During the 1950s, multi-megaton hydrogen bombs seemed like the difference between life and death to many — both supporters and opposers. The fate of the world seemed to hinge on weapons like the 15 megaton Mark 17 bomb, or the 7 megaton Mark 14, or the truly horrendous Tsar Bomba, and so on. And yet, even by the late 1960s, much less the MIRVed 1970s, these bloated weapons seemed both ridiculous from the standpoint of delivery and overkill.
The monster bombs of the 1950s were eventually superseded by smaller, more accurate, more numerous weapons. And the old bomb casings were dismantled and disposed of.
Flash forward to the end of the Cold War, and we get to one of my favorite nuclear photos of all time, one I jealously hoarded until I was able to use it in print. In 1998, Sandia National Laboratory was remediating a classified landfill (an idea I really enjoy — secret trash!) and they came across a casing of an old Mark 14 bomb. They did the sensible thing: they excavated it and took pictures of themselves posing with it, like it was an animal they had bagged on the hunt:1
(I'll note this is neither first time, nor probably the last time, that this blog will feature folks taking glamor shots weapons of mass destruction.)
The Sandia folks had the casing cleaned up (from a dirt perspective) and "sanitized" (from a classification perspective), and put it in an Air Force museum, apparently.
There is some deep poetry there: a post-Cold War look at the height of the Cold War, finding the rubbished H-bombs of yesteryear and turning them into elaborate trophies of a future generation.
- Source: Department of Energy Digital Photo Archive, photos #2011488 and #2010203. [↩]