas, the only plant for disarmament in the US.
The disarmament is considered complete when the 300 pound explosive the fuse is separated from the highly fissile nuclear material. This nuclear material is known as the pit and is not heavy enough to detonate on its own (technically, it is of sub-critical mass). These pits are stored at the plant, then sanitized’ and disposed off.
The Pantex plant has served as a disarmament facility for a number of nuclear bombs. It will continue to do so!