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Decent Documentary-the history of A- and H-bombs
on October 24, 2015
The World’s Biggest Bomb PBS 2011 NR
This documentary originally aired on PBS TV and traces the race to build bigger, more powerful atomic and hydrogen bombs between the US and Russia from the end of World War II to the 1960’s.
It includes the shameful story of how the US broke its promises to the native peoples of the Bikini atoll, minimized the risks of testing to armed service personnel and the public at large, and of course similar behavior by the Soviet Union.
Original film footage of some of the tests is included. Interestingly it was the Soviets who tested the largest hydrogen bomb above ground, in a region of “Siberia” in which they felt most of the fallout would land on uninhabited land. Following that test the US and Russia signed a testing agreement that any further tests would be underground, to prevent the spread of radioactive fallout around the world. Most countries ever since then have utilized the same precaution—even North Korea conducts its tests underground.
More recent weapons have also been smaller than the largest one built. It was realized that optimal targeting and optimal height above the ground were more important than a larger payload in inflicting maximum damage—plus the trend in inter-continental ballistic missiles has been the use of multiple independent re-entry vehicles [MIRVs] to make it more difficult for the enemy to shoot them all down with any type of anti-missile system. Packing a dozen of the largest possible warheads onto one missile is not as practical as 10 to 20 “megaton” warheads. I know you feel much better about this news. Besides, scientists realized a warhead larger than 50 megatons wouldn’t really do much additional damage because at the size of 50 megatons, the blast cloud already extends to the upper limits of our atmosphere. Any larger, and the additional energy would mostly just radiate into space. I suppose there could be a use for an even larger warhead for a positive purpose like deflecting a killer asteroid away from a collision course with earth.
Most people prefer not to even contemplate terrible subjects like a nuclear war, and therefore may skip this movie. Those who do like to be informed may already find much of this material already familiar. But I at least still picked up a few new facts. It is well-presented, non-dramatic and historical in approach.