The Tsar Bomba is the most commonly known name for Russia’s AN602 hydrogen bomb. It was detonated in 1961 in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Only one live bomb and one mock bomb were ever produced.
“Tsar Bomba” is one of many monikers used for the bomb. It is also referred to by its project number (project 7000), product code (product code 202 or Izdeliye 202), article designations (RDS-220, RDS-202, RN202, AN602), codename (Vanya) and various nicknames (Big Ivan, Tsar Bomba and Kuzkina Mat’ or Kuzka’s Mother).
Tsar Bomba Design
The original design of the Tsar Bomba placed its output at 100 megatons; however, that would have brought fallout to populated Soviet territory. The Teller-Ulam design used in the warhead is present in most of the world’s nuclear weapons. By replacing the uranium-238 fusion tampers in the third and possibly second stages with lead tampers, the bomb’s output was reduced by 50%.
On October 30, 1961, a modified Tu-95V release plane carrying the Tsar Bomba was accompanied by a Tu-16 observer plane to drop the weapon. In order to transport the 27-tonne bomb, the Tu-95V had to have its bomb bay doors and fuselage fuel tanks removed. The bomb itself had a fall-retardation parachute, allowing the two planes time to fly approximately 25 miles away from the detonation site. Both planes were coated in anti-flash white paint to protect them from heat damage.
At 11:32, detonation of the Tsar Bomba occurred 2.5 miles over the Mityushikha Bay. The resulting aftermath included a 40-mile-high mushroom cloud with a base 25 miles wide. Buildings in the settlement of Severny 35 miles from ground zero were all destroyed. 430 miles away in the village of Dikson, an atmospheric shockwave was observed, and windows were partially broken up to 560 miles away. As a result of atmospheric focusing, damage also occurred in Norway and Finland approximately to 620 miles away.
There is no realistic application in modern warfare for nuclear weapons of this size. The introduction of highly-accurate ICBMs (intercontinental ballistics missiles) and MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) have reduced the need to pot-shot enormously destructive weapons to their desired locations. Smaller warheads with boosted accuracy are the current design philosophy dictating nuclear weapon production.