The bomb arrived in pieces. Workers assembled the device behind
steel-reinforced concrete walls in the desert, mating radioactive materials
with high explosives. It was called Kearsarge.
And on a hot August day in 1988, a crew lowered the bomb through a hole
drilled thousands of feet into the Nevada Test Site, then entombed it
beneath millions of pounds of sand.
Thirty miles away, Los Alamos Director Siegfried Hecker sat nervously in
the control room. Seven top Soviet nuclear scientists watched intently.
What if the bomb fizzled, Hecker thought. What happens to America’s nuclear
Officials had negotiated this Joint Verification Experiment for years. The
United States and Soviet Union had long conducted test explosions of the
bigger weapons in their arsenals, both to make sure they really worked and
as a show of force. The adversaries were willing to permanently stop
blowing up the biggest bombs, but first scientists needed a way to verify
violations. Each country would test its monitoring techniques on the other
side’s bomb. If today’s nuclear test went well, it might be among the last.