The fireball caused by the explosion of Big Ivan had a radius of nearly 8 kilometers, with its mushroom cloud reaching the height of 64 kilometers. The light coming from the reaction was seen from over one thousand kilometers away while the force of the bomb’s explosion registered a 5.0 on the Richter scale. Furthermore, the resulting shock wave from the bomb’s explosion could still be detected after it had circled the earth twice, it generated air pressures that topped 300 PSI and even cracked windows in Finland and Norway, countries which were 900 kilometers away from the testing site.
Meanwhile, the empty buildings in the abandoned town of Severny which was fifty-five kilometers away from the site where Big Ivan was dropped off were leveled to the ground. Later inspections revealed that ground zero had, reportedly, the texture of a skating rink.
“The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap, a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards…. Having broken through the thick layer of clouds, it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.”
What’s more, all this was only half of what Big Ivan was really capable of doing.
For one, it possessed the design and was really built to deliver an astounding 100 megaton payload. Additionally, the Tsar Bomba was supposed to make use of fast-fissioning uranium tampers on its second and third stages. This would have caused a bigger reaction as well as a bigger subsequent energy release. But then, the USSR’s top brass ordered for the tampers to be swapped out and replaced with lead to prevent nuclear fallout from reaching and possibly affecting populated areas within the USSR.
The lead tampers cut Big Ivan’s yield by half and also eliminated 97% of the resulting fallout. Because of this, Big Ivan may have been the biggest and most destructive man-made explosive device, but it also holds one other distinction: being the “cleanest” among all other nuclear weapons being tested.
Fortunately, this record was only relevant for two years as after that time span, the Partial Test Ban Treaty – which put an end to above-ground nuclear weapons tests – was signed and implemented.
All Pictures from Wikipedia, “Fair Use.”