AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - The last of the nation's most powerful nuclear bombs - a weapon hundreds of times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima - is being disassembled nearly half a century after it was put into service at the height of the Cold War.
The final components of the B53 bomb will be broken down Tuesday at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. The completion of the dismantling program is a year ahead of schedule, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and aligns with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons.
Thomas D'Agostino, the nuclear administration's chief, called the bomb's elimination a "significant milestone."
Put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 pounds and was the size of a minivan. According to the American Federation of Scientists, it was 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, killing as many as 140,000 people and helping end World War II.
The B53 was designed to destroy facilities deep underground, and it was carried by B-52 bombers.
With its destruction, the next largest bomb in operation will be the B83, said Hans Kristensen, a spokesman for the Federation of American Scientists. It's 1.2 megatons, while the B53 was 9 megatons.
The B53's disassembly ends the era of big megaton bombs, he said. The bombs' size helped compensate for their lack of accuracy. Today's bombs are smaller but more precise, reducing the amount of collateral damage, Kristensen said.