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On August 6, 60 years ago, Hiroshima was written into history in the worst way possible. It became the first city to be struck by a nuclear weapon. Three days later, Nagasaki became the second and last city to earn such distinction.

Its possible to nearly endlessly debate the right and wrong of the first use of nuclear weapons. I tend to believe that, horrible as the events were, they likely saved lives. If the war had continued for several more years, and Japan had continued its aggression, many more would have died than were lost in those two fated cities.

But that’s not what this posting is really about. I found some fascinating bits of history while I was doing some reading about those initial bombings. How the first fusion bomb came to be, and some of the science behind it.

And then there was the pinacle of cold war bomb development, the Soviet test detonation of the largest nuclear device ever, the Tsar Bomba. Pretty much all the other stuff I had read in my excursion through nuclear weapon history I already sort of knew. But what interested me about the Tsar Bomba, at 50 Megatons the largest atomic device ever detonated, was the fact that the Soviets actually intentionally reduced its output in order to limit environmental damage. They replaced the original uranium in the fusion tamper with lead, which cut the yield from 100 Megatons to 50 Megatons and also massively reduced the radiation output since most of the explosive power came from relatively “clean” fusion. I had no idea that they had done such a thing.

What sort of amazes me is this. 1961 was the height of the cold war, when the Soviets were painted as evil and largely insane. The Soviets created the Bomba to prove superiority against the Americans. Yet they intentionally limited its yield to make it safer.

As crazy as that period was, you have to be thankful that there were at least a few level heads on both sides. As it was, the Tsar Bomba would have inflicted third degree burns on anyone within a 100 km radius of its detonation- that’s insane enough.

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