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Russian doomsday torpedo may cause tsunamis but scientists have doubts



deep impact tsunami tidal wave
A nuclear-weapon-powered
tsunami wave is possible, though not the most deadliest use of
such a device.

Paramount / “Deep

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said in early 2018
    that Russia was developing a nuclear-powered torpedo that
    carries a “massive”
    nuclear weapon
  • New videos posted to the Russian Ministry of Defense’s
    YouTube account appear to show a prototype of such a torpedo
    codenamed “Poseidon.”
  • If Poseidon is ever completed, it might be able to
    create a 300-foot tsunami.
  • One arms-control expert described such a hypothetical
    weapon as “Putin’s doomsday machine.”
  • But nuclear-weapons researchers have pointed out that
    an underwater bomb’s explosive
    and fallout would be less than a
    nuke detonated in the air.

Shortly after President Donald Trump’s controversial
 with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the
Russian government published several videos that appear to

show off
a host of new nuclear weapons systems.

One particular video stands out: an
alleged prototype of a
giant torpedo
 that one expert dubbed a “doomsday

Putin first publicly described that nuclear-powered
device on March 1 during an address to the Russian Federal
Assembly. He said the autonomous drone would quietly travel to
“great depths,” move faster than a submarine or boat, “have
hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit,” and “carry
massive nuclear ordnance,” according to a Kremlin translation of
Putin’s remarks.

“Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or
nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets,
including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications, and
infrastructure,” Putin said.

The videos the Russian president presented in March were
primarily computer renderings, though Putin claimed Russia had
finished testing a nuclear-powered engine for the torpedo in
December. However, on July 19, the Russian Ministry of Defense
uploaded several new clips to its YouTube account that may show
real-world hardware — including one of a torpedo-shaped device
called “Poseidon.”

russia possible megaton nuclear weapon torpedo doomsday device russia ministry defense youtube 01
What may be Russia’s
prototype “doomsday machine” that could explode a nuclear weapon
thousands of times more powerful than the bomb detonated over

Russian Ministry of

Defense analyst H.I. Sutton
wrote in a blog post
 that the prototype in the new video is
“generally consistent” with Russia’s prior depictions of a giant,
autonomous, nuclear-powered, nuclear-weapon-armed submarine. The
device also goes by the code names 

Multipurpose System Status-6

Skif, and Kanyon.

Based on still images from the video, Sutton said he figures
Poseidon could be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide and 20 meters
(66 feet) long, with room for a nuclear reactor in the center and
a large thermonuclear warhead toward the front.

“It is really fantastic,” Putin said of the device in March,
adding, “there is simply nothing in the world capable of
withstanding them.”

Why the Russian ‘doomsday’ device could be terrifying

tsar bomba nuclear blast wikipedia
mushroom cloud caused by the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba 57-megaton
nuclear test.


The Russian government reportedly leaked a diagram of a
Poseidon-like weapon
in 2015 that suggested it would carry a
50-megaton nuclear bomb about as powerful as
Tsar Bomba
, the largest nuclear device
ever detonated

In a 2015 article in Foreign
, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear policy at the
Middlebury Institute of International Studies, dubbed the
hypothetical weapon “Putin’s doomsday machine.”

Nuclear physicists say such a weapon detonated below the
ocean’s surface could trigger a local tsunami, causing great
devastation. US
nuclear tests
of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, including the
underwater operations Crossroads Baker and Hardtack I Wahoo,
demonstrated why.

These underwater fireballs were roughly as energetic as the bombs
dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki in August 1945. In the tests,
they burst through the surface, ejecting pillars of seawater more
than a mile high while rippling out powerful shockwaves.

Some warships staged near the explosions were vaporized. Others
were tossed like toys in a bathtub and sank, while a few
sustained cracked hulls and crippled engines. Notably, the
explosions roughly doubled the height of waves to nearby islands,
flooding inland areas.

“A well-placed nuclear weapon of yield in the range 20 MT to 50
MT near a sea coast could certainly couple enough energy to equal
the 2011 tsunami, and perhaps much more,” Rex Richardson, a
physicist who researches nuclear weapons, told Business Insider
in March, referring to the
Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
that killed more than 15,000
people in Japan.

“Taking advantage of the rising-sea-floor amplification effect,
tsunami waves reaching 100 meters in height” — about 330 feet —
“are possible,” he said.

Richardson and other experts have also pointed out that a
near-shore blast from this type of weapon could suck up tons of
ocean sediment, irradiate it, and rain it upon nearby areas —
generating catastrophic
radioactive fallout

“Los Angeles or San Diego would be particularly vulnerable to
fallout due to the prevailing onshore winds,” Richardson said,
adding that he lives in San Diego.

The problem with blowing up nukes underwater

putin doomsday weapon kanyon satus 6 madnessgenius ccbysa4

annotated diagram of Russia’s so-called doomsday machine
autonomous submarine nuclear weapon.

Institution; Madnessgenius (CC BY-SA

Some experts question the purpose and effectiveness of Putin’s
potential new weapon, given the
far more terrible destruction
nuclear explosions can inflict
when detonated aboveground.

Greg Spriggs, a nuclear-weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, said a 50-megaton weapon “could possibly
induce a tsunami” and hit a shoreline with the energy equivalent
to a 650-kiloton blast.

But he also suggested that it “would be a stupid waste of a
perfectly good nuclear weapon.”

That’s because Spriggs believes it’s unlikely that even the

most powerful nuclear bombs
could unleash a significant
tsunami after detonating underwater, especially miles from shore.

“The energy in a large nuclear weapon is but a drop in the bucket
compared to the energy of a [naturally] occurring tsunami,”
told Business Insider
 last year. “So any tsunami created
by a nuclear weapon couldn’t be very large.”

For example, the 2011 tsunami in Japan
released about 9.3 million
megatons of TNT energy. That’s
hundreds of millions of times as much as the bomb dropped on
Hiroshima in 1945 and roughly 163,000 times as much as the Soviet
Union’s test of Tsar Bomba on October 30, 1961.

Plus, Spriggs said, the energy of a blast wouldn’t all be
directed toward shore — it would radiate outward in all
directions, so most of it “would be wasted going back out to

A detonation several miles from a coastline would deposit only
about 1% of its energy as waves hitting the shore. That scenario
may be more likely than an attack closer to shore, assuming US
systems could detect an incoming Poseidon torpedo.

But even if such a weapon exploded on the doorstep of a coastal
city or base, its purpose would be questionable, Spriggs said.

“This would produce a fraction of the damage the same 50 MT
weapon could do if it were detonated above a large city,” Spriggs
said. “If there is some country out there that is angry enough at
the United States to use a nuclear weapon against us, why would
they opt to reduce the amount of damage they impose in an

Why would Putin develop a ‘doomsday machine’?

valdimir putin russia icbm missile election speech march 1 2018 reuters sputnik news agency RTX4ZS89
President Vladimir Putin.

Photo Agency/Reuters

It’s still unknown whether Russia has really developed this
underwater weapon, though the Trump
administration addressed
its possible existence in the US’ most recent
nuclear posture review

If realized, the “doomsday machine” would join thousands of
nuclear weapons in
Russia’s arsenal

In Lewis’ 2015 article, he wrote that
there was speculation that the underwater weapon might be
“salted,” or surrounded with metals like cobalt, which would
dramatically extend fatal
radiation levels from fallout
 for at least several
months, or possibly even decades. That’s because the burst of
neutrons emitted in a nuclear blast could transform those metals
into long-lived, highly radioactive chemicals and sprinkle them
all over.

“What sort of sick bastards dream up this kind of weapon?” Lewis
wrote, noting that such salted weapons were
featured in the 1964 science-fiction Cold War parody film

“Dr. Strangelove.”

russia underwater missileSky

But Spriggs said the fallout — also called “source term” — from
an underwater explosion would be dramatically reduced.

“In reality, the vast majority of the source term will never
escape from the ocean as air-borne particles,” Spriggs told
Business Insider via email in April. “Most of the fission
products and activation products that are thrown into the air
during the explosion will be trapped in the water droplets in the
water spout and will fall back to the ocean within just a few
1000 feet from the detonation point.”

But if a nuclear bomb were dropped from the air, “almost 100% of
the source term […] ends up on the land,” Spriggs said. So the
fallout from a “salted” weapon blown up above a target could “be
many, many orders of magnitude worse than the fallout produced by
an underwater detonation.”

To Lewis, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the nuclear
torpedo will be completed or if the descriptions and videos are
Russian posturing designed to prevent the US from attacking
Russia or its allies.

“Simply announcing to the world that you find this to be a
reasonable approach to [nuclear] deterrence should be enough to
mark you out as a dangerous creep,” Lewis said.

This story was originally published on April 24, 2018. It has
been updated with new information.

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