Tsar Bomba

Tsar Bomba
Tsar photo11.jpg
The Tsar Bomba mushroom cloud seen from a distance of 160 km. The crown of the cloud is 56 km high at time of picture.
Type Thermonuclear weapon
Place of origin  Soviet Union
Production history
Designer Julii Borisovich Khariton, Andrei Sakharov, Victor Adamsky, Yuri Babayev, Yuri Smirnov, and Yuri Trutnev
Number built 1 (plus one mock bomb)
Weight 27,000 kilograms (60,000 lb)
Length 8 metres (26 ft)
Diameter 2.1 metres (6.9 ft)

Blast yield 50 megatons of TNT (210 PJ)

Coordinates: 73°51′0″N 54°30′0″E / 73.85°N 54.5°E / 73.85; 54.5

Tsar Bomba (Russian: Царь-бомба) is the nickname for the AN602 hydrogen bomb, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. It was also referred to as Kuz'kina Mat (Russian: Кузькина мать, Kuzka's mother), in this usage meaning "something that has not been seen before".

Developed by the Soviet Union, the bomb was originally designed to have a yield of about 100 megatons of TNT (420 PJ), but the yield was reduced to 50 megatons in order to reduce nuclear fallout. This attempt was successful, as it was one of the cleanest (relative to its yield) nuclear bombs ever detonated. Only one bomb of this type was ever built and it was tested on October 30, 1961, in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.[1][2]

The remaining bomb casings are located at the Russian Atomic Weapon Museum, Sarov (Arzamas-16), and the Museum of Nuclear Weapons, All-Russian Research Institute of Technical Physics, Snezhinsk (Chelyabinsk-70). Neither of these casings has the same antenna configuration as the actual device that was tested.

The Tsar Bomba is attributed with many names in literature: Project number – Project 7000; Product code – Product code 202 (Izdeliye 202); Article designations – RDS-220 (РДС-220), RDS-202 (РДС-202), RN202 (PH202), AN602 (AH602); Codename – Vanya; Nicknames – Big Ivan, Tsar Bomba, Kuzkina Mat' (Kuzka's Mother). The term "Tsar Bomba" was coined in an analogy with two other massive Russian objects: the Tsar Kolokol (Tsar Bell), the world's largest bell, and the Tsar Pushka (Tsar Cannon), the world's largest cannon. Although the bomb was so named by Western sources,[citation needed] the name is now used in Russia as well.



Site of the detonation
A Tsar Bomba-type casing on display at Sarov

The Tsar Bomb was a three-stage Teller–Ulam design hydrogen bomb with a yield of 50 megatons (Mt).[3] This is equivalent to 1,400 times the combined power of the two nuclear explosives used in World War II (Little Boy (13–18 kilotons) and Fat Man (21 kilotons), the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki),[4], 10 times the combined power of all the explosives used in WWII, or one quarter of the estimated yield of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. A three-stage H-bomb uses a fission bomb primary to compress a thermonuclear secondary, as in most H-bombs, and then uses energy from the resulting explosion to compress a much larger additional thermonuclear stage. However, there is evidence that the Tsar Bomba had a number of third stages rather than a single very large one.[5]

The initial three-stage design was capable of approximately 100 Mt, but would have caused too much radioactive fallout. To limit fallout, the third stage and possibly the second stage had a lead tamper instead of a uranium-238 fusion tamper (which greatly amplifies the reaction by fissioning uranium atoms with fast neutrons from the fusion reaction). This eliminated fast fission by the fusion-stage neutrons, so that approximately 97% of the total energy resulted from fusion alone (as such, it was one of the "cleanest" nuclear bombs ever created, generating a very low amount of fallout relative to its yield). There was a strong incentive for this modification since most of the fallout from a test of the bomb would have fallen on populated Soviet territory.[5][6]

The components were designed by a team of physicists headed by Academician Julii Borisovich Khariton and including Andrei Sakharov, Victor Adamsky, Yuri Babayev, Yuri Smirnov, and Yuri Trutnev. Shortly after the Tsar Bomba was detonated, Sakharov began speaking out against nuclear weapons, which culminated in his becoming a dissident.[1][6]


The Tsar Bomb was flown to its test site by a specially modified Tu-95V release plane, flown by Major Andrei Durnovtsev. Taking off from an airfield in the Kola Peninsula, the release plane was accompanied by a Tu-16 observer plane that took air samples and filmed the test. Both aircraft were painted with a special reflective white paint to limit heat damage.

The bomb, weighing 27 tonnes, was so large (8 metres (26 ft) long by 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter) that the Tu-95V had to have its bomb bay doors and fuselage fuel tanks removed. The bomb was attached to an 800 kilogram fall-retardation parachute, which gave the release and observer planes time to fly about 45 kilometres (28 mi) away from ground zero. When detonation occurred the Tu-95V fell one kilometer from its previous altitude due to the shock wave of the bomb.

The Tsar Bomba's fireball, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) in diameter, was prevented from touching the ground by the shock wave but nearly reached the 10.5 kilometres (6.5 mi) altitude of the deploying Tu-95 bomber.

The Tsar Bomb detonated at 11:32 on October 30, 1961 over the Mityushikha Bay nuclear testing range (Sukhoy Nos Zone C), north of the Arctic Circle on Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic Sea. The bomb was dropped from an altitude of 10.5 kilometres (6.5 mi); it was designed to detonate at a height of 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) over the land surface (4.2 kilometres (2.6 mi) over sea level) by barometric sensors.[1][5][6]

The original, November 1961 A.E.C. estimate of the yield was 55–60 Mt, but since 1991 all Russian sources have stated its yield as 50 Mt. Khrushchev warned in a filmed speech to the Communist Parliament of the existence of a 100 Mt bomb (technically the design was capable of this yield). Although simplistic fireball calculations predicted the fireball would impact the ground, the bomb's own shock wave reflected back and prevented this.[7] The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was seen almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from ground zero. The subsequent mushroom cloud was about 64 kilometres (40 mi) high (nearly eight times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was well inside the Mesosphere when it peaked. The base of the cloud was 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide. All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were completely destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero, wooden houses were destroyed, and stone ones lost their roofs, windows and doors; and radio communications were interrupted for almost one hour. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 kilometres (170 mi). The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 km (62 mi) away from ground zero. A shock wave was observed in the air at Dikson settlement 700 kilometres (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi). Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.[8] Its seismic body wave magnitude was about 5 to 5.25.[7] The energy yield was around 7.1 on the Richter scale but, since the bomb was detonated in air rather than underground, most of the energy was not converted to seismic waves. The TNT equivalent of the 50 Mt test could be represented by a cube of TNT 312 metres on a side, approximately the height of the Eiffel Tower.

The Tsar Bomba is the single most physically powerful device ever used by humanity, though its size and weight precluded a successful delivery in case of a real war.[9] By contrast, the largest weapon ever produced by the United States, the now-decommissioned B41, had a predicted maximum yield of 25 Mt, and the largest nuclear device ever tested by the US (Castle Bravo) yielded 15 Mt (this was due to an unexpected runaway lithium-7 reaction; the design yield was approximately 5 Mt). The largest weapons deployed by the Soviet Union were also around 25 Mt, as in the SS-18 Mod. 2 ICBM warheads.


Comparative fireball radii for a selection of nuclear weapons, including the Tsar Bomba. Full blast effects extend many times beyond the radii of the fireballs themselves. The numbers indicate the power of the explosion and the resulting radius of the ball, have an error – the correct data on the radius of the ball exactly twice as much (see the description for this illustration).

The weight and size of the Tsar Bomba limited the range and speed of the specially modified bomber carrying it and ruled out its delivery by an ICBM (although on December 24, 1962, a 50 Mt ICBM warhead developed by Chelyabinsk-70 was detonated at 24.2 Mt to reduce fallout).[10] In terms of physical destructiveness, much of its high yield was inefficiently radiated upwards into space. It has been estimated that detonating the original 100 Mt design would have released fallout amounting to about 25 percent of all fallout emitted since the invention of nuclear weapons.[11] Hence, the Tsar Bomba was an impractically powerful weapon. It was decided that such a test blast would create too great a risk of nuclear fallout and a near certainty that the release plane would be unable to reach safety before detonation.[12]

The Tsar Bomba was the culmination of a series of high-yield thermonuclear weapons designed by the USSR and USA during the 1950s (examples include the Mark-17[13] and B41). Such bombs were designed because:

  • The nuclear bombs of the day were large and heavy, regardless of yield, and could only be delivered by strategic bombers. Hence yield was subject to dramatic economies of scale;
  • It was feared that many bombers would fail to reach their targets because their size and low speed made detection and interception easy. Hence maximizing the firepower carried by any single bomber was considered vital;
  • Prior to satellite intelligence, each side lacked precise knowledge of the location of the other's military and industrial facilities;
  • A bomb dropped without benefit of advanced inertial navigation systems could easily miss its intended target. Parachute retardation would only worsen the bomb's accuracy.

Thus certain bombs were designed to destroy an entire large city even if dropped five to ten kilometres from its centre. This objective meant that yield and effectiveness were positively correlated, at least up to a point. However, the advent of ICBMs accurate to 500 metres or better made such a design philosophy obsolete. Subsequent nuclear weapon design in the 1960s and 1970s focused primarily on increased accuracy, miniaturization, and safety. The standard practice for many years has been to employ multiple smaller warheads (MIRVs) to "carpet" an area, resulting in greater ground damage.

A discussion about the methods of the political use of technology of creation of super-bomb became a reason of ideological divergence of Andrei Sakharov and Nikita Khrushchev, so as Nikita Khrushchev disagreed with the project of placing of a fifty of 500 Mt bombs along the US marine border, to stop an armament race and to continue democratic reforms[14].


Zone of total destruction of the Tsar Bomba (as an example – over a map of Paris): red circle = total destruction (radius 35 kilometres (22 mi)), yellow circle = fireball (radius 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi)).
  • Footage from a Soviet documentary about the bomb is featured in Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie (Visual Concept Entertainment, 1995), where it is referred to as the Russian monster bomb.[15] The movie states that the Tsar Bomba project broke the voluntary moratorium on nuclear tests. In fact Soviets restarted their tests and broke the unilateral voluntary moratorium two months before Tsar Bomba, and since the moratorium was unilateral there was no multilateral legal obstacle (earlier the U.S. also declared a one year unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests and as that year expired the US had already announced that it considered itself free to resume testing without further notice but had not resumed tests until the aftermath of Tsar Bomba).[16]
  • A one hour episode of the PBS documentary series Secrets of the Dead  – "World's Biggest Bomb" (2011; Blink Films & WNET) – chronicles the events leading to the detonations of Castle Bravo and the Tsar Bomba.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Sakharov, Andrei (1990). Memoirs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 215–225. ISBN 0-679-73595-X. 
  2. ^ Khalturin, Vitaly I.; Rautian, Tatyana G.; Richards, Paul G.; Leith, William S. (2005). "A Review of Nuclear Testing by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, 1955–1990". Science and Global Security 13 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1080/08929880590961862. Archived from the original on 2006-09-08. http://web.archive.org/web/20060908073452/http://www.princeton.edu/~globsec/publications/pdf/13_1-2khalturin+NZ+1-42+.pdf. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  3. ^ The yield of the test has been estimated between 50 and 57 megatons of TNT (210 and 240 PJ) by different sources over time. Today all Russian sources use 50 megatons as the official figure. See the section "Was it 50 Megatons or 57?" at "The Tsar Bomba ("King of Bombs")". http://www.nuclearweaponarchive.org/Russia/TsarBomba.html. Retrieved 2005-01-01-2006. 
  4. ^ DeGroot, Gerard J. The Bomb: A Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. p. 254.
  5. ^ a b c "Tsar Bomba". Nuclear Weapon Archive. http://www.nuclearweaponarchive.org/Russia/TsarBomba.html. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  6. ^ a b c Adamsky, Viktor; Yuri Smirnov (Fall 1994). "Moscow's Biggest Bomb: the 50-Megaton Test of October 1961" (PDF). Cold War International History Project Bulletin (4): 3, 19–21. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/pubs/ACF1B7.pdf. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 
  7. ^ a b "The Tsar Bomba ("King of Bombs")". http://www.nuclearweaponarchive.org/Russia/TsarBomba.html. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "Despite being exploded in the atmosphere, it generated substantial seismic signals. According to a bulletin of the U.S. Geological Survey it had seismic magnitude mb = 5.0 to 5.25. ... from fireball radius scaling laws, one would expect the fireball to reach down and engulf the ground ... In fact, the shock wave reaches the ground ... and bounces upward, striking the bottom of the fireball, ... preventing actual contact with the ground." 
  8. ^ E. Farkas, "Transit of Pressure Waves through New Zealand from the Soviet 50 Megaton Bomb Explosion" Nature 4817 (24 February 1962): 765–766.
  9. ^ "Tsar Bomba's Blast Wave Orbited Earth Three Times in 1961". Pravda.ru. 2009-09-24. http://english.pravda.ru/russia/history/17-09-2009/109339-tsar_bomba-0. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  10. ^ Atomic Forum; Russian Nuclear Testing Summary[dead link] Russian Nuclear Testing Summary at the Wayback Machine (archived December 24, 2007)
  11. ^ The Nuclear Weapon Archive: Soviet Nuclear Weapons
  12. ^ "Tsar Bomba". Atomic Forum. http://www.atomicforum.org/russia/tsarbomba.html. Retrieved 2007-11-03. [dead link] Tsar Bomba - The King of Bombs at the Wayback Machine (archived January 4, 2007)
  13. ^ GlobalSecurity.org: Mark 17
  14. ^ Valentin Falin: Why Sakharov suggested to surround the USA by tsar-bombs?
  15. ^ "Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie." Nuclear Weapon Archive, 15 August 1999.
  16. ^ Sherman, Robert. "Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Chronology." Federation of American Scientists, May 30, 2008.

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