Russian President Vladimir Putin is reminding the world that his country has been powerful for a long time.
The Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom this week released 59-year-old video footage of the world’s largest hydrogen bomb being tested. The so-called “Tsar Bomba” was exploded above the Arctic Circle in October 1961.
The footage was classified for decades, but the bomb test was hardly a secret.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced the test was coming at a Soviet Communist Party gathering in Russia in early fall 1961.
“If we happen to explode it in the wrong place, we might break our own windows,” he said.
In the days that followed, the U.S. government urged the U.S.S.R. to cancel the test. “Such an explosion could only serve some unconfessed political purpose,” the White House said in a statement.
After Khrushchev went ahead with the test, U.S. news outlets reported that the “monster ’K’ bomb set off by Russia” was the “dirtiest ever exploded by man. Air Force air samplings show that the 30- to 40-megaton weapon has polluted the atmosphere with more than 2,000 pounds of radioactive materials.”
The Associated Press put out a map showing what such a bomb would do if the White House were the target. The blast “would dig a hole 400 feet deep and a mile-and-a-half wide, killing nearly everyone in the area.”
Two years later, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear tests in the atmosphere.
The 50-megaton Tsar Bomba “far surpassed the largest explosion the United States has ever conducted — a 15-megaton ‘Castle Bravo’ hydrogen bomb detonated on Bikini Atoll in 1954,” the wire service Reuters wrote Friday when it published the video footage and photos of the explosion.
— Douglas Perry