I Watched a Nuke Explode. Just Hope You Never Do

Rod Buntzen thinks the talk about Putin and nukes is far too casual
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2022 5:20 PM CDT

Rod Buntzen thinks the world is being too cavalier in its discussions about the possibility of Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons and what the appropriate response would be. It's not a casual opinion on Buntzen's part, but one born of an experience that's seared into his memory. As he writes in a New York Times op-ed, Buntzen watched from a distance of 20 miles as an 8.9-megaton thermonuclear weapon was detonated in 1958. Watched, however, is putting it too mildly. "The heat was becoming unbearable. Bare spots at my ankles were starting to hurt. The aluminum foil hood I had fashioned for protection was beginning to fail. I thought that the hair on the back of my head might catch on fire."

The bomb was detonated on a barge in Eniwetok Atoll. Buntzen, then a US Navy scientist, pairs his recollection of what it wrought with an easy-to-comprehend explanation of the science that occurred in the initial seconds. But it's what he saw and felt that is gripping: He writes of waiting for the shock wave to hit him, which it did with enough force to push his body backward. The water of the lagoon that separated the bomb location from his position on Parry Island receded so severely he describes it as a sight akin to paintings of Moses parting the Red Sea; shark netting designed to protect swimmers lay exposed on the momentarily dry sea floor. "Having witnessed one thermonuclear explosion, I hope that no humans ever have to witness another," he concludes. (Read the full op-ed for much more.)

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