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The Military Government Transportation Technology

Nuclear Truckers Haul Warheads Across US 461

Hugh Pickens writes "As you weave through interstate traffic, you're unlikely to notice a plain-looking Peterbilt tractor-trailer or have any idea that inside the cab an armed federal agent operates a host of electronic countermeasures to keep outsiders from accessing his heavily armored cargo: a nuclear warhead. Adam Weinstein writes that the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) employs nearly 600 couriers to move bombs, weapon components, radioactive metals for research, and fuel for Navy ships and submarines between a variety of labs, reactors and military bases. Hiding nukes in plain sight and rolling them through major metropolitan centers raises a slew of security and environmental concerns, from theft to terrorist attack to radioactive spills. 'Any time you put nuclear weapons and materials on the highway, you create security risks,' says Tom Clements, a nuclear security watchdog for Friends of the Earth. For security, cabs are fitted with custom composite armor and lightweight armored glass, a redundant communications system that links the convoys to a monitoring center in Albuquerque, and the driver has the ability to disable the truck so it can't be moved or opened. The OST hires military veterans, particularly ex-special-operations forces (PDF), who are trained in close-quarters battle, tactical shooting, physical fitness, and shifting smoothly through the gears of a tractor-trailer. But accidents happen. In 1996, a driver flipped his trailer on a two-lane Nebraska hill road after a freak ice storm, sending authorities scrambling to secure its payload of two nuclear bombs; and in 2003, two trucks operated by private contractors had rollover accidents in Montana and Tennessee while hauling uranium hexafluoride, a compound used to enrich reactor and bomb fuel."
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Nuclear Truckers Haul Warheads Across US

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  • Accidents happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:15AM (#39097979) Journal

    Even the inventors of nuclear bombs didn't want the damned things to exist. They knew they were possible and somebody would invent them - so they did. Oppenheimer said afterward that on watching a nuclear test he was reminded of a verse from the Hindu scripture: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

    So we don't like these things. We don't want them to have to exist, but they do. And they've got to be moved around, which means over the roads we have. If you shovel enough shit, eventually you get dirty. Shit happens.

  • Re:Trains? (Score:4, Informative)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:25AM (#39097997)

    I guess that the predictability of the transport route would matter in this case.

    Mmmm... but the article has a map showing which interstate highways are used. As the article suggests, the greatest danger is the weather and bad driving (and I would add other vehicles as a high risk). Those risks are much, much lower with trains.

  • Re:Accidents happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:27AM (#39098003)

    "Even the inventors of nuclear bombs didn't want the damned things to exist."

    Nope. Read "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", it's a wonderful book. It describes the history and development of the bomb.

    Some of the scientists were quite eager to create it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:45AM (#39098063)

    The way I heard it is that nuclear non-proliferation treaties that the US has signed to limit the number of warheads in its arsenal. However warheads in transit do not count towards this total, and in the interests of security the US is not obliged to reveal how many warheads it has in transit at any one time or where they are going. By keeping a percentage of it arsenal perpetually driving around the US, the US government can effectively sidestep nuclear warhead limits imposed by non-proliferation treaties.

    Bogus. Read the treaties. Here's a good place to start:

    The reason is that it's far cheaper than flying them around, not to mention that an airplane crash is far more likely to cause either widespread contamination than a semitruck flipping over. The trailers can be designed to contain the materials compeltely at the energies involved - what are they going to do on an aircraft, put the nuclear materials inside a giant "black box"? (-;

    Another risk involved with transporting them by air is that there's a much higher chance of them getting lost. There are in fact a good number of warheads buried in inaccessible locations because of aircraft mishaps, including a few in the CONUS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:34AM (#39098223)

    In the UK, nuclear weapon convoys are unmistakable, and they are incredibly heavily guarded. The weapons are carried in armoured articulated lorries, but they are accompanied by escorts from the police, the nuclear constabulary, the regular army, the marines, decoy trucks, recovery tow vehicles, fire tenders...

      Regional roads are closed entirely for them while they pass by, patrolled by police on foot. Nothing is allowed to block their way. They don't stop.

    This is how you're supposed to do it.

  • Meh (Score:3, Informative)

    by fireylord ( 1074571 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:35AM (#39098229)
    I take it neither you or the (somewhat sensationalist) gp have any inkling of just how well physically protected the load is in these situations?
  • Re:How's it feel (Score:5, Informative)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:37AM (#39098237)
    Uranium hexafluride is nasty stuff just in chemical terms.
  • Re:Accidents happen (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:41AM (#39098251)

    You forget that the damned things are made to be aborted after launch and come down with minimal scattering and no explosion.

  • Re:How's it feel (Score:4, Informative)

    by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:44AM (#39098277) Journal

    Regarding the detonating bit - even if there was an accident and the detonator were left on (we'll ignore malice for the moment), it'd be more likely to prevent the bomb from ever exploding "interestinglyl" without some serious extra work, than to make it accidentally explode. One of the things I learned in first year physics - in general, once uranium gets to critical mass or above, it explodes quickly, and without a lot of external pressure, set up "just right", the explosion won't be enough to do more than destroy a small room. In such an accident, the detonator (itself a bomb), would do more damage, I think.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:55AM (#39098323) Homepage

    For civiil nuclear transport anyway, don't know about weapons. Here's a video of them testing one of the nuclear containers: []

  • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:39AM (#39098495)
    The US convoys are better protected than suggested by this article. When I lived in Knoxville, I was encouraged by an acquaintance to apply for one of these escort jobs when I complained about how little I was paid as a university teacher. Apparently he was in the process of applying, or was being courted to apply, as a combat veteran. Anyway, the work he described to me indicated a great deal of heavily-armed protection that was kept covert. He was able to send me to a website of a company that produced some of the vehicles used for escort duty; the ones I saw there had concealed mounts for remotely-operated miniguns. I don't have first-hand knowledge, and I'm presuming that my acquaintance also did not. I was relieved, actually, given the rumors I often heard about suspicious characters trying to monitor waste, parts, and weapons shipments out of Oak Ridge.
  • Re:How's it feel (Score:5, Informative)

    by tigersha ( 151319 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:51AM (#39098551) Homepage

    a) NaCL does not decompose to HF Gas when exposed to moisture, and HydroFluoric Acid is VERY corrosive
    b) NaCl is not radioactive

    Ain't the same hazard level here.

  • by ragefan ( 267937 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:27AM (#39098695)

    Except that the longest distance in Great Britain is ~600 miles North to South, that is roughly distance from New York City to Cincinnati. It is still another 2100 miles from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. The amount of coordination required to get all of that escort in place to move nuclear material from coast-to-coast means just about everyone would know when these trucks were moving.

  • Re:Accidents happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:33AM (#39098725) Homepage Journal

    and forced peace upon us all,

    You have an extremely... american definition of "us all".

    There have been (depending on how you count) around 150-200 wars since 1945. At least 10 mio. people have died in only the 5 largest of these (Korea, Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Sudan, Congo).

    The only parts of the world that have been largely peaceful since WW2 are Western Europe and the USA.

  • by Rostin ( 691447 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:10AM (#39098945)
    Except they aren't. Even the submitted articles, tendentious as they are, admit that the trucks are not ordinary. They are also under constant escort by a pair of SUVs that contain god knows what, which the articles omit for whatever reason. Beyond that, I'd say the concerns over Pakistan stem as much from this..

    Pakistan is an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea.

    ..(From the first article you linked to, FYI) than from any superficial similarities in the ways that the US and Pakistan transport nuclear materials.

  • Silly motorists... (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:21AM (#39099037)

    You thought the interstate highway system was built for civilian purposes?

  • Re:How's it feel (Score:5, Informative)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:33AM (#39099129) Homepage Journal

    "b) NaCl is not radioactive"
    But your granite countertops and or any granite buildings you go into and or any granite mountain you happen to be near is.

    Uranium is just not that radioactive. It isn't like cobalt 60 or any of the real scary stuff.

  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @11:24AM (#39099561)

    The main push for the Interstate Highway System was to provide the military access to roads they deemed critical for national defense. []

  • Re:How's it feel (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @11:54AM (#39099811) Homepage Journal

    Radiation aside, Uranium and many of its compounds are chemically toxic. Fail.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @12:07PM (#39099929) Homepage Journal

    But my eyes would water and it'd run down my face and then I'd be able to taste it.

    That's why God didn't put your mouth above your eyes, obviously. In case you get a lethal does of salt right in the mush.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @02:28PM (#39101483) Journal

    they certainly had the ability and the will to overrun Western Europe- and arguably they still do

    I very much doubt that. Russian military might is mostly a legacy of the USSR, and it has to be maintained to remain effective - and it was pretty much not maintained at all throughout the 90s, and is still way behind schedule in that regard today.

    More importantly, what was state of the art 30 years ago is rapidly aging today. USSR, of course, had R&D in place to upgrade its weapons, but a great deal of it died when it crumbled. Some of it was salvaged, but only in very limited quantities. For example, Tu-160, which was planned for mass production - 16 units are operational today, all originally built in the USSR. Attack helicopters - Mi-28 and Ka-50/52 were both meant as a Soviet answer to Apache - and there's less than 80 operational today in Russian army, so it has to rely on Mi-24 which is not well suited for that role.

    In some categories, Russian army has little to no development or operational expertise, because Soviet research programs didn't get far enough before they were aborted. UAVs are one particularly sore point - USSR had a few reconnaissance ones, but even those are hopelessly outdated; and no UAVs with strike capabilities at all. Attempts to develop one inside the country didn't yield any good results, so ultimately they've decided to purchase the design from Israel, and manufacture it internally.

    Even when it comes to infantry weapons, Russian troops have to hump around with AK-74 in its stock configuration - crappy ergonomics, basic iron sights, and no modularity - for the lack of money to upgrade, all while shipping AK-103 to Venezuela (because they pay!) - and only this year we've seen a prototype of AK-12, which is meant to be the next-gen infantry rifle.

    There's also the lack of any ideology that would back the will to fight. In USSR, communism was that. In today's Russia, there's no equivalent, though there are half-hearted attempts to come up with something. Now, mind you, if the country is attacked, that won't matter - a threat from outside is unifier enough. But for some conquest abroad, you need an ideological platform to support it as just.

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