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Tsetse (nuclear primary)

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Title: Tsetse (nuclear primary)  
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Subject: Mark 22 nuclear bomb, W29 (nuclear warhead), Tactical Atomic Demolition Munition, Mark 26 nuclear bomb, W73
Collection: Nuclear Bombs of the United States
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Tsetse (nuclear primary)

The Tsetse was a small American nuclear bomb developed in the 1950s that was used as the "primary" in several US thermonuclear bombs and as a small stand-alone weapon of its own. Primary is the technical term for the fission bomb component of a fusion bomb, used to start the reactions and implode and detonate the second, fusion stage.

The Tsetse primary was used in the US B43 nuclear bomb, W44 nuclear warhead, W50 nuclear warhead, B57 nuclear bomb, and W59 nuclear warhead, according to researcher Chuck Hansen.

Historical evidence indicates that these weapons shared a reliability problem, which Hansen attributes to miscalculation of the reaction cross section of tritium in fusion reactions. The weapons were not tested as extensively as some prior models due to a mid-1960s nuclear test moratorium, and the reliability problem was discovered and fixed after the moratorium ended. This problem was apparently shared by the Python primary designs.

Characteristics of these weapons are:
Tsetse primary based nuclear weapons
Model Max Yield (kt) Diameter (in) Length (in) Weight (lb)
B43 1,000 18 150-164 2,060
W44 10 13.75 25.3 170
W50 400 15.4 44 410
B57 20 14.75 118 490
W59 1,000 16.3 47.8 550

Based on this information it can be assumed that the Tsetse design itself corresponds to the size of the W44 warhead, 13.75 inches diameter and 25.3 inches long, with a weight of around 170 pounds.

See also


  • Beware the old story, Chuck Hansen, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2001 pp. 52-55 (vol. 57, no. 02)
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