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Five Times the US Almost Nuked Itself 384

Posted by Soulskill
from the stopping-there-for-brevity dept.
kdawson writes "io9 has a scary outline of five times the US came close to accidental nuclear disasters. Quoting: 'In August of 1950, ten B-29 Superfortress bombers took off from what was then called Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base in California, headed for Guam. Each was carrying a Mark IV atom bomb, which was about twice as powerful as the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Shortly after takeoff, one of the B-29s had engine trouble. On board was General Robert Travis. He commanded the plane to turn back to the base when the landing gear refused to retract. Sensing the plane was going down, the pilot tried to avoid some base housing before crashing at the northwest corner of the base. The initial impact killed 12 of the 20 people aboard, including General Travis. The resulting fire eventually detonated the 5,000 pounds of conventional explosives that were part of the Mark IV. That massive explosion killed seven people on the ground. Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule, the immediate death toll may have reached six figures.'"
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Five Times the US Almost Nuked Itself

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  • Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:28PM (#33919340)
    In the case of the Travis accident, there was no nuclear disaster precisely because the nuclear core was not loaded. The Air Force was all too aware of the number of B-29's that crashed on or shortly after takeoff and never armed the weapons until they were close to the target area. To call this a "close call" is simply fear mongering to get page hits.
    • by ustolemyname (1301665) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:32PM (#33919354)
      Agreed. Real lesson of the article: The government is competent at risk management.
      • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by HungryHobo (1314109) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:30PM (#33919710)

        It strikes me that Tybee Island and Travis Air Force Base belong more on a "times safety systems stopped a disaster effectively exactly as they were designed to" list.

        Fermi 1 could also fall in that catagory.

        "Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule" could be replaced with "had the bomb contained a black hole or killer vampire ghost" and be about as scary. it wasn't armed for exactly that kind of situation.

        Tybee Island strikes me in a similar manner.

        • by gilleain (1310105) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @05:02PM (#33919882)

          "Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule" could be replaced with "had the bomb contained a black hole or killer vampire ghost" and be about as scary. it wasn't armed for exactly that kind of situation.

          Wait, wait, wait.... So you're saying that the US has bombs with vampire ghost payloads now? AND black holes?!!

        • Pretty much.

          This article could be summarized as: "Five times during the cold war, dead people almost turned into zombies and reeked havoc. But fortunately, they stayed dead." - It's nonsense and worthless fear mongering. I can't believe this was even approved by /.

          • Well the NORAD one was valid.
            but then there's certainly a lot about that they're leaving out to make it more dramatic.

        • by Cylix (55374) * on Saturday October 16, 2010 @05:32PM (#33920058) Homepage Journal

          Actually, had the bomb been self aware we would have been in a bit more trouble.

          Sentient beings that are locked away in seclusion often develop depression. In fact, given that most people would rather not carry on a conversation with a sentient nuclear weapon this would have been doubly bad. I suspect at some point our self aware nuclear being would have turned suicidal at some point. Unfortunately, in this case he really could have taken them all with him.

          If you ask me... that is something to be really afraid of... if it happened.

      • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @05:14PM (#33919946)

        Pretty much all this shows is that, at least when it comes to nukes, the safety systems are pretty good. Almost nuking yourself means something like "The bomb was going to detonate, but a technician was able to defuse it in time." Not "A bomb was in a perfectly safe condition when the airplane it was on crashed and the bomb did not go off."

        Even the NORAD incident. It wasn't a case of one lone guy staving off a nuclear strike while his superiors yelled for launch (as happened in the Soviet Union). It looked like an attack was happening, so things went to high alert. Everyone was ready. What did they do? They WAITED FOR CONFIRMATION. When it turned out that it was a false alarm, they stood down. That is precisely how things should happen. They didn't ignore ti and go "Eh, probably just a bug," but they didn't go full out WW3 for no reason. On the warning, everything got ready to go, but confirmation was needed. For that matter, even had there been confirmation an order would still have been needed.

        To me, looks like the US has pretty damn good nuclear safeguards. If the best "almosts" they can find were things when nothing even came close to actually going wrong that is good.

        Hell look on the civilian side, at Three Mile Island. The "Worst nuclear disaster in US history." Even with a rather major screwup making the problem so much worse, something the NRC discovered, it still didn't release any significant amount of radiation, not enough to cause any adverse health effects (and it has been studied for decades now). That's pretty fucking good, if the worst it gets is a case of "Nobody got hurt."

        • Nonono! (Score:4, Funny)

          by Chas (5144) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @07:35PM (#33920736) Homepage Journal

          You are not pushing the people's anti-nuke agenda! More fear mongering! More misinformation! MORE MORE MORE!

          "It nearly turned the Earth into another Sun!" has a much NICER ring to it!

          Now conform or your opinions are invalid! ;-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MrKaos (858439)

          To me, looks like the US has pretty damn good nuclear safeguards. If the best "almosts" they can find were things when nothing even came close to actually going wrong that is good.

          I understand why you have been modded up for your comment but reinforcing a belief system is a poor substitute for examining the facts, so let's do that now.

          Hell look on the civilian side, at Three Mile Island. The "Worst nuclear disaster in US history." Even with a rather major screwup making the problem so much worse, something

    • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:33PM (#33919358)
      But if you take that away, what will the anti-nuke people say? I mean seriously, the people that argue against nuclear whatever tend not to bother with the science and reality and focus on nightmare scenarios which already have reliable procedures in place to prevent.
      • by tsm_sf (545316) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:47PM (#33919446) Journal
        So what you're saying is that this bomb is perfectly safe?
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:01PM (#33919532)

          So what you're saying is that this bomb is perfectly safe?

          In a word, yes.

          A nuke without a pit is like a gun with neither a firing pin nor a bullet in it. Just because it's long, thin, and you can still point it at someone and say "Bang!", doesn't mean it's anything more than a metal tube.

          This article is FUD.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by flyneye (84093)

            And this post makes me think of Freud.

          • Even if it had its core inside, you can't start a runaway fission reaction by throwing the thing into a fire. They needed high-performance switching electronics to even achieve the kind of precision necessary to start a successful detonation. An atomic bomb is just a normal bomb unless the fissile material is held at critical mass for some time.

            • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:35PM (#33920428)

              Even if it had its core inside, you can't start a runaway fission reaction by throwing the thing into a fire. They needed high-performance switching electronics to even achieve the kind of precision necessary to start a successful detonation. An atomic bomb is just a normal bomb unless the fissile material is held at critical mass for some time.

              Yes. They're actually damn tricky things to detonate, that is, if you want any sort of useful yield. And they pulled it off back in 1945: the state of the art in military electronics was a far cry from what it is today.

        • by khallow (566160)

          So what you're saying is that this bomb is perfectly safe?

          Given that the Guam bomb was designed to blow up and destroy stuff, I don't think "perfectly safe" makes sense as a criteria. An analogy are guns. Guns rarely injure people while used properly. The problems are that either guns are used improperly (I gather virtually all accidental shootings are of this form) or used intentionally to kill people.

          • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow...wrought@@@gmail...com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:22PM (#33919668) Homepage Journal
            "Perfectly safe" is a quote from the Douglas Adams' short story, "Young Zaphod Plays it safe." He is sent to recover the wreck of a starship which was supposed to get rid of phenomenally awful waste. The government flunkies with him refer to everything as being, "perfectly safe," even when it is clearly not.
          • by c6gunner (950153) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:26PM (#33919690)

            Guns rarely injure people while used properly.

            Uh. I'm not sure what kind of guns you've been using, but if they're not injuring people you need to go ask for your money back.

            • by khallow (566160)

              Uh. I'm not sure what kind of guns you've been using, but if they're not injuring people you need to go ask for your money back.

              I meant guns rarely harm the user. How many cool points did I lose there?

              • by EdIII (1114411)

                How many cool points did I lose there?

                I am not sure you can take something away from nothing and still have something. I thought I figured out a way once, but I woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover and had forgotten how.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by aGuyNamedJoe (317081)

              Guns rarely injure people while used properly.

              Uh. I'm not sure what kind of guns you've been using, but if they're not injuring people you need to go ask for your money back.

              Just like with axes, eh?

                -- Lizzie

        • by sjames (1099)

          When it's fitted with the dummy pit? Still not absolutely safe since it contains RDX, but it's no worse than conventional munitions at that point.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Correction: It IS conventional munitions at that point.

      • by flyneye (84093) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:10PM (#33919586) Homepage

        Funny you should mention "anti-nuke" people and make me recall one of my fav' Pete Townsend quotes
        "I'm really for nuclear energy, but I haven't told anyone because I'm still hoping to fuck Jane Fonda" -P.T. circa 1980

    • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by gblackwo (1087063) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:33PM (#33919360) Homepage
      Seriously, It was my understanding that you could blow up bombs around the nukes and besides the explosives included with the bomb, the actual "atomic" parts were inert. This was by design, so this article should be praising how the device worked by design, not trying to spin it like OMG we almost nuked ourselves.
      • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:25PM (#33919684)

        The basic principle of a nuke is that a mass of fissionable material is put in a sufficiently small volume to create a runaway chain reaction. What makes it a bomb is that the material is "compressed" quickly enough that the beginning chain reaction does not cause most of the material to vaporize and leave the containment early. It's like the difference between a firecracker and a small amount of black powder on a piece of paper. One goes boom, the other fizzles.

        Even though a nuclear bomb will not detonate without the proper application of force through conventional explosives, it still contains plenty radioactive and highly toxic material. I would not call that "inert" at all. One "broken arrow" [wikipedia.org] incident still affects an area in Spain more than 40 years later.

        • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

          by shadowbearer (554144) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:43PM (#33920468) Homepage Journal

            One "broken arrow" incident still affects an area in Spain more than 40 years later.

            From the wiki article you linked to:

            Despite the cost and number of personnel involved in the cleanup, forty years later there remain traces of the contamination. Snails have been observed with unusual levels of radioactivity.[22] Additional tracts of land have also been appropriated for testing and further cleanup. However, no indication of health issues has been discovered among the local population in Palomares.

            This is not even remotely as bad as what would have happened had even one of the bombs been armed and gone off on impact. There would have been an actual (probably large) death toll, in that case, and considerably more contamination. There are many more much more contaminated and dangerous sites around the world, many not even having anything to do with nuclear weapons, fuel, or byproducts.

          SB

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        With the newer designs, yeah, that's how it works. Some of the older designs were a lot easier to detonate, though. The gun-type would be particularly easy to set off.

    • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by ColdBoot (89397) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:37PM (#33919390)

      Agree - I used to work on nukes - they are designed to disperse, not detonate, on anything other than a properly sequenced detonation.

      • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @05:22PM (#33919992)

        And it is kinda that way just by necessity. Turns out that a nuclear bomb isn't the easiest thing in the world to build. If it were, well then probably every asshat dictator would have a few. After all Uranium isn't all that hard to get. However you have to properly make the nuclear materials and then build a device that can detonate them. It isn't like a conventional bomb where you just use heat or electric current or something. It requires precise operation because you more or less crush the radioactive material. Timing is critical, dimensions are critical, etc. So even presuming you know how to build one, it isn't so easy to actually make it work.

        The flip side of that is they only go off if detonated properly. If you just set fire to some of the conventional explosives to cause them to go off, then it is almost impossible for it to cause the right kind of reaction to set off the nuclear bomb. Even if you don't really take any special design safe guards, it is still pretty hard to set off the nuclear explosion without meaning it.

        Of course as you noted the ones that the military actually builds are taken steps further and actually designed NOT to blow up unless special conditions are met. They make deliberate choices making it even harder for the bomb to go off unless it is on purpose. Makes sense, no military wants to nuke their own country.

    • Plus Nuke Plants... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:44PM (#33919428) Journal
      In addition nuclear plants cannot cause nuclear explosions so while the US may have come close to contaminating areas there was zero danger of a nuclear explosion in such cases.
    • by aekafan (1690920) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:45PM (#33919430)
      I would agree with this. We have come far closer to nuking ourselves through intentional political will than any accident.
    • Re:Um, not quite.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by zrbyte (1666979) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:02PM (#33919544)
      A real close call was this. [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BudAaron (1231468)
      As a past holder of TSBI and AEC Q clearances I can tell you that the idiot who wrote these stories hasn't a clue what he's talking about. Comp C burns but doesn't explode unless a detonater is used. I won't go into whether or not or when the "nuclear core" is inserted but I can tell you that without a carefully detonated implosion nothing would ever happen. The China Syndrome is science fiction so this is all fear mongering for the effect. All bull.... and I DO know what I'm talking about.
    • by Nerull (586485)

      Even if the core had been loaded, HE-implosion based nuclear bombs require incredibly precise timing of the explosives to compress the core to criticality. You could never get a nuclear detonation from a bomb in a fire. It is essentially impossible to detonate one of these unless you do it on purpose. It would have been a dirty bomb, yes, and dangerous. But 6 figure immediate death toll? Only if you have no concept of how these bombs work.

  • by VendettaMF (629699) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:29PM (#33919346) Homepage

    >> Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule, the immediate death toll may have reached six figures.

    So now we see why the bomb wasn't "armed with its fissile capsule", don't we?
    Seriously, sad about the lives lost at the time an all, but to describe this as "almost nuked America" is facetious at best. This being the example chosen to represent the articles contents (and so probably the "best" of the incidents) I see no reason to read any further.

    This is no more "nearly nuked" than the making of the movie "Broken Arrow". After all, they had props that looked like nukes in that. What if there's been a mix-up somewhere along the line? OMG! Nearly nuked America again!

    • by irtza (893217)

      Right, so you are trying to say that we need to stop Hollywood? I am all for it!

      Unfortunately, I think most people will think you are being sarcastic and I am just going for a "funny" mod. I am quite serious, but I will take the funny since people may actually get to see my post about how hollywood has gone too far and we need more exposure of indie films, but now I fear I am off topic.

  • If, if and more if (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fenresulven (516459) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:31PM (#33919352)
    Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule, the immediate death toll may have reached six figures.

    And maybe that's the reason the fissile material wasn't inserted into the bomb? And in any event I'd be very surprised if the fire caused the explosives to detonate sufficently simoultaneously to actually cause anything more than a fizzle.
    • I was going to say that, too, but some of the early bombs were gun-type devices, which are a tad more forgiving on the explosives, at a cost of being frickin' expensive to obtain the materials for, and I don't think the article specified which it was.

      • It was a Mk-4, basically an improved Fat Man design, but using a composite Uranium/Plutonium core with a levitated pit. Obviously not a gun-type. As a matter of fact I don't think the US had any gun-type devices in service during 1950, the T-1 demolition bomb was withdrawn from service before then and the Mk-8 had not yet entered production.
  • by klparrot (549422) <klparrot@nosPAm.hotmail.com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:35PM (#33919370)
    IANANP, but AFAIK a regular explosion or fire will not set off a nuclear weapon. The trigger explosion has to be carefully controlled, otherwise it'll just blow apart the nuclear material instead of compressing it to supercritical. That's why it's so hard to build a nuke. Crashing with a nuke is at worst going to spread some nuclear material over a small area, in the same way that any other material in the crash would be. No nuclear explosion.
    • by Brett Buck (811747) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:45PM (#33919434)

      That's generally true, and the only weapon ever deployed that was prone to going off in an crash was probably Little Boy (that later went off on purpose over Hiroshima). The Mark IV, however, was probably somewhat more prone to accidental detonation that any of the others, which is why the core was inserted in-flight. Later, preventing accidental detonation became a serious issue and a lot of the later tests were negative tests to ensure that the safety features worked correctly.

                Full details of each type of bomb and the underlying design can be found at : http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/ [nuclearweaponarchive.org]

                Brett

  • curious (Score:5, Funny)

    by rarel (697734) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:35PM (#33919372) Homepage
    Did they try dropping the B29 from orbit? It's the only way to be sure...
  • by orphiuchus (1146483) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:36PM (#33919382)
    This reminds me of the time the US was almost attacked by giant killer terrorist robots. Luckily, Osama didn't invent and deploy them, otherwise the death toll could have been in the 9 figures.
    • Re:Wew, thank god. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:57PM (#33919512)

      This reminds me of the time the US was almost attacked by giant killer terrorist robots. Luckily, Osama didn't invent and deploy them, otherwise the death toll could have been in the 9 figures.

      Ironically, that's kind of what happened with both the recent Times Square Bomber and the London nightclub carbomb back in 2007 - neither of the bombers built anything particularly dangerous. In both cases the bombs lacked oxidizers (and other things too) - which meant that at best they might blow the windows out of the car the bomb was in. But all the politicians were eager to make hay and said exactly the same sort of thing, "if the bomb had exploded it could have killed thousands!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by M. Baranczak (726671)

        An alternate scenario where the two bombers are not total retards and actually manage to blow some shit up seems pretty plausible. On the other hand, there's absolutely no way that an Air Force plane would be attempting a landing with an armed nuke on board. So no, not quite the same thing.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1966_Palomares_B-52_crash [wikipedia.org]

    Not one, 4 hydrogen bombs. 2 of them actually detonated on impact. Probably the worst USA nuclear weapons incident in history.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:38PM (#33919400)

    If the fission capsule were in there, it most likely would not have gone off. With a implosion bomb (fat man style, as the Mark IV was), all the explosive has to go off at the same time, to very close accurate (picoseconds). If some goes off first, it just blows the core apart instead of pushing it to supercriticality.That is, if the core weren't scattered in the crash before the fire set off the explosives anyway.

    Basically, you would have had a dirty bomb, no more.

    Now, a little boy (uranium gun-type) bomb can go off by accidentally more easily, but getting the material for those is so difficult that few are made.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NouberNou (1105915)
      Gun types are not made because they are inefficient and unsafe, not because the fissile material in them is hard to get.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      With a implosion bomb [...], all the explosive has to go off at the same time, to very close accurate (picoseconds)

      Citation needed. A good one.

      True, the timing has to be very accurate, but I'm pretty sure
      microsecond accuracy is enough, or a million times less accurate than
      your claim. I don't think detonating a chemical explosive to the
      picosecond is even possible, chemical reactions are slower than that.

      Are you maybe confusing this with the timescale of the nuclear reactions themselves?

      • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @07:25PM (#33920690)

        True, the timing has to be very accurate, but I'm pretty sure
        microsecond accuracy is enough, or a million times less accurate than
        your claim.

        http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq4-1.html#Nfaq4.1.6.2 [nuclearweaponarchive.org]

        4.1.6.2.2.6:
        'Creating a symmetric implosion wave requires close synchronization in firing the detonators. Tolerances on the order of 100 nanoseconds are required.'

        So I wouldn't go with accuracies on the order of microseconds if I were you, you're going to need nanoseconds. Looks like picoseconds is not needed though.

        I don't think detonating a chemical explosive to the
        picosecond is even possible, chemical reactions are slower than that.

        The rate of the reaction is a component of latency. Latencies, as long as they are consistent, do not alter accuracy. Even if it took 10 minues for the chemical reactions to take place, starting them with 100ns accuracy may be necessary if they must finish coincidentally to an accuracy of 100ns.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:39PM (#33919402) Homepage Journal

    So none of these times did we almost nuked our self...
    The first on in 1950 at Travis the bomb wasn't armed. AKA it had no nuclear material in it.
    So there was zero chance that we would get nuked.
    The second at Fermi 1. A reactor problem that was contained and couldn't have caused a nuclear explosion as in a bomb going off. It could have been bad but the systems worked.
    The third was another un armed bomb.
    The forth another reactor problem and again the emergency systems worked and no chance of a bomb like blast.
    The last was a when a training tap was played on real systems. Yes air craft where launched and that mistake was never made again but the the safety systems and procedures worked.
    What is this a piece of FUD? Good at scaring children ,people that will not bother to read, and those that are already full of fear mindless fear. Move on nothing to see here.

    • by Dahamma (304068) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:03PM (#33919548)

      Hah, notice the submitter - kdawson! When he isn't posting complete crap, he's submitting it :)

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Nope I missed it. Can we moderate down submitters? He is an anti-nuclear crack pot of the first order.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rahvin112 (446269)

      It is FUD. There is no doubt. As you said not a single incident in here was a potential "nuking" of the US by itself. Reactor accidents are not nuclear explosions, not by any measuring stick in the world. Anyone that says they can be equivalent to a nuclear bomb either simply doesn't understand a meltdown or is spreading FUD deliberately. The other examples are really great examples of the safety procedures that were used and why accidents didn't happen but at no time did either case represent a potential n

  • I wonder how many other times good risk management and fail-safes prevented a nuclear disaster?

    To err is human, to err without planning for eventual mistakes can be criminally negligent homicide.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or at least one of the top two.

    It has nuked itself on quite a number of occasions, often in Nevada. It hasn't done this for a long time now, but it used to.

    Scary scary oooh nuclear we're all gonna die! But somehow, against all odds, life on the planet survived the repeated nuking of Nevada. It was a slim chance! How we made it through, god only knows. Good thing luck was on our side.

    Captcha: TARGET.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      US is the most nuked country.

      1,054 tests by official count (involving at least 1,151 devices, 331 atmospheric tests), most at Nevada Test Site and the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands, with ten other tests taking place at various locations in the United States, including Amchitka Alaska, Colorado, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

      928 at Nevada Test Site, 105 atmospheric at Pacific Proving Ground, two underwater at Pacific Proving Ground, one underwater 500 miles from California.

      715 for the Soviet

  • Fear mongering? (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:05PM (#33919562)

    A an accidental detonation from a bomb twice the size dropped on Japan would not result in " immediate death toll" that " may have reached six figures".

    In 1950, the population of Fairfield was around 3000. I don't know the size of the air force base, but I don't think it was close to the 6 figure range (today it has 15K military and civilian workers, it may have been higher during the cold war). Suisun City today has a fraction of the population of Fairfield.

    Just 3km from the hypocenter of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, most structures withstood the blast and most people that were indoors survived the initial blast.

    And that bomb detonated at an altitude of 500m to maximize destruction. An accidental surface detonation in an airplane crash is going to have a much smaller destructive zone, even though the bomb is twice as powerful. So even if that bomb had detonated in the crash, there would be survivors even on the airbase itself.

    Even in a 1 megaton blast (50 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki) , there's a 75% survival rate just 7.5 miles from the blast.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/sfeature/1mtblast.html [pbs.org]

    So even if a a 1 Megaton accidental detonation occurred in the NW corner of the base today, it wouldn't cause an immediate 6 figure death toll.

    This, of course, this ignores the long term deaths and illness caused by radiation exposure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Any theorizing about the possible results of a nuclear detonation ignores the basic fact that the military wasn't incredibly stupid. The bomb wasn't armed and therefore there was no possiblity of it going off.

      Now in the bad old days "arming" the bomb did not consist of throwing a switch but actually putting the uranium or plutonium into the bomb. So there was no dependency on any sort of fail-safe mechanism. It was impossible for a crash to detonate the bomb. These things were shipped and transported ta

  • Godzilla (Score:5, Funny)

    by sjames (1099) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:23PM (#33919676) Homepage

    I was nearly incinerated by Godzilla yesterday! I remember it well. The only thing that saved me is that there was no fire and Godzilla wasn't actually there!

    Man, what a relief that was!

  • "Had the bomb been armed with its fissile capsule, the immediate death toll may have reached six figures." Says it all. Fail. Technologically illiterate dreck bereft of so much as a wisp of credibility to anyone even passingly familiar with the field. Shame.
  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:02PM (#33920202) Homepage

    The irony of the total cost of nuclear weapons by the USA is that it is about enough money (by one estimate I read) to tear down and rebuild every building in the USA twice...

    California has money problems right now -- a shortfall of, what, US$20 billion? According to here:
        http://www.statemaster.com/graph/mil_cos_of_nuc_wea-military-cost-of-nuclear-weapons [statemaster.com]
    a total of US$2,139,150,000.00 has been spent on just California's behalf on nuclear weapons in the past.

    What are we really defending here?
        http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm [lexrex.com]

    That sure would come in handy for CA right now, to have an extra two trillion dollars in their budget reserve (not to mention interest).

    As Albert Einstein said, with the advent of understanding the power of the atom, everything has changed but our way of thinking. Thus my sig below about the irony of such advanced ultra-powerful tools of abundance in the hands of those obsessed with fighting over perceived scarcity.
        http://www.pdfernhout.net/recognizing-irony-is-a-key-to-transcending-militarism.html [pdfernhout.net]

"Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberrys!" -- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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