Physics

Getting Personal: How I Dismantled the World’s Deadliest Weapon

In October Sandia National Laboratories engineer Phil Hoover dismantled the U.S. arsenal’s last B53, a 9-megaton bomb 600 times as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima. Hoover talked to DISCOVER about taking apart America’s most powerful weapon.

The B53 was big and heavy, about the size of a minivan and 10,000 pounds. We needed 130 engineers and scientists from across the nuclear weapons enterprise to take it apart. Even though the B53 was designed to be rather easily disassembled, it still took us about two weeks per bomb.
All of the nuclear explosive disassembly was done in one well-lit, clean, and orderly room large enough to hold a Volkswagen van. We wore cover­alls, safety glasses, gloves, safety shoes, and dosimeters to track radiation exposure. Typically three or four people at a time actually did the work. There wasn’t much small talk—the operation required focus...