Russian Weapons Removal & The Cold War Backpack Bomb

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A file picture taken in 1971 shows a French nuclear test in the South Pacific atoll of Mururoa.
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As the world looks on at Syria’s stagnant efforts to remove its chemical weapons cache, it’s a reminder of the difficulty of disposing of the raw and often dangerous materials that threaten post-war stability.

When the Cold War ended, Russia was unsure what it should do with its thousands of weapons, from missiles to bombers.

MIT Physicist Dr. Thomas Neff suggested that Moscow be allowed to sell the uranium from its retired weapons and dilute it into fuel for electric utilities in the United States, giving Russians desperately needed cash and Americans a cheap source of power. The program converted more than 20,000 Russian warheads into fodder for nuclear power plants that have since turned on one in 10 American light bulbs over the course of the past 20 years.

And now, more than two decades later, the last uranium shipment arrived in the United States last month.

Dr. Neff explains how he initially conceived of this program.

The Cold War Backpack Bomb

This week "Dr. Strangelove" turns 50-years-old. Half a century after the film’s depiction of the ultimate Cold War nightmare, new details about portable nuclear weapons designed by the U.S. military suggest that Strangelove's deranged vision wasn't all that far from the reality of its times.

At just 18 inches in length, 12 inches in diameter, and approximately 58 pounds in weight, the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) was a nuclear weapon small enough to be strapped on a backpack and sent with a soldier directly into enemy lines—on foot, by boat, on skis, or by parachute.

Although SADMs were compact enough to be transported by a single soldier, they were still powerful enough to potentially cause devastating damage.

Adam Rawnsley writes about B-54 SADMs in the latest issue of Foreign Policy Magazine. He joins The Takeaway to explain why these portable nukes were designed.