How the US almost nuclear bombed itself

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/20/usaf-atomic-bomb-north-carolina-1961

 

<strong><span style="font-size:24px;">US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document</span></strong>

Exclusive: Journalist uses Freedom of Information Act to disclose 1961 accident in which one switch averted catastrophe

 

 

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The bomb that nearly exploded over North Carolina was 260 times more powerful than the device which devasted Hiroshima in 1945. Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

Though there has been persistent speculation about how narrow the Goldsboro escape was, the US government has repeatedly publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans' lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United Statesand a major catastrophe".

Writing eight years after the accident, Parker F Jones found that the bombs that dropped over North Carolina, just three days after John F Kennedy made his inaugural address as president, were inadequate in their safety controls and that the final switch that prevented disaster could easily have been shorted by an electrical jolt, leading to a nuclear burst. "It would have been bad news – in spades," he wrote.

Jones dryly entitled his secret report "Goldsboro Revisited or: How I learned to Mistrust the H-Bomb" – a quip on Stanley Kubrick's 1964 satirical film about nuclear holocaust, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Dr-Stangelove-001.jpgSlim Pickens in a scene from Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Photograph: The Ronald Grant Archive

The accident happened when a B-52 bomber got into trouble, having embarked from Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro for a routine flight along the East Coast. As it went into a tailspin, the hydrogen bombs it was carrying became separated. One fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, its parachute draped in the branches of a tree; the other plummeted into a meadow off Big Daddy's Road.

Jones found that of the four safety mechanisms in the Faro bomb, designed to prevent unintended detonation, three failed to operate properly. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only that final, highly vulnerable switch that averted calamity. "The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52," Jones concludes.

The document was uncovered by Schlosser as part of his research intohis new book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control. Using freedom of information, he discovered that at least 700 "significant" accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.

"The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy," he said. "We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here's one that very nearly did."

 

That scene where Slim Pickens rides an A-Bomb is one of the all-time great movie moments.

 

And ■■■■■■ Hell, close call.

Poetric justice…almost.

They couldn't do it with the bomb so they are doing it with the economy: sneaky communists.

Bear in mind that if a nuke had suddenly exploded in North Carolina with no warning, there's a real possibility that people might have lost their heads and much-less-accidental nuclear explosions might have been triggered immediately afterwards. 

 

Scary stuff.

 

While we're on the subject of classic nuke-films, I'll put in a word for Failsafe.

This book also sounds like a good recipe for nightmares.  Might have to hunt it up.

 

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/09/30/130930crbo_books_menand?currentPage=all

 

 

The Arkansas incident, in 1980, is well chosen as an illustration of Schlosser‘s point. Objects fall inside silos all the time, he says. The chance that a falling socket would puncture the skin of a Titan II missile was extremely remote—but not impossible. When it happened, it triggered a set of mechanical and human responses that quickly led to a nightmare of confusion and misdirection. Once enough oxidizer leaked out and the air pressure inside the tank dropped, the missile would collapse, the remaining oxidizer would come into contact with the rocket fuel, and the missile would explode. Because a nineteen-year-old airman performing regular maintenance accidentally let a socket slip out of his wrench, a Titan II missile became a time bomb, and there was no way to turn off the timer.

And the missile was armed. Schlosser says that the explosive force of the warhead on a Titan II is nine megatons, which is three times the force of all the bombs dropped in the Second World War, including the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If it had detonated, most of the state of Arkansas would have been wiped out.

Few systems are more tightly coupled than the arsenal controlled by the nuclear football. Once the launch codes are entered, a chain of events is set in motion that is almost impossible to interrupt. The “Dr. Strangelove” scenario is quite realistic. The American nuclear-war plan, known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), provided for only one kind of response to an attack: full-scale nuclear war. It was assumed that tens of millions of people would die. There were no post-attack plans. For forty years, this was the American nuclear option. No doubt, the Soviets‘ was identical.

Henry Kissinger called the SIOP a “horror strategy.” Even Nixon was appalled by it. Schlosser says that when General George Butler became the head of the Strategic Air Command, in 1991, and read the SIOP he was stunned. “This was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” he told Schlosser. “I came to fully appreciate the truth. . . . We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

 

Just bought Command and Control on the Kindle store. It's on iTunes too. $15. The Australian version's cover is a cartoon hand hovering over a big red button, appropriately.

Bear in mind that if a nuke had suddenly exploded in North Carolina with no warning, there's a real possibility that people might have lost their heads and much-less-accidental nuclear explosions might have been triggered immediately afterwards. 

 

Scary stuff.

 

While we're on the subject of classic nuke-films, I'll put in a word for Failsafe.

Haven't seen that.

 

But have seen Testament. May have been K Costner's first film.

 

No explosions, just ordinary people trying deal with what was happening. Not a great film, but not bad.

Then there was the Cuban missile crisis, when there was a real threat not just an accident. How the world managed to escape without another major nuclear detonation is due more to dumb luck than to design. We have lived in the shadow of the H bomb for far too long. Time to get rid of all of them. The chances of someone getting their hands on one of these things and detonating it among innocent millions is still too great to contemplate. Ban the bomb. 

Then there was the Cuban missile crisis, when there was a real threat not just an accident. How the world managed to escape without another major nuclear detonation is due more to dumb luck than to design. We have lived in the shadow of the H bomb for far too long. Time to get rid of all of them. The chances of someone getting their hands on one of these things and detonating it among innocent millions is still too great to contemplate. Ban the bomb. 

Peace brother. Make love, not war. Flower Power and all that.

 

Then there was the Cuban missile crisis, when there was a real threat not just an accident. How the world managed to escape without another major nuclear detonation is due more to dumb luck than to design. We have lived in the shadow of the H bomb for far too long. Time to get rid of all of them. The chances of someone getting their hands on one of these things and detonating it among innocent millions is still too great to contemplate. Ban the bomb. 

Peace brother. Make love, not war. Flower Power and all that.

 

And ■■■■ on you too, brother. Had that bomb gone off what would have happened next? The US would have claimed sabotage and blamed it on the Russians. A full scale nuclear war would have followed. Damn pesky Russkies.  

Bear in mind that if a nuke had suddenly exploded in North Carolina with no warning, there's a real possibility that people might have lost their heads and much-less-accidental nuclear explosions might have been triggered immediately afterwards. 

 

Scary stuff.

 

That's exactly what I thought while reading the top post!

 

A rather large game of who will blink first. Thankfully USA and USSR realised the MAD scenario was going to be the only outcome.

What scares me today is that second tier countries now have access and utilization of nuke's with third tier countries not far behind!