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US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document.


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

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 States and 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.

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 into his 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."

Source:

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

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I wrote this a few years ago when they were looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction in iraq



http://whitedeercafe.blogspot.com/2008/04/wmd-in-my-backyard.html



But the event off Cape May in 1957 certainly sounds a lot like the incident that's now making news.



The 1960 BOMARC fire at McGuire AFB is still being cleaned up, but was left alone for a few decades while kids broke into the hot area and rode their dirt bikes around the nuke caked soil. Wonder how they're doing today?



The local New Egypt NJ volunteer fire company put that one out, with water, and they hired some local Piney junk yard hicks to haul away the hot metal girders for scrap metal - and the huge water pipes that ran under the road from the infected base to a park and camp grounds was taken out and apparently used elsewhere.



And they haven't found the two nukes off Cape May and apparently aren't looking for them.



BK


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UK "lost" 2 in the North Sea somewhere, IIRC. Or was it the Med? Both? O_o!

The cavalier attitude that these things were handled with is simply....jaw-droppingly shocking.

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Ooops.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7097101.stm

[ Thursday, 15 November 2007]

BBC

British nukes were protected by bike locks

By Meirion Jones Newsnight producer

Newsnight report

Newsnight has discovered that until the early days of the Blair government the RAF's nuclear bombs were armed by turning a bicycle lock key.

There was no other security on the Bomb itself ...

While American and Russian weapons were protected by tamper-proof combination locks which could only be released if the correct code was transmitted, Britain relied on a simpler technology.

The Dr Strangelove scenario

The British military resisted Whitehall proposals to fit bombs with Permissive Action Links - or PALs - which would prevent them being armed unless the right code was sent.

President Kennedy ordered that every American nuclear bomb should be fitted with a PAL.

The correct code had to be transmitted by the US Chiefs of Staff and dialled into the Bomb before it could be armed otherwise it would not detonate ...

Safeguards

Crews in missile silos also had a dual key arrangement so one man could not launch Armageddon.

They are familiar from numerous Hollywood films such as Broken Arrow with John Travolta, The Peacemaker with Nicole Kidman and various James Bond films ...

Under control

Papers at the National Archive show that as early as 1966 an attempt was made to impose PAL security on British nuclear weapons.

The Chief Scientific Adviser Solly Zuckerman formally advised the Defence Secretary Denis Healey that Britain needed to install Permissive Action Links on its nuclear weapons to keep them safe.

"The Government will need to be certain that any weapons deployed are under some form of 'ironclad' control".

The Royal Navy argued that officers of the Royal Navy as the Senior Service could be trusted:

"It would be invidious to suggest... that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders".

Neither the Navy nor the RAF installed PAL protection on their nuclear weapons.

The RAF kept their unsafeguarded bombs at airbases until they were withdrawn in 1998.

Bicycle lock key

With the help of Brian Burnell - a researcher into the history of the British nuclear weapons programme who once designed bomb casings for atom bombs - Newsnight tracked down a training version of the WE 177 nuclear bomb at the Bristol Aero collection at Kemble.

Tornado and earlier V-bomber crews trained with these, which were identical in every way to the live bombs except for the nuclear warhead.

To arm the weapons you just open a panel held by two captive screws - like a battery cover on a radio - using a thumbnail or a coin.

Inside are the arming switch and a series of dials which you can turn with an Allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or groundburst and other parameters.

The Bomb is actually armed by inserting a bicycle lock key into the arming switch and turning it through 90 degrees. There is no code which needs to be entered or dual key system to prevent a rogue individual from arming the Bomb.

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