After World War Two, the United States went nuclear-test-happy on a tiny group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean called Bikini Atoll. Over a period of twelve years they tested 23 nuclear bombs in this area.
By 1960, Nikita Krushchev, leader of the USSR, had seen enough. At the UN General Assembly, Krushchev promised to “show the U.S. Kuzka’s mother!” … The expression doesn’t exactly translate, but what he meant was: “we’ll show you!”
And they did.
The Soviets built something known as the Tsar Bomba. It was the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, having a greater yield than all of the nukes the U.S. tested at Bikini Atoll put together. On October 30, 1961, an isolated part of northern Russia experienced the largest explosion ever created by man.
Tsar Bomba was around 1500 times more powerful than both bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The mushroom cloud reached beyond the stratosphere, achieving a height equivalent to about 145 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.
Windows broke 900 kilometres away (560 miles). For some perspective on that: if the bomb had gone off in Toronto, windows would have broken in Chicago.
You could be 100 kilometres away from ground zero and still suffer third degree burns.
The shockwave went around the world three times!
The bomb was so shockingly powerful that one of the men who helped design it gave up building nuclear weapons and spent the rest of his life voicing his opposition to them entirely, which caused the Soviet Union to turn on him. Amazingly, it was originally designed to be twice as strong as the weapon that was actually tested, but that would have caused too much fallout and killed the crew of the plane that dropped the bomb.
But there’s good news! Sort of. Bombs of this size were only built because they had to be dropped from planes, which limited their accuracy and potential effectiveness. Now that we’ve got missiles that can travel around the world, the nuclear powers turned to smaller, more accurate weapons.
The Cold War being over helps, too. The threat of total nuclear annihilation is not as constant as it was during the second half of the 1900s, but Tsar Bomba gave us a glimpse of what it would look like.