Tsar Bomba

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Tsar Bomba
Tsar photo11.jpg
The Tsar Bomba mushroom cloud seen from a distance of 161 km (100 mi). The crown of the cloud is 56 km (35 mi) high at the time of the picture.
Type Thermonuclear weapon
Place of origin Soviet Union
Production history
Designer Yulii Borisovich Khariton, Andrei Sakharov, Victor Adamsky, Yuri Babayev, Yuri Smirnov, Yuri Trutnev, and Yakov Zel'dovich.
No. built 1
Weight 27,000 kg (60,000 lb)
Length 8 m (26 ft)
Diameter 2.1 m (6.9 ft)

Blast yield 57 Mt (240 PJ).[1]

Coordinates: 73°48′26″N 54°58′54″E / 73.80722°N 54.98167°E / 73.80722; 54.98167

Tsar Bomba (Russian: Царь-бомба; "Tsar-bomb") was the Western nickname for the Soviet RDS-220 hydrogen bomb (code name Ivan[2] or Vanya), the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. Its test on October 30, 1961 remains the most powerful human-made explosion in history. It was also referred to as Kuzkina mat (Russian: Кузькина мать; "Kuzma's mother"),[3] possibly referring to Nikita Khrushchev's promise to show the United States a Kuzkina mat (an idiom roughly translating to "We'll show you!") at a 1960 session of United Nations General Assembly.[4][5] Developed by the Soviet Union, the bomb had a yield of 57 megaton TNT (210 PJ). In theory, the bomb had a maximum yield of 100 megatons if it were to have included a U-238 tamper, but because only one bomb was built, this was never demonstrated. The single bomb was detonated at the Sukhoy Nos cape of Severny Island, part of Novaya Zemlya.[6][7][8]

The remaining bomb casings are located at the Russian Atomic Weapon Museum in Sarov and the Museum of Nuclear Weapons, All-Russian Research Institute of Technical Physics, at Snezhinsk.


A Tsar Bomba-type casing on display at Sarov

Many names are attributed to the Tsar Bomba: Project 7000; product code 202 (Izdeliye 202); article designations RDS-220 (РДС-220), RDS-202 (РДС-202), RN202 (PH202), AN602 (AH602); codename Vanya; nicknames Big Ivan, Kuzkina mat.[9][10] The name "Tsar Bomba" was coined in an analogy with other massive Russian objects: the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon.[9] The CIA designated the test as "JOE 111."[8]

The Tsar Bomba was a three-stage bomb with Trutnev-Babaev[11] second and third stage design,[12] with a yield of 50 megatons.[13] This is equivalent to about 1,570 times the combined energy of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki,[14] 10 times the combined energy of all the conventional explosives used in World War II,[15] one quarter of the estimated yield of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, and 10% of the combined yield of all nuclear tests to date. 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. There is evidence that the Tsar Bomba had several third stages rather than a single very large one.[16]

The initial three-stage design was capable of yielding approximately 100 Mt, but it would have caused too much nuclear fallout and the plane delivering the bomb would not have enough time to escape the explosion. 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 yield resulted from thermonuclear 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).[17] There was a strong incentive for this modification since most of the fallout from a test of the bomb would likely have ended up on populated Soviet territory.[16][18]

The components were designed by a team of physicists headed by academician Yulii 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 him becoming a dissident.[6][18]


Site of the detonation.

The Tsar Bomba 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. Despite this effort, Durnovtsev and his crew were assigned only a 50% chance of surviving the test.[9]

The bomb, weighing 27 metric tons, was so large (8 metres (26 ft) long by 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in) in diameter) that the Tu-95V had to have its bomb bay doors and fuselage fuel tanks removed.[19] The bomb was attached to an 800 kilogram 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 dropped one kilometer in the air because of the shock wave, but was able to land safely.[9]

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

The Tsar Bomba detonated at 11:32 Moscow Time on October 30, 1961, over the Mityushikha Bay nuclear testing range (Sukhoy Nos Zone C), north of the Arctic Circle over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The bomb was dropped from an altitude of 10.5 km (6.5 mi); it was designed to detonate at a height of 4 km (13,000 ft) over the land surface (4.2 km (14,000 ft) over sea level) by barometric sensors.[6][16][18]

The original, November 1961 AEC estimate of the yield was 55–60 megatons, but since 1992, all Russian sources have stated its yield as 50 megatons. Khrushchev warned in a filmed speech to the Supreme Soviet of the existence of a 100 megaton bomb. (Technically the design was capable of this yield.) Although simplistic fireball calculations predicted the fireball would hit the ground, the bomb's own shock wave reflected back and prevented this.[20] The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was visible at almost 1,000 km (620 mi) away from where it ascended. The mushroom cloud was about 64 km (40 mi) high (over seven times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was above the stratosphere and well inside the mesosphere when it peaked. The cap of the mushroom cloud had a peak width of 95 km (59 mi) and its base was 40 km (25 mi) wide.[21][22]

All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 km (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero wooden houses were destroyed, 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 km (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi).[23] Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. Despite being detonated 4.2 km above ground, its seismic body wave magnitude was estimated at 5–5.25.[9][20] Sensors continued to identify the shockwaves after their third trip around the world.[10][24]

Immediately after the test, several U.S. Senators condemned Russia. Prime Minister of Sweden Tage Erlander saw the blast as Russia's answer to a personal appeal to halt nuclear testing that he had sent the Russian premier in the week prior to the blast.[25] The British Foreign Office, Prime Minister of Norway Einar Gerhardsen, Prime Minister of Denmark Viggo Kampmann, and others also released statements condemning the blast. Russian and Chinese radio stations mentioned the American underground nuclear test of a much smaller bomb carried out the day prior without mentioning the Tsar Bomba test.[26]


Total destruction radius, superimposed on Paris

The Tsar Bomba is the single most physically powerful device ever deployed by mankind.[27] For comparison, the largest weapon ever produced by the U.S., the now-decommissioned B41, had a predicted maximum yield of 25 megatonnes of TNT (100 PJ). The largest nuclear device ever tested by the U.S. (Castle Bravo) yielded 15 megatonnes of TNT (63 PJ) because of an unexpectedly high involvement of lithium-7 in the fusion reaction; the preliminary prediction for the yield was from 4 to 6 megatonnes of TNT (17 to 25 PJ). The largest weapons deployed by the Soviet Union were also around 25 megatonnes of TNT (100 PJ) (e.g., the SS-18 Mod. 3 warhead).[citation needed]

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 intercontinental ballistic missile. Much of its high-yield destructiveness 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% of all fallout emitted since the invention of nuclear weapons.[28] It was decided that a full 100 Mt detonation would create too great a risk of nuclear fallout, as well as a near certainty that the release plane (and crew) would be destroyed before it could escape the blast radius.[29]

The Tsar Bomba was the culmination of a series of high-yield thermonuclear weapons designed by the Soviet Union and the United States during the 1950s (e.g., the Mark 17[30] and B41 nuclear bombs).[citation needed]


  • 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.[31] The video 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. had also declared a one-year unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, and as that year had expired, the US had already announced that it considered itself free to resume testing without further notice; however, it had not yet resumed testing at the time of the Tsar Bomba test.)[32]
  • "World's Biggest Bomb", a 2011 episode of the PBS documentary series Secrets of the Dead produced by Blink Films & WNET, chronicles the events leading to the detonations of Castle Bravo and the Tsar Bomba.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Ivan, The "Tsar Bomba"(King of Bombs)". 
  2. ^ "Смотрины "Кузькиной матери". Как СССР сделал и взорвал "Царь-бомбу"". , Russian
  3. ^ Viktor Suvorov, Kuz'kina Mat'. A Chronicle of Great Decade, Dedicated to 50 years of Caribbean Crisis (Russian: Кузькина мать: Хроника великого десятилетия), Moscow, 2011, ISBN 978-5-98124-561-9
  4. ^ "Prominent Russians: Nikita Khrushchev". Russia Today. Retrieved July 29, 2016. 
  5. ^ Nikita Khrushchev. Sergei Khrushchev, ed. Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, Volume 3: Statesman (1953–1964). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 292. 
  6. ^ a b c Sakharov, Andrei (1990). Memoirs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 215–225. ISBN 0-679-73595-X. 
  7. ^ 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" (PDF). Science and Global Security. 13 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1080/08929880590961862. Retrieved 2006-10-14. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Estimate 11-2A-62, "Soviet Atomic Energy Program", (16 May 1962), pages 2 and 13.
  9. ^ a b c d e "30 October 1961 - The Tsar Bomba". CTBTO Preparatory Commission. Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Brian Anderson (January 11, 2012). "The Bomb That Dwarfed the Sun". Vice. 
  11. ^ Ilkajev, Radij (17 Dec 2012). "История отечественного атомного проекта. Доклад научного руководителя РФЯЦ-ВНИИЭФ академика РАН Р.И. Илькаева на Общем собрании ОФН РАН" (PDF). Отделение физических наук Российской академии наук (ОФН РАН). Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Андрюшин, И.А.; Чернышев, А.К.; Юдин, Ю.А. (2003). Укрощение ядра. Страницы истории ядерного оружия и ядерной инфраструктуры СССР (PDF). Саров, Саранск: Типография «Красный Октябрь». p. 481. ISBN 5-7493-0621-6. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  13. ^ The yield of the test has been estimated at 50 to 58 megatons of TNT (210 to 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")". Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  14. ^ DeGroot, Gerard J. The Bomb: A Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. p. 254.
  15. ^ "The World's Biggest Bomb". PBS Secrets of the Dead. May 17, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2016. 
  16. ^ a b c "Tsar Bomba". Nuclear Weapon Archive. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  17. ^ Khariton, Yuli; Smirnov, Yuri (May 1993). "The Khariton Version". Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Archived from the original on February 21, 2003. 
  18. ^ 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. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 
  19. ^ "Tsar Bomba". Atomic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved July 29, 2016. 
  20. ^ a b "The Tsar Bomba ("King of Bombs")". Nuclear Weapons Archive. 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. 
  21. ^ "50th anniversary of Tsar bomb". Russia Today International. 2011-10-30. Retrieved 2016-11-24. 
  22. ^ "Tsar Bomba's Blast Wave Orbited Earth Three Times in 1961". Pravda. 2009-09-17. Retrieved 2016-11-24. 
  23. ^ "Big Ivan, The Tsar Bomba ("King of Bombs")". September 3, 2007. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  24. ^ Au, Gary; Sublette, Carey. "Big Ivan, The Tsar Bomba ("King of Bombs") - the World's Largest Nuclear Weapon". nuclearweaponarchive.org. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  25. ^ "Blast Assailed on Capitol Hill as Russian Act of Intimidation". St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Associated Press. 1961-10-30. p. 2. Retrieved 2016-11-24 – via Newspapers.com. 
  26. ^ "Non-red world deplores test of Soviet Bomb". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 1961-10-30. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com. 
  27. ^ "Tsar Bomba's Blast Wave Orbited Earth Three Times in 1961". Pravda.ru. 2009-09-24. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  28. ^ "Soviet Nuclear Weapons". nuclearweaponarchive.org. 
  29. ^ "Tsar Bomba". Atomic Forum. Archived from the original on December 4, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  30. ^ John Pike. "Mark 17". globalsecurity.org. 
  31. ^ "Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie." Nuclear Weapon Archive, 15 August 1999.
  32. ^ Sherman, Robert. "Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Chronology." Federation of American Scientists, May 30, 2008.

External links[edit]