The 9 megaton bomb called the “bunker buster” was designed to hit targets deep underground, when detonated estimates are it would have caused lethal burns to life within 18 miles, destroyed all buildings within nine miles and could penetrate up to 750 feet underground.
The exact strength of the bomb remains classified.
Put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions were at their height during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 lb, was the size of a minivan and 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The bomb was kept airborne on B52 bombers round the clock until 1968 as a nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union. Since it was made using older technology by engineers who have since retired or died, developing a dis-assembly process took time. Engineers had to develop complex tools and new procedures to ensure safety.
‘We knew going in that this was going to be a challenging project, and we put together an outstanding team with all of our partners to develop a way to achieve this objective safely and efficiently,’ said John Woolery, general manager at the Pantex plant. The plant is the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the US.
In April last year, President Barack Obama signed a historic treaty with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev to reduce the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the former Cold War enemies. The landmark agreement signed in Prague committed the superpowers to reducing the number of strategic warheads to 1,550 each – 30 per cent lower than the previous cap.