Nuclear warhead elements scheduled for dismantling next year will be kept in the U.S. to protect Earth from giant asteroids, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The Wall Street Journal first noticed the section of the 67-page report on the National Nuclear Security Administration, which explains a delay in the disassembly of essential nuclear warhead components “being retained in an indeterminate state pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.”
NASA and the United Nations have openly discussed the threat in the past, and proposed nuclear weapons as a feasible means of redirecting or destroying large asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
Anxiety over the potential devastation of such impacts has increased significantly since last year, when a meteor estimated to be 65 feet in size exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia with a force of more than 400,000 tons of TNT, according to the report.
A National Research Council report from 2010 says Earth is likely more than 100 years from any danger of impact from the hundreds of 1-kilometer and larger asteroids that routinely pass near the planet’s orbit. However, NASA reports that of the estimated 100,000 asteroids around 164 feet in size, only about 5 percent have been identified.