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The Military

40 Years Ago, the US Lost a Nuclear Bomb 470

Posted by kdawson
from the chrome-dome-down dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "A BBC investigation has found that in 1968 the US abandoned a nuclear weapon beneath the ice in northern Greenland after a nuclear-armed B52 crashed on the ice a few miles from Thule Air Base. The Stratofortress disintegrated on impact with the sea ice and parts of it began to melt through to the fjord below. The high explosives surrounding the four nuclear weapons on board detonated without setting off the nuclear devices, which had not been armed by the crew. The Pentagon maintained that all four weapons had been 'destroyed' and while technically true, investigators piecing together fragments from the crash could only account for three of the weapons. Investigators found that 'something melted through ice such as burning primary or secondary.' A subsequent search by a US submarine was beset by technical problems and, as winter encroached and the ice began to freeze over, the search was abandoned. 'There was disappointment in what you might call a failure to return all of the components,' said a former nuclear weapons designer at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory. 'It would be very difficult for anyone else to recover classified pieces if we couldn't find them.'"
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40 Years Ago, the US Lost a Nuclear Bomb

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  • by cthulu_mt (1124113) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:09AM (#25719097)
    Operation Thunderball is a success.
  • If this scenario didn't occur on the TV show "24" it well could have. Life imitates art or vice versa?
  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:13AM (#25719129)
    Just send in Christian Slater to recover it. It'll only take him a few hours, with the additional bonus that movie footage of the recovery mission will make for a great action movie once the evil John Travolta tries to steal it.
    • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:26AM (#25719977) Journal

      Just send in Christian Slater to recover it. It'll only take him a few hours, with the additional bonus that movie footage of the recovery mission will make for a great action movie once the evil John Travolta tries to steal it.

      Hey, cut John Travolta some slack. He just wants to get his hands on a thermonuclear weapon so he can give Xenu a taste of his own medicine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:14AM (#25719137)

    Wonder if Sarah Palin can see it from her house.

  • by mnslinky (1105103) * on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:18AM (#25719173) Homepage

    From a unnamed news source:

    The pentagon assures us that the nuke is currently protected by sharks, with what are described as high-energy weapons. Our correspondent has confirmed the high-energy weapons are, indeed, lasers.

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:18AM (#25719175)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tybee_Bomb [wikipedia.org]

    And it's far more conveniently located (somewhere off the coast of Georgia). No need to go diving somewhere in the Arctic!

  • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:19AM (#25719193) Homepage

    This sort of national irresponsibility needs to stop, right now.

    I realise these events happened a little while ago now but nonetheless just what the hell did the USA think it was doing flying nuclear bombs around outside their own borders in the first place, this was, it can now be seen, a completely indefensible and irrepsonsible course of action and one for which the USA should now make a full apology.

    The best course of action now is for the USA to hand over full documentation of the accident to a responsible and trustworthy country, France for example, and let them conduct an investigation to first of all try and find this nuclear timebomb and second of all to assign blame and set up the process for trying those who are guilty and punishing them appropriately.

    Now the USA is at least out of the hands of the mad cowboy and we've good reason to hope Obamas administration will behave far more honourably we can hope their will be no repeats of this disaster but nonetheless until we in the rest of the civilised world can be sure of that the EU should impose regular nuclear inspections on the USA just to double check the same terrible mistakes are not being made today.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by icebrain (944107)

      "Completely indefensible and irresponsible?" Those nuclear bombs stationed outside US borders (and the US nuclear stockpile in general) were probably the only thing keeping the Soviets from rolling their tanks all the way to Paris. And if you think US imperialism is bad, try living under the Soviet version.

      The US (USAF?) does need a major overhaul of its nuclear handling policies; this crap would've never flown under SAC. You can pin that one on Clinton, and it's certainly stupid to blame this particula

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by icebrain (944107)

        Ooops, forgot... when I blame Clinton, it's for eliminating SAC and starting the ball rolling the latest incidents (live warheads flown on bombers without knowledge, missile crews asleep, etc.). Obviously he's not responsible for this particular incident, either.

      • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:43AM (#25719429)

        The US (USAF?) does need a major overhaul of its nuclear handling policies; this crap would've never flown under SAC. You can pin that one on Clinton,

        Yes, because everybody knows Clinton was in power in 1968.

      • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:13AM (#25719819) Homepage Journal

        Those nuclear bombs stationed outside US borders (and the US nuclear stockpile in general) were probably the only thing keeping the Soviets from rolling their tanks all the way to Paris. And if you think US imperialism is bad, try living under the Soviet version.

        - you may believe this, but this is just a bunch of propaganda that was pushed into the throats of the US citizens to make sure they shut the fuck up and only cheer as the US pushed their weaponry into every possible hole in the world.

        Stalin was a maniac, that can be said with certainty, however after his death the USSR quickly got away from the idea of 'spreading the communism' onto the rest of the world and just tried to survive in its own planned economy. It was already the biggest country in the world (even now Russia is almost twice as large as the next contender, Canada) and holding onto that territory with hundreds of nations living on it was a challenge in itself, adding more territory with people who had completely different mentality would not work and it was understood.

        • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:41AM (#25720191) Journal

          Stalin was a maniac, that can be said with certainty, however after his death the USSR quickly got away from the idea of 'spreading the communism' onto the rest of the world and just tried to survive in its own planned economy

          ... while continuing to occupy Eastern Europe and crushing any attempts by those countries to leave the orbit of Mother Russia.

          Fixed that for you.

          • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:05AM (#25720501) Homepage Journal

            But you are just confirming my statement. After the death of Stalin there was no new conquests, no new territories. Afghanistan was an attempt at showing off, also an attempt to stop the inflow of drugs into the 3 USSR republics bordering it. The same cannot be said about the USA that was and still is in constant state of war. USA was and is the main international aggressor for the past 60 years, whether the US people understand this or not, they should try and look at their own country the way the rest of the world sees it from the outside.

            • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:25AM (#25720795) Journal

              But you are just confirming my statement. After the death of Stalin there was no new conquests, no new territories

              I'm sure you'd find that comforting if you lived in Poland or Hungary during the Cold War.

              Afghanistan was an attempt at showing off, also an attempt to stop the inflow of drugs into the 3 USSR republics bordering it

              Wait a minute, you are rationalizing the USSR's intervention in Afghanistan because of the drug trade? So by your logic the US was well within our rights to intervene in Panama in 1989 (Operation Just Cause), right?

              USA was and is the main international aggressor for the past 60 years

              The US engaged in a number of questionable activities during the Cold War, mostly due to the perceived threat of Communism. It's a bit of a leap to say that the US was the "main international aggressor" though and I find it pretty troubling that you can rationalize aggression by the USSR but condemn it when done by the United States.

              Your arguments aren't consistent with each other and it seems to me that you are more interested in condemning the United States than in having an honest dialog about the military history of the 20th century.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Poruchik (1004331)
              What about Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968?
            • by SirWhoopass (108232) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:53PM (#25722213)

              Really? The "main international aggressor for the past 60 years"?

              Yeah. I can't think of a single [wikipedia.org] instance [wikipedia.org] of any [wikipedia.org] other [wikipedia.org] nation [wikipedia.org] doing [wikipedia.org] anything [wikipedia.org] aggressive [wikipedia.org] over [wikipedia.org] the [wikipedia.org] past [wikipedia.org] sixty [wikipedia.org] years [wikipedia.org].

              And we all know about those massive amounts of territory the US has added to its borders since 1948.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Stalin was a maniac, that can be said with certainty, however after his death the USSR quickly got away from the idea of 'spreading the communism' onto the rest of the world and just tried to survive in its own planned economy.

          Yeah, yeah.

          Korea 1950
          Hungary 1956
          Vietname 1965
          Israel 1967
          Czechoslovakia 1968
          Afghanistan 1979

    • It would be very difficult for anyone else to recover classified pieces if we couldn't find them

      That really reassures me because, there is no way a madman/terrorist/rouge leader, who has no nuclear warheads, would be more determined than the US ,that has plenty, to find it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nursie (632944)

      "just what the hell did the USA think it was doing flying nuclear bombs around outside their own borders in the first place"

      Whilst I agree it doesn't seem right, it's not a lot different from some other defence strategies. Us Brits, IIRC, have a number of nuclear submarines out and about around the world at any one time. This is for MAD purposes. You may learn where our nuclear bases are and take them out in the same nuking run as you take our cities.

      But if we have subs with ICBMs on random paths through th

  • by Polarina (1389203) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:23AM (#25719237) Homepage
    It's only a matter of time before Al-Qaida finds the lost bombs.
  • by plover (150551) * on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:23AM (#25719241) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps this can somehow be used to demonstrate that nuclear waste can be safely disposed of in the ocean floor? There have been serious proposals for disposing of waste in holes drilled hundreds of feet beneath the seabed in especially deep water.

    I know this is unpopular with the anti-nuclear crowd, but a "real demo" may provide useful data.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dasunt (249686)

      Perhaps this can somehow be used to demonstrate that nuclear waste can be safely disposed of in the ocean floor? There have been serious proposals for disposing of waste in holes drilled hundreds of feet beneath the seabed in especially deep water.

      You don't need to drill -- just find soft seafloor and shape the waste to imbed itself into the ground.

      The major technical problem is that a few decades down the road, you might want to reuse the waste. Sea floor retrieval is slightly more problematic.

    • by jsoderba (105512) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:53AM (#25719557)

      Thermonuclear bombs are composed of a small amount of mildly radioactive uranium-235 and tritium, and larger amounts of minimally radioactive uranium-238 and stable lithium deuteride. The fission products that make up the most dangerous form of radioactive waste are far more dangerous, so this bomb would not provide much useful data about waste disposal.

      In any event we don't really need more research. We already know that the best solution is to put it in a geologically stable and dry mountain.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DougWebb (178910)

        No, the best solution for dealing with highly radioactive nuclear waste is to burn it in a modern reactor design until we've extracted nearly all of the energy from it. The remainder is much lower volume, much less radioactive, and has a much shorter halflife. After a few hundred years, it'd be no more radioactive than the ground, so it'd be ok if it got out of storage and was sprinkled around at that point.

        The reactors we currently use in the US are kind of like filling your car's tank with gas, driving a

    • by NatasRevol (731260) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:58AM (#25719607) Journal

      Nobody wants Godzilla showing up in 50 years.

      It's just too terrifying a possibility.

      Especially if there's a commercial tie-in & jingle.

  • The six-step plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:31AM (#25719305)
    1. Hide one of them
    2. Take off with the three others and a dummy
    3. Cause a plane crash
    4. Find parts of the three
    5. Claim the fourth is beneath the ice
    6. Profit
  • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:37AM (#25719367)

    One of the BBC articles maintains that the US did not tell Denmark about both the nuclear bombs used in Chrome Dome missions, and the fact that they lost one.

    Greenland is a self-governing province of Denmark but the carrying of nuclear weapons over Danish territory was kept secret.

    But the real purpose of this search was deliberately hidden from Danish officials.

    One document from July reads: "Fact that this operation includes search for object or missing weapon part is to be treated as confidential NOFORN", the last word meaning not to be disclosed to any foreign country.

    The other article says:

    Denmark did not co-operate with the parliament's petitions committee, and is still refusing to release key environmental radiation records made of Thule at the time.

    The Danish government had always denied that nuclear-armed US planes were flying over Danish-controlled Greenland - until the crash occurred.

    And according to Ms Wallis, it is still trying to brush a difficult issue under the carpet.

    Which at least implies that the Danish government knew but was trying to keep a lid on it.

    So which is it?

  • the ice began to freeze over

    Damn, Greenland is cold!

  • Meh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:49AM (#25719513) Journal

    Chances are the device was no longer operational after the crash. And, if they are correct that "The high explosives surrounding the four nuclear weapons on board detonated", then the device is probably in a large number of very small pieces.

    • Double meh (Score:3, Insightful)

      by patio11 (857072)

      Why worry about a lost bomb which a first world nation can't get to without a major national project. First world nations don't need lost bombs to achieve nuclear capability.

      You worry about nuclear material when it can be had for a case of cigarettes and a bottle of vodka by any idiot with a truck to cart it away. Though the seabed makes for a much better movie plot.

  • Not the only one (Score:5, Informative)

    by toby (759) * on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:09AM (#25719765) Homepage Journal

    In 1966, a nuclear armed B52 crashed [google.ca] over Palomares Spain, scattering radioactive material from multiple bombs, each 100 times more powerful than those which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The most serious reported [about.com] accident in the U.S. Military's nuclear history took place in Palomares, Spain on Jan. 17, 1966 when a B-52 loaded with four nuclear bombs suffered a mid-air collision with a KC-135 refueling plane. All four bombs were ejected from the B-52 in the crash. One was recovered on the ground and a second from the sea after a long and difficult search. However, the high explosive packages of the other two bombs detonated on impact with the ground. While the nuclear payloads of the bombs did not detonate, over 1,400 tons of surrounding soil and vegetation were contaminated with radioactive materials. The US conducted an extensive cleanup of the area under the scrutiny of the Spanish government.

  • more losses (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spike21 (1404749) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:13AM (#25719815)
    5 February 1958: An Air Force B-47 Stratojet from Homestead AFB was on a simulated combat mission when the plane collided with an F-86 Sabre near Savannah, Georgia. The B-47 was carrying one Mk 15 hydrogen bomb without its core at the time of the accident. The plane made three unsuccessful landing attempts at Hunter Air Force Base before the weapon was jettisoned over the Atlantic Ocean to avoid the risk of a high explosive detonation at the base. The bomb was dropped several miles from the mouth of the Savannah River in Wassaw Sound off Tybee Island. Though an intensive nine-week search was launched using divers and sonar equipment, the weapon was never found. Another unsuccessful search was mounted in 2001, and reports of radiation detected less than a mile from shore led to speculation of the bomb's discovery in 2004. Further investigation concluded the radioactivity was naturally occurring and the weapon remains missing. http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/weapons/q0268.shtml [aerospaceweb.org]
  • by Landshark17 (807664) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:15AM (#25719841)
    "It would be very difficult for anyone else to recover classified pieces if we couldn't find them."

    I'll take famous last words for $1000, Alex...


    Also highly amused the quote at the bottom of the page is from Stanley Kubrick, director of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb.
  • Reminded me of this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archon-X (264195) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:42AM (#25720193)

    http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=297#more-297 [damninteresting.com]

    Another amazing history of WWII era relics trapped under the ice (but they got them back!)

  • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @10:55AM (#25720371)
    To this day, the USA alone have admitted losing 92 nuclear bombs.

    This doesn't count those that were recovered in sometimes very expensive operations:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palomares_hydrogen_bombs_incident [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Have a cite for the 92 number? The usual number given is a fraction of that, 11.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Have a cite for the 92 number? The usual number given is a fraction of that, 11.

        I'm sorry, I mixed up "known lost bombs" and "US bombs" - the 92 includes (a lot of) sowjet ones:
        http://www.genecurtis.com/LostNuclearBombs.htm [genecurtis.com]

        It probably is more than 11 though, don't confuse "number of incidents" with "number of warheads",
        one of the acronyms to look up here is MIRV [wikipedia.org].

  • it's ok (Score:4, Funny)

    by confused one (671304) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:19AM (#25720693)
    the remains of the primary will turn up in 50 to 100 years, just sitting on top of the ground where the ice used to be... We'll pick it up then.
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @11:29AM (#25720851)
    These are just people who are trying to rip some money off the 'system'. If they really were poisoned, then they would have died years ago. Callous yes, but a simple truth.
  • Another Lost Nuke (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:00PM (#25721353)

    We lost a family member in 1962 whose body, nor aircraft, nor the nuclear weapons on board were never recovered.
            In the past few years there is some news that some pilots who went down in the Pacific were captured by Soviet patrols. That leaves it as an unknown whether our family member survived as well as unknown as to whether his plane or the weapons on board were recovered by the Soviets or other nations. Odds are that our family member perished immediately. We will never know for certain.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev

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