Nuclear Madness: 50 Outlandish Weapons & Plans from the Atomic Age

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1 Davy Crockett: Tactical Nuclear Gun

Davy Crockett: Tactical Nuclear Gun

The Davy Crockett was a tripod-mounted gun developed by the US during the Cold War that fired a tactical nuclear warhead. Its range was up to 4 miles, and the yield caused fatal radiation within a radius of a quarter of a mile.

2. Project Plowshare was a US government program that ran between 1957 and 1977. It aimed to explore peaceful uses for nuclear explosives, including rock-blasting, creating new elements, and gathering geological data. One proposed idea was to use nuclear bombs to excavate dig sites, such as a proposed alternate canal to the Suez through the Negev Desert. However, the project was eventually abandoned due to concerns over the amount of radiation it would produce.

3. The Soviet Union’s Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program involved the detonation of over 239 nuclear devices for practical applications of the new technology. One of these explosions in 1965 near the Chagan River created an artificial lake with a volume of about 10 million cubic meters, which is still slightly radioactive and nicknamed “the atomic lake.” Other uses of the program included extinguishing natural gas fires, oil and gas exploration, and creating channels and dams.

4. Project Pluto was a top-secret program during the Cold War aimed at developing a nuclear-powered missile with an unlimited range. The missile, known as the Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile (SLAM), would have left a trail of radioactive waste as it traveled. The missile’s engine, a ramjet, would use a nuclear reactor to heat the air entering the engine, producing thrust and allowing it to reach supersonic speeds.

5. Project Orion was a 1950s-era space travel concept that proposed using nuclear explosions to propel a spacecraft. The spacecraft would release small nuclear bombs behind it and ride on the shockwaves. It was calculated that the spacecraft could reach 5% of the speed of light, and Carl Sagan later said such an engine would also be a great way to dispose of humanity’s nukes.

6 Project Thor: Space Kinetic Strike

Project Thor: Space Kinetic Strike

During the Cold War, the US Air Force’s Project Thor, also known as “Rods from God,” proposed dropping telephone pole-sized tungsten rods from space to strike Earth’s surface using only kinetic energy. The concept offered a global strike capability faster than an ICBM and could cause the destruction of a tactical nuclear warhead upon impact.

7. Before missile guidance systems became sufficiently advanced, the US Air Force developed the AIR-2 Genie, a 1.5-kiloton nuclear air-to-air rocket during the Cold War that could be fired from fighter jets to destroy enemy bomber formations. The rocket had a kill radius of around 300 meters, and 3,000 were produced, with one test detonation captured on film. Imagine dogfighting and deciding to fire an unguided nuke at the other plane.

8. Blue Peacock was a 10-kiloton nuclear landmine developed by the British during the 1950s to be used in Germany. To address the issue of cold weather affecting the bomb’s electronics, one proposed solution was to use live chickens as a heat source to keep the system operational for up to a week.

9. There was a Soviet nuclear torpedo called the T-5, which had a range of only 10 km but a blast radius of up to 13 km, making it potentially deadly to the user’s own submarines if not deployed carefully. The T-5 was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War but was never actually used in combat.

10. During the Cold War, the US Army trained officers to deploy backpack nukes called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions (SADM) and detonate them, potentially still within the blast radius. These bombs were built without electronics and relied on mechanical timers, which had accuracy issues and could go off as early as eight minutes ahead of schedule or as many as 13 minutes behind.

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11 M45 AFAP: Artillery-launched Nuke

M45 AFAP: Artillery-launched Nuke

The US military developed the M45 AFAP, a cannon-fired nuclear weapon that could be launched from a standard 155-mm howitzer. These rounds cost at least $1.25 million each and remained operational from the 1960s until the program’s retirement in 1992.

12. Tsar Bomba, a hydrogen bomb developed by the Soviet Union in 1961, holds the record as the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, with a yield of 50 megatons. The bomb’s colossal size necessitated its delivery by a specially modified plane, and the explosion was visible from over 600 miles away. The resulting mushroom cloud reached a height over seven times that of Mount Everest, and its shockwave circled the Earth three times, even causing partial windowpane breakage at distances of 900 km.

13. Project Gasbuggy, conducted in the 1960s, involved the utilization of a nuclear explosion to stimulate natural gas and oil production by “fracking” trapped gas in shale. Despite testing at various locations in Colorado and New Mexico, the project did not yield the anticipated results due to the tendency of nuclear explosions to vitrify or convert the sandstone into glass-like material.

14. Article V of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty mandates that nuclear powers must sell nuclear bombs to non-nuclear powers for peaceful explosive purposes. This provision emerged in response to the peaceful nuclear explosion movement, which advocated using nuclear bombs for construction and aimed to eliminate it as a pretext for independent nuclear weapon development by other nations.

15. Atomic gardens were established as part of the Atoms for Peace program in the 1950s, which sought to develop “peaceful” uses of fission energy after World War II. These gamma gardens were created in laboratories across the US, Europe, parts of the former USSR, India, and Japan.

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16 Red Grapefruit: Radiated Crop Creation

Red Grapefruit: Radiated Crop Creation

The red grapefruit originated from a 1950s government nuclear program called “Atoms for Peace,” where crops were mutated using radioactive materials. In the “Gamma Gardens,” plants grown in close proximity to the radiation source perished, while those farther away exhibited a red coloration.

17. The Qattara Depression in western Egypt, situated 60 meters below sea level, was considered for transformation into a lake after World War II. The ambitious plan involved using 213 hydrogen bombs to create a canal leading to the Mediterranean. Utilizing the natural gradient between the Mediterranean and the Depression, it was envisioned to generate up to 5 GW of electricity, sufficient to power over a million homes.

18. In 1958, the US Air Force devised plans to detonate a nuclear bomb on the moon, aiming for its visibility with the naked eye from Earth. The objective was to boost American morale in response to the USSR’s advancements in the space race. Known as Project A119, it was ultimately shelved due to concerns that the missile could miss the moon and return to an unknown location on Earth.

19. As part of Operation Fishbowl, the USA detonated Starfish Prime, a 1.4 megaton nuclear bomb, in space in 1962. The explosion generated an electromagnetic pulse that disabled satellites and caused damage to electrical infrastructure in Hawaii. Additionally, the event created a spectacular aurora visible from Honolulu.

20. Project Chariot, proposed in 1958, aimed to construct an artificial harbor in Alaska using five nuclear bombs as part of Operation Plowshare, which explored peaceful applications of nuclear explosions. Although it garnered significant public support, the project was ultimately abandoned due to strong opposition from the Inupiat village of Point Hope.

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21 Hurricane Mitigation: Nuclear Bomb Proposal

Hurricane Mitigation: Nuclear Bomb Proposal

Edward Teller, often referred to as the “father of the H-bomb,” once proposed the idea of using nuclear bombs to mitigate hurricanes. However, meteorologists expressed skepticism, asserting that the trajectory of hurricanes cannot be controlled once they have formed.

22. NASA had ambitious plans to send astronauts to Mars using Nerva nuclear rockets in 1981. Unfortunately, due to funding cuts by Congress and the subsequent cancellation of the Nerva project by President Nixon in 1973, NASA shifted its focus to the development of the Space Shuttle program instead.

23. The US Air Force and later the Atomic Energy Commission made efforts to develop a nuclear propulsion system for aircraft between 1946 and 1961. This endeavor incurred a total cost of approximately $1 billion. Although ultimately unsuccessful, two assemblies consisting of a reactor and two modified turbojets are now on display at the Idaho National Laboratory.

24. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States contemplated launching a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The idea behind this strategy was the belief that by annihilating Russia with nuclear weapons before the Soviets could mass-produce their own, a nuclear war could be won. While ultimately discarded, this notion was seriously considered during the early years of the Cold War.

25. SIOP-62 was a US nuclear war plan rooted in the massive retaliation doctrine. It treated all communist countries as a unified bloc and called for a comprehensive strike employing the entire US nuclear arsenal-consisting of 3,200 warheads and 7,847 megatons-simultaneously targeting the USSR, China, and Soviet-aligned states.

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