Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)
Atomic Tests Were Scary Enough!
How the World Almost Ended in an Era of Duck and Cover
Those of us who are old enough, can recall the heady days of terror of the “duck and cover” era of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) of global thermonuclear war. To drive the point home, in the heyday of nuclear testing, there were a seemingly endless round of atmospheric tests of various sizes of atomic bombs. These were detonated at various heights all the way to low earth orbit and near earth outer space. Some were detonated over the land and over the water. Some were surface detonations and a few were underground and underwater. These bombs were both fission and fission fusion devices. They ranged in size from 20,000 kilotons to 57 megatons for the Tzar Bomba. Several hundred detonations were carried out before the US-USSR test ban treaty, including tests in Nevada where close to 200,000 troops were deliberately exposed to the effects of atomic blasts and radiation.
The development of the atomic bomb began innocently enough with the discovery of radiation by Madam Curie in 1930s France, who worked with radon. Thereafter, various radiological elements were experimented with first to achieve a sustainable nuclear reaction and then to create a bomb. In the 1940s there was a race to develop the atom bomb and it is thought that the Nazis were hot in the pursuit. In the early 1940s with that concern, the US secretly funded an urgent program at White Sands, New Mexico under Robert Oppenheimer in the Manhattan Project to develop a working atomic bomb. Many complex experiments went on for years in an alleged life and death race against the Nazis. They worked on two basic designs; the gun type weapon and the implosion device. The one that was eventually exploded on White Sands was the implosion device that was the design for the Fat Man bomb. This was successfully “shot” at the “Trinity” site at the White Sands on July 16th, 1945. The first bomb was detonated with three schools of though about the results. One school thought that it would not work. Another thought that it would as thought. A third school thought that the “gadget” as it was called, would go on to ignite the atmosphere and wipe out all life on earth. Given the doubt, the detonation was foolhardy given the lack of real knowledge. The second school proved to be correct, but the foolhardiness was not lessened as future developments in the near future, then, was to demonstrate.
Then on August 6th over Hiroshima, the “Little Boy” gun type device using Uranium-235 was detonated without prior testing as it was considered to be certain that it would work, which it did to the huge costs of lives. On August 9th, the “Fat Man” Plutonium-239 implosion device was detonated over Nagasaki with similar results. The three explosion cost the US all the workable plutonium they had at the time, but this did not stop them from making more. The entire program cost over $2 billion at the time with half the cost for the plutonium. More bombs with different configurations were tried over the next decade and a half. For a period of five years, the US had hegemony over the entire world by being the only power with nuclear weapons. Then in 1950, the USSR exploded its first atomic bomb, President Truman then ordered that a fusion bomb be developed and Edward Teller headed this secret project. In secret, the US built and ran several breeder reactors to produce the required U-235 and PU-239. In November of 1952, the US successfully detonated its first H-bomb. The Soviets got their first H-bomb shortly thereafter and the race was on to build as many and as powerful bombs as possible. For the next decade, several hundred tests were conducted by both sides. Most were in the atmosphere, either in Nevada, the Pacific Ocean or remote Russia.
The propaganda of the era, including many sci-fi movies were directed to the threat from the sky. There were “broken arrow”events that saw the loss of and in one case, the accidental detonation of a nuclear device either over the N. Pacific near the coast of British Columbia or in remote BC itself. The fear of global nuclear war gripped N. America and the heyday of “Duck and Cover” began in earnest. Accidents also happened in the Pacific at the Christmas Atoll and Eniwetok. Russian was not spared accidents either, but information was not forthcoming outside of seismic detection. It became the habit in peacetime to announce shots to avoid an accidental nuclear war. But in the US and Canada, a huge sale of bomb shelters commenced. Large underground military bases were built including the now famous Cheyenne Mountain. The public was told, “At the sight of the blinding flash, duck and cover!” No one told them that such an act would be futile, especially when the shock front hit. Further, upon seeing the blinding flash, it is already too late as gamma rays coming in with the flash would fry your DNA and cells. No matter how many picnic blankets and paper plates flew, they were totally inadequate protection. Atmospheric testing raged from 1945 until October 10, 1963 when the US and USSR agreed to a treaty to eliminate all nuclear testing except for underground tests. For 17 years atmospheric tests were done including the largest H-bomb ever detonated by the USSR called Tsar Bomba, measured in at 57 megatons. Since then, nuclear proliferation and devices have multiplied in all kinds of variations. There have been spin-offs such as electromagnetic pulse bombs.
Duck and Cover and Atomic Damage
The test ban treaty grew directly out of the Cuban Missile Crisis that reached its culmination almost a year before. At that time, a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was in place and came to brinkmanship on October 28th, 1962, when the world came within 30 seconds of MAD. In February of that same year, US-U2 spy planes determined that something was going on in Cuba. By May it was determined that the Soviets were placing nuclear missiles in Cuba a mere 80 miles from the US. The US had missiles in Turkey that were as close to the USSR. Things got heated up and during October, the situation got extremely tense with the US military on highest alert and Strategic Air Command ready to fly into the USSR and drop hundreds of bombs all over the Soviet Union. Similarly, nuclear subs were patrolling around the US and at the Cuban blockade. The US battle fleet blocking the Soviet ships moving began submarine chasing and dropping depth charges to force them to surface. Instead, one soviet sub readied a nuclear torpedo to be fired into the US fleet. The moment arrived to fire the torpedo and create a nuclear fireball in sight of both Havana and Miami. Two of the three officers responsible for keying a launch were set to go ahead and the third refused. A tense thirty seconds passed when word came from Moscow to stand down. Global thermonuclear war was averted at the last minute. Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba and Kennedy agreed to withdraw US missiles from Turkey.
For the space of days until the end of October, the whole of North America and much of developed Russia thought that nuclear war was inevitable and people started to evacuate from high priority targets. After it was over, humanity heaved a huge sigh of relief. It is interesting to note that during a full scale nuclear war, the US government and military regarded that 150 million casualties as acceptable losses. We have no measure of what the Soviets thought on this, but it was no doubt similar. After October of 1963, shortly before JFK was assassinated, the atmospheric test ban treaty came into effect. Since then, thousands of tests have been done underground. During the heyday of the atmospheric testing, several hundred bombs were detonated. Enough radiation was spread to leave a footprint in both icecaps and world glaciers. The length of time and the number of bombs left radiological elements distributed all around the planet at levels far exceeding the four meltdowns at Fukushima after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Yet, few people talk about this. Anyone born after 1945, has some radiological elements in their body, including the most toxic, plutonium 239. Strontium 90 and Caesium 137 are in everyone's bones. Other exotic elements can be found in soft tissue and in the brain. Fukushima just added a little more.
You are reading this now, because Mutual Assured Destruction was avoided by a political hair's breadth due primarily to the stand alone heroism of a single Russian officer who refused to turn his key to launch an atomic torpedo. Had it occurred, those left of us would be fighting with clubs and stones as civilization once more attempted to scratch and claw its way back up from near oblivion. It is thought that an ensuing nuclear winter would have plunged the earth into several years of darkness and deep freeze, triggering a possible new ice age. We now know from volcanic and impact winters that this is all that is needed. There are also man made scenarios that can do the same thing. As we once more teeter to MAD with the political rants of Iran's potential nuclear bomb and everyone willing to go to brinkmanship half a century later, we should well consider how narrowly we escaped the last time.
As a sidebar, there are bolides that explode in the upper atmosphere almost on a fortnight basis. Some of these create blasts that are on the order of the Hiroshima shot. These have caused nervous responses on many occasions. During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, once such bolide was thought to have exploded over the South Pacific and was seen by battle fleets in the area. A red alert was issued and Strategic Air Command (SAC) was scrambled to Russia. We do not know if the Russian counterpart was similarly scrambled, but in all likelihood, when they picked up on SAC, they scrambled their bombers. By the time they all figured it out, Some B-52s were already entering Russian territory from Alaska. These were stood down and recalled. Shades of Dr. Strangelove! It is a wonder that we are still here. In the sum of history so far, only the US has detonated atomic weapons in a theatre of war.
There was serious consideration of an "art nuke" on the moon for intimidation of the USSR. They also tested a "Tsunami bomb"
- 'Tsunami bomb' tested off New Zealand coast - Telegraph
The United States and New Zealand conducted secret tests of a "tsunami bomb" designed to destroy coastal cities by using underwater blasts to trigger massive tidal waves.
- U.S. planned to nuke the Moon to win Cold War | Geekquinox - Yahoo! News Canada
From the blog Geekquinox: This isn't exactly the newest of news stories, but sometimes these things need to be repeated, simply to keep pointing out how major world superpowers should not be taking tips from comic book supervillains (or perhaps provi
Do You Honestly Believe that a Simple Duck and Cover Will Work?
The US almost detonated a large nuke over its own territory by accident in 1961
- Atom bomb nearly exploded over North Carolina in 1961: UK paper - Yahoo News Canada
From Yahoo News Canada: LONDON (Reuters) - A U.S. atom bomb nearly exploded in 1961 over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima, according to a declassified document published in a Britis