50 Facts About Nuclear Weapons You Didn’t Know


Nuclear armageddon- for years it haunted the daily lives of millions of Americans and Russians,only to be all but forgotten at the end of the Cold War.But with hostilities mounting once more between the US and Russia, and the announcement of a possible pull out from a strategic arms treaty by the US, the old specter of nuclear war is once more looming over a new generation.

But how much do you really know about nuclear weapons?

50.The largest nuclear weapon in the US stockpile has a yield of 1.2 megatons- or 1,200,000 11tons of TNT.

49.Compare that with the 15 kiloton- or 15,000 tons of TNT equivalent- of Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

48.Most of the Uranium used in the Little Boy and Fat Man nuclear bombs came from a single mine in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shipped to the US by a Belgium mining firm.

47.Three different manufacturing plants were used in developing the Fat Man and Little Boy nuclear weapons so that no one plant would have the complete designs.

46.Because if exposed to water the uranium components of the first nuclear bombs would release huge amounts of radioactive contamination, pilots were strictly warned that in emergencies they must crash their planes on land and not the sea.

45.In the Little Boy bomb, less than a kilogram of the 64 kilograms of enriched uranium actually underwent nuclear fission, and of that mass only .6 grams were transformed into kinetic and heat energy and radiation.

44.A timer on the first nuclear bombs ensured that they would not detonate until at least 15 seconds after release, giving the aircraft time to get to a relatively safe distance.

43.The chain reaction of nuclear material leading to a nuclear detonation lasts less than 1 microsecond.

42.Disobeying orders, the weaponeer of the Enola Gay was concerned that Little Boy could detonate accidentally if the Enola Gay crashed on take-off, and thus removed the conventional explosives used to help the uranium achieve critical mass from the weapon.

40 He only replaced them once the aircraft was safely up in the air and on her way to Hiroshima.

41 At 8:15 AM on the 6th of August, 1945 the Enola Gay dropped the first nuclear weapon ever used in war on Hiroshima, killing 66,000 people, 20,000 of which were Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.

40.Claimed to have been used to avert a more catastrophic invasion of Japan, it’s widely thought Japan would have surrendered to the US soon anyways as it faced a massing Soviet fleet preparing to invade just across the
Sea of Japan.Senior Japanese officials all knew it would be better to surrender to the US than the Soviet Union.

39.Hiroshima was selected as a target for nuclear bombing in April 1945, and spared the conventional bombing that Japan suffered throughout the rest of the countryside. This was so that the effects of a nuclear bomb on an undamaged city could be fully observed.

38.A second plane escorted the Enola Gay and dropped a suite of instruments by parachute at the same time that the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped.These instruments relayed via radio data to
help engineers determine the total yield and effectiveness of the bomb.

37.The fiery blast from a nuclear bomb is the result of local air being superheated by X-rays and sending out a pressure wave in all directions.

36.The fireball from the Hiroshima bombing was 1,200 feet (370 meters) in diameter and had a surface temperature of 10,830 degrees Fahrenheit
(6,000 celsius)- that’s hotter than the surface temperature of the sun!

35.Shadows from people near the epicenter of the blast at Hiroshima were permanently burned onto the sides of buildings and the pavement.

34.The Hiroshima bombing created a firestorm 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) in diameter- at Nagasaki a southwest wind pushed fires away from the city and didn’t let them become so severe.

33.The true death count of victims at Nagasaki and Hiroshima was impossible to calculate as many victims and all evidence they had ever lived were immediately vaporized or cremated by the fires.

32.Surprisingly there was little radioactive fallout from either the Nagasaki or Hiroshima blasts- fallout is typically created from dust and ash from a bomb crater that is contaminated with radioactive products from the bomb, but because both bombs were air bursts there was no bomb crater and little radioactive fallout.

31.When a nuclear bomb is air bursted over a target, the vast majority of the radioactive products rise into the stratosphere and dissipate into the global environment.

30.Despite there being little if any local fallout,an intense burst of neutron and gamma radiation was emitted by the Little Boy and Hiroshima bombs, with a lethal radius of about .8 miles

29.To date no radiation-related evidence of heritable diseases has been observed amongst the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

28.The Smithsonian Institution displayed a complete Little Boy nuclear bomb- minus the enriched uranium- until 1986, when the Department of Energy took the weapon from the museum to remove its inner components so that it couldn’t be stolen and detonated with fissile material.Its outer casing was later returned for display.

27.The first detonation of a nuclear weapon in history was at 5:29 am on July 16th, 1945 in New Mexico.

26.Producing the fissile isotopes uranium-235 and plutonium-239 for use in just a few bombs was so difficult that it took up 80% of theentire Manhattan Project’s budget.

25.Without the technological breakthroughs of the Manhattan Project, producing just one gram of enriched uranium would have taken 27,000 years.Maybe it would have been best if they had failed.

24.The security detail at the Trinity test site where the first atomic bomb was tested originally brought horses to help patrol the vast desert, but the distances proved too great and instead resorted to jeeps. The horses were kept so the soldiers could play polo when off-duty.

23.The base camp at the Trinity test site was accidentally bombed twice because of its proximity to a bombing range and its secrecy, but with no casualties.

22.The scientists at the Trinity test site worked out of a ranch house that had been bought by the government when it acquired the land-the master bedroom of the house was then turned into a clean room for assembly of the core of the first nuclear bomb.In that bedroom at least is literally where the boom-boom happened.

21.160 men and their vehicles were on standby outside the first atomic test in order to evacuate the surrounding region of civilians should a disaster happen.The soldiers had enough food and supplies to last the civilian population two days,and the governor of New Mexico was warned that martial law may have to be declared-though he wasn’t told why.

20.The men at the test site were ordered to lie on the ground with their backs turned to thebomb during the test, but scientist Edward Teller ignored this and wore sunglasses underhis welding goggles and brought suntan lotion to share with a few others who also insistedon observing the test directly.

19.Scientist Enrico Fermi offered to take wagers among the military and scientists on whetherthe test would ignite the atmosphere, and if it did whether it would destroy only thestate or incinerate the entire planet.This was a joke, but calculations indicated there was a tiny chance that such a scenariocould happen and for a long time it seriously concerned all the scientists involved.

18.The Trinity test bomb melted desert sand around it into a mildly radioactive light green glass which would be named trinitite.

17.Kenneth Bainbridge, one of the scientists of the Manhattan Project, said just after the successful test, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”Robert Oppenheimer, head of the project said that he thought of a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

16.A pilot flying a US Navy transport to the west coast and just north of the test site thought for a moment that the sun was rising in the south when the bomb detonated.He had no idea what he had just seen, and when he reported the explosion over the radio he was simply warned not to fly south.

15.The government covered up the Trinity test by telling civilians in the vicinity that what they had witnessed was just a depot full of explosives and pyrotechnics accidentally exploding.

14.The results of the Trinity test were relayed in code immediately to President Truman who was at the Potsdam Conference in Germany, with the message reading: Operated on this morning.Diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations.Local press release necessary as interest extends great distance.

13.In August of 1945 the Kodak company discovered spotting and fogging on their film caused by exposure to radioactive elements.The problem was tracked to the cardboard used in containers, which came from a paper mill in Indiana and a hot spot of fallout that had contaminated the river water the mill used.

12.In 1951 the US government gave Kodak and other photographic companies maps and forecasts of potential contamination along with expected fallout distributions so they could purchase uncontaminated materials for their boxes and protect their stocks of film.

11.In 1961 a US Air Force B-52 broke up in midair over Goldsboro, North Carolina and released two hydrogen bombs.Neither detonated upon hitting the ground, but if they had each one would have had 260 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped
on Hiroshima.

10.Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming are home to the US’s entire ICBM fleet, which lie in missile fields that span several square miles each.

9.In the 50s the US developed a tactical nuclear weapon which weighed 51 pounds and could be fired from the back of a jeep.It was named the “Davy Crockett” and was meant to be used against Soviet tank forces in Germany.

8.Just 8 kilograms of plutonium are needed for a nuclear weapon- something many intelligence and security agencies around the world fear is well within reach of major terror groups.

7.11 nuclear bombs have been lost by the US in accidents and never recovered- all of them in the ocean.

6.If under nuclear attack, the US President would have just 12 minutes to order a counter-attack before incoming missiles destroyed the bulk of US forces.

5.At any one time 12 Ohio-class ballistic missiles are actively patrolling the world’s oceans,ready to unleash their nuclear arsenals in the case of war.

4.The United States protects 31 nations with its nuclear umbrella- all of NATO, Japan,South Korea, and Australia.A nuclear attack against any of these nations will elicit an immediate response by the US.

3.The US maintains 200 B61 nuclear gravity bombs deployed at forward bases in Europe for use by US and NATO air forces.

2.During the Cold War the US maintained up to 950 nuclear weapons in South Korea.

1.Since 1945 there have been 520 atmospheric nuclear explosions, with 8 of them being underwater,for a total yield of 545 megatons, and 1,352 underground explosions for a total yield of 90 megatons.Many of us have been lucky enough to grow up without the Cold War fears of a nuclearholocaust happening at any moment, and though the international climate today is far better than it was back then, simmering hostilities are threatening to boil over.To add to our problems, the advancement of technology and the proliferation of enrichment technology around the world has made it easier than ever for a terrorist group or criminal organization to simply build their own nuclear weapon. Though full nuclear war may be avoided, the risk of nuclear terrorism is at an all time high- prompting a famous reply from the US intelligence community that “it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened yet.”