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10 Intriguing Facts Involving Nuclear Explosions

Nuclear Explosions

The destructibility of weapons increased in parallel to modern technologies. None of us are unaware of the deadly nuclear weapons and their far-reaching deadly consequences. The world witnessed some of these devastating results during the infamous Hiroshima attack and the Chernobyl accident. Nuclear bombs, tests, explosions, and accidents are now an inevitable part of our reality. Let’s look at the 10 intriguing facts involving nuclear explosions.

1. The Tsar Bomba was the most powerful nuclear bomb ever used by mankind. During the explosion, it created a mushroom cloud measuring more than seven times the height of Mount Everest, and the shockwave circled the Earth three times. Moreover, it cracked the windowpanes at a distance of 900 kilometers.

Tsar Bomba
The Tsar Bomba explodes over the Russian Arctic. Image credit: Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation via livescience

The Soviet Union dropped the Tsar Bomba in October 1961 on a remote island situated north of the Arctic Circle. They deployed the 27-kiloton RDS-220 via parachute on Novaya Zemlya Island.

The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev who commissioned the Tsar, at first wanted a 100-megaton weapon.

The engineers couldn’t meet the expectations; they managed to create a weapon half as powerful as the original demand. Nonetheless, the bomb was thousands of times destructive than the one’s exploded by the US at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The bomb detonated almost four kilometers before touching the ground of the island, resulting in stripping the surface of the island away completely.

People could see the flash as far as 965 kilometers and feel the enormous heat up to 250 kilometers away.

There were no casualties because of the explosion, yet after witnessing the devastating potential, three nations signed a treaty in 1963. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty prohibited airborne nuclear weapon tests. The US, the UK, and the USSR were the participants of the treaty. (Source)

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2. The US had launched a number of “Vela” satellites to detect nuclear explosions in space and the atmosphere. In September 1979, one of these satellites detected an unidentified nuclear explosion in the Indian Ocean. There are controversies as to who were the exploders and nature of the event. It is called the “Vela Incident.”

Vela Incident
Image credit: nsarchive

On 22 October, a Vela satellite detected a double flash with a light pattern indicating a possibility of a nuclear explosion. The light emerged in the South Atlantic area, between the Crozet Islands and the South African Prince Edward Island.

At first, the researchers doubted the possibility of a nuclear test and regarded it as mere technical malfunctioning. However, three years after the explosion, political considerations and additional evidence led to further examination of the nuclear test theory. Renowned scientists concluded that most probably the flash was indeed a nuclear blast.

The country behind the explosion is unofficial. However, most agree that the incident was a joint Israeli-South African nuclear test.

The speculations say that Israel tested their weapon with the assistance of South Africa. The US officials had confirmed the Israeli presence of the nuclear weapon before the explosion. The venue for the test was near South Africa and this surmises that it was a joint project. (1, 2)

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3. Kyshtym disaster was a nuclear explosion that occurred in 1957 at a plutonium plant in the USSR. The disaster contaminated 23,000 square kilometers of land and led to the evacuation of 10,000 people. It was the third-worst nuclear accident in history, still, the government kept it secret for 19 years.

Fissile storage
Fissile Material Storage Facility (FMSF). Image credit: Carl Anderson, US Army Corps of Engineers/usace via Wikimedia

The disaster took place on 29 September 1957 at the plutonium-processing plant at Chelyabinsk oblast, near Kyshtym.

The reason laid out for the incident was a failure to fix a malfunctioning cooling system in a buried tank. The tank contained the liquid reactor waste, and it exploded.

After its disclosure, the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale classed the accident on Level 6. Other disasters like Chernobyl are of the highest degree of severity and are on Level 7.

The Western press reported the accident a year later, but the stories didn’t catch the public eye. Zhores Medvedev, exiled Soviet biologist, reported the details in New Scientist, a British journal, in 1976.

This is when the disaster became widely known. Still, the Soviet Union didn’t acknowledge the blunder until 1989.

The locals living there suffered increased cases of cancer, deformities, and other major health problems. (Source)

4. In the 1960s, the US Air Force planned to develop a 4000-ton nuclear space battleship called the Orion battleship. Nuclear explosions would have propelled it, and the warship featured 500 nuclear missiles. The designers also planned the battleship to be dominant in an interplanetary war. They equipped it with enough bombs to destroy an entire planet. Everything was feasible with contemporary technology, but President Kennedy was horrified by the idea and canceled it.

Orion Battleship
Image credit: Symonds & Co./iwm via Wikimedia

Orion had 5-inch naval cannon turrets, six hypersonic landing boats, and hundreds of ray guns that shot nuclear flame. These dreadful weapons fall under the category of “Casaba Howitzer weapons.” The engineers simply stuffed as many as possible such weapons inside the spaceship.

Considering the quantity and destructive qualities of the weapons, President Kennedy rejected the model. He canceled working on its drawings, specifications, and the entire Project Orion.

The developers of the project made a scale model of this Orion version but creating it was a big mistake. (Source)

5. In 1961, one of the US aircraft accidentally dropped two nuclear bombs on North Carolina after it broke apart in mid-air. The bombs were each 250 times more destructive as compared to the ones deployed in Hiroshima. They could have created a 100% kill zone in a radius of 8.5 miles, but fortunately, they didn’t explode.

North Carolina
One of the two Mk39 thermonuclear weapons that landed when a B-52 bomber broke up over Goldsboro (Image to the left), Reducing nuclear weapons. Image credits: nsarchive2newsobserver

The Boeing Stratofortress aircraft crashed on midnight of 23 January 1961 near Goldsboro, North Carolina. The aircraft had two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs; each one of those having a payload of four megatons. The capacity is equivalent to four million tons of TNT explosives.

The aircraft crashed because of excessive fuel leakage. When the crew onboard noticed the leakage of 17,000 kilograms, they turned back towards their base immediately.

Walter Tulloch, the pilot, lost control of the plane when it was at the height of 10,000 feet. He then ordered everyone to abandon the flight, and five of the members successfully ejected at 9,000 feet. Two more crewmates ejected also, but they didn’t land safely and lost their lives.

A parachute carried one of the bombs, and it had completed all the exploding sequence. A tree caught the parachute and luckily, it didn’t detonate. 

The other one plunged into a muddy field with an estimated speed of 700 miles per hour. The bomb was found later, and it had completely disintegrated, but again, the explosives didn’t detonate. (1, 2)

Also read: 10 Deeply Unsettling Facts That Are Discomforting to Read

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