A Death in the (Nuclear) Family

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The world’s biggest nuclear weapon — the infamous minivan-sized megaton B53 — died Tuesday, of old age. The five-ton bomb was about 50 years old. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced its passing at the Pantex nuclear plant outside Amarillo, Texas.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories designed the B53, which was added to the U.S. atomic stockpile in 1962. It remained there, fat and happy, until it retired from active duty in 1997. It never conducted its intended mission: being dropped on targets inside the Soviet Union from a B-52G. (It apparently only saw action in 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.) It spent its retirement years in secure bunkers.

The Obama Administration hailed the dismantlement of the final B53 as evidence of its commitment to nuclear arms control; it was, in roughly the same way that Gramps’ demise highlights his family’s commitment to population control.

The B53 (family album detailing its final days, here) is survived by thousands of newer, smaller nuclear weapons that have become part of what the U.S. government now calls the Nuclear Security Enterprise® (all caps, please). Services were private. The family requests that instead of flowers, contributions honoring the life of the B53 be made either to the Air Force Association or the Ploughshares Fund.