By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - The United States
dismantled the oldest nuclear bomb in its Cold War arsenal --
and one of the most powerful it ever built -- Tuesday as
part of President Barack Obama's nuclear security policy.
The magaton-class nuclear bomb the size of a minivan and
weighing about 10,000 pounds was dismantled at a nuclear
weapons storage facility outside Amarillo, Texas.
"This was one of the largest bombs in the American
arsenal," said Joshua McConaha, Public Affairs Director for the
Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security
He said the exact strength of the bomb -- known as the B53
-- remains classified, but it is believed to have been many
hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bomb that
destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
Built at the height of the Cold War in the 1962, the bomb
was designed to be dropped onto a target by a massive B-52
Stratofortress strategic bomber. McConaha says it contained
about 300 pounds of high explosive surrounding the uranium,
referred to as 'the pit.'
"The world is a safer place with this dismantlement," said
Thomas D'Agostino, Under Secretary of Energy and Administrator
of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"The B53 was a weapon developed in another time for a
different world. Today, we are moving beyond the Cold War
nuclear weapons complex that built this type of weapons," he
The process of eliminating the massive nuclear weapons,
known as "the last of the big dogs," began 14 years ago.
"It started with retiring a weapon from active or inactive
service," McConaha said. "In this case, President Clinton did
that back in the nineties, in 1997."
Many B53s were retired before that, but a "significant
number" had remained in the U.S. arsenal, McConaha said.
In addition to challenges related to the bomb's massive
size and awesome explosive punch, the dismantlement process was
made more difficult by the weapon's use of older technology
developed by engineers who have since died.
The explosive is carefully separated from the nuclear
materials, McConaha explained. Some materials will be reused,
while most of the bomb will be shredded and disposed of.
The number of B53s that were once in service, and the
number that have been disassembled, remains classified, but
McConaha confirmed that Tuesday's bomb was the final one.
(Editing by Jerry Norton and Anthony Boadle)
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