Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Bigger’s Not Always Better

Accuracy trumps explosive power when the Department of Defense seeks nuclear weapons tailored to specific tactical and strategic targets.
July 1, 2015
Bigger’s Not Always Better

The largest human-made explosion in history was the Soviet Union’s detonation of its 50-megaton Tsar Bomba, the most
 powerful nuclear weapon ever designed. (One hundred megatons, about 10 times the combined power of all the conventional explosives used in World War II.) The Tsar made 
a huge international political and military splash, but in reality it was impractical 
for military use. No more were built. (Photo: Open Source)


  • Managing Editor
  • Clay Dillingham
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Sometimes a lower-yield weapon causes greater destruction than one with higher yield detonated in different circumstances.

The Department of Defense asked Los Alamos to design and build nuclear weapons with the precise yield required to destroy one or more specific targets. A yield that was too high or too low risked suffering undesirable consequences.

A number of factors influence a weapon’s destructive power. The weapon design, the amount of nuclear material it contains, the environmental conditions at the moment of detonation, and the accuracy of the weapon all determine the weapon’s effects. Detonating in the air, for instance, can cause more damage than detonating on the ground.