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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 November 2011

TV review

The World's Biggest Bomb

Channel 5, 27 October

This documentary dealt with the nuclear arms race between the USA and the Stalinist USSR from the late 1940s, culminating in the USSR detonating the world's largest nuclear device in 1961.

Initially the US ruling class believed they could maintain exclusive knowledge and use of nuclear weapons. When the USSR also developed an atom bomb, US generals set off to develop an 'H-bomb' based on nuclear fusion rather than fission, as in the original 'A-bomb'.

Many corners were cut, rushing to develop an H-bomb to terrify the USSR. American scientists monitoring the 'Castle Bravo' H-bomb test in Bikini Atoll in 1954 nearly incinerated themselves when the thermonuclear reaction ran out of control, developing a yield of 15 megatons rather than the expected five megatons.

The documentary recreated scientists in their concrete bunker feeling first the incredible heat wave, then listening to the blast wave destroying everything above ground and making even the concrete shelter creak and shift. Most of the test's measuring instruments were vaporised. Bikini Atoll was contaminated and mass radiation sickness affected islands hundreds of miles away.

The USSR bureaucracy's response was a plan to build a 100 megaton bomb though they scaled it back to 'just' 50 megatons, realising the destruction that would be unleashed. Nevertheless, the 50 megaton bomb was detonated in the USSR's far north on 30 October 1961.

The blast was around 3,000 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb, and had ten times the force of all explosives used in world war two. The mushroom cloud was seven times higher than Everest and the blast broke windows 500 miles away.

The documentary explained the insanity of nuclear weapons and the arms race. It showed how a lot of the best scientific talent is wasted on devising weapons able to wipe out civilised life on earth.

These criminally irresponsible tests were conducted 50 years ago, but the ruling classes of both the USA and now capitalist Russia still retain these sorts of weapons to threaten and bully other nations in pursuit of their interests.

Andy Ford

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