What objects could survive a close-up nuclear explosion?

There’s a photo of Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspecting the Trinity Test site. The device had been detonated on top of a 100-foot steel tower, and only a few remnants of it remained.


Even a modest sized nuclear device such as Trinity vaporized most of the steel tower, but not all of it. What else could survive a a similar nuclear detonation that close?

A diamond? How big would it need to be?

How large would a block (or sphere) of ice need to be for any of it to survive intact?

I have no idea how to even begin calculating such things. Thoughts?

A spaceship, look into the proposed Orion spacecraft engine:

I used to have the “Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer,” the circular slide-rule that Dr. Stangelove displays in the movie. One of the things it had was a relationship between equivalent TNT tonnage and cubic feet of solid rock displaced. An n megaton bomb would excavate m cubic feet.

I sure wish I still had that puppy!

Here is a link – warning, auto-downloading pdf! – to the book that the slide rule comes with. It also has a picture (not at all useful, for being too small and too crudely scanned) of the slide-rule.

Interesting reading, although obviously very much out of date. Still, the rough, raw data is probably about as true today as it was in 1963.

This one seems real, not fiction



I think most payphones in the 1960’s would have a pretty good chance. They were the most indestructible things I’ve ever seen, and I doubt if any more human effort was ever deployed in such an enterprise. Those ITT desk telephones were pretty indestructible, too, I’ve thrown a lot of them across the office, and they came back good as new.

I’ve always found the Orion concept fascinating, but I was thinking more of objects or substances that weren’t specifically engineered to withstand such a blast.

Particularly since one of the reasons the Orion never got too far in the planning stage was the first step: “First, make a shield capable of withstanding repeated nuclear blasts.”

That’s the one. The one in the movie actually was real (or depicted it.) They didn’t just make it up for the film.

Kinda pretty, innit?

Googling on “Nuclear Weapons Crater Size,” I found the following:

(Take with a grain of salt: what do you expect from “Nuclear Weapons Factoids?”)

A ground burst produces a crater. The following table shows crater sizes:
Crater Sizes
Yield Width (ft) Width (m) Depth (ft) Depth (m)
20kT 633 193 80 24
600kT 2112 643 211 64
20MT 7392 2253 792 241

Anyway, if a bomb can carve out a crater in relatively solid rock of those sizes, then you can pretty much bet than most common objects – trucks, buildings, dams, derricks, etc. – smaller than that would be (technically speaking) toast.

ETA: Phooey: I don’t know how to format a pretty table.

**Crater Sizes**

Yield 	Width (ft)  Width (m)  Depth (ft)  Depth (m)
20kT       633         193         80         24
600kT     2112         643        211         64
20MT      7392        2253        792        241

People have a lot of funny misconceptions about diamonds. Diamonds are pretty much at the top of the scale with respect to hardness. What that means is that if you scratch pretty much anything against a diamond, the diamond will win. The other thing will get scratched and the diamond won’t.

Diamonds are very hard, but they aren’t tough. Whack a diamond with a hammer and you’ll easily shatter it. You have to be careful with diamond rings and other diamond jewelry because just accidentally smacking the diamond on something can fracture it and ruin it.

I’ve noticed that a lot of folks confuse hardness and toughness, and end up thinking that diamonds are virtually indestructible. They aren’t. Not even close.

If the shock wave from the nuke didn’t blast the diamond into smithereens, diamonds have another property that folks don’t seem to be aware of much. They burn. They don’t burn so easily that you have to worry about catching them on fire with a candle, but you can burn one with a blowtorch. The heat from a nuke exceeds that by quite a bit, so I’d expect all of your tiny diamond fragments (from it being blasted apart by the shock wave) to catch fire and burn away into nothing (well, technically, carbon dioxide).

6 gingko trees survived the bombing of Hiroshima. Granted, they all took heavy damage but they are still alive and growing today. All other vegetation around those trees died off after the blast. The closest to ground zero was about 1100 meters, which is close in some sense although not directly under the blast. Pretty impressive, all things considered.

In Hiroshima, there is also a structure called the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was a government office building with a reinforced steel skeleton. The bomb exploded directly above it. The force of the blast was directed downward at that point; the steel inner structure withstood it. The ruins were left in place as a memorial.


Keep in mind Hiroshima was only a firecracker compared to the later nuclear weapon designs. From what I have read, the “smaller” strategic warheads are several hundred kilotons each, compared to a mere 13 or so for Hiroshima.

A lot depends on whether it’s an airburst or a ground burst.

Airbursts are used to destroy entire cities. The primary cause of destruction is blast. Overpressures of a few PSI will cause structural failure of most buildings, and those sorts of blast pressures can be produced many miles from the detonation point. Closer in, intense heat will ignite anything flammable, and very close to ground zero, small objects will be vaporized. But, a dense, tough, heat-resistant object would be able to survive directly under an airburst. Say, a one-foot cube of steel. It might be damaged by the blast and heat, but it’s unlikely to evaporate completely.

A ground burst is a different story. The energy released by the explosion will be coupled to the ground, and as noted, create a large crater. Even our cube of steel might not survive being thrown with that kind of force.

chuck norris

Not several hundred kilotons for the lower range strategic warheads; “just” 100 kilotons for the most prevalent warhead in the U.S. arsenal, the W76.

Thisand maybe cockroaches.

(yes I know this one is fake, but it is worth a smile)

Yes, but it was almost 2000 ft above it. I’m not sure if that counts as “close-up”.

Something I never noticed before in that picture: Gen. Groves is wearing white booties over his shoes, I assume to not track radioactive soil around.

If you’re asking what could survive inside a nuclear fireball, the answer is nothing. The temperatures & pressures are such that the bonds that hold matter itself together break down. Not diamond, not Tungsten, or anything else would withstand it. Neutronium probably would, but it’s semi-fictional. And setting off a nuke next to the immense gravity of a ball of solid neutrons is a whole 'nother thing…