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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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  • Trains? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:14AM (#39097971)

    Why not use trains, at least for most of the journey? The chance of an accident is much smaller.

  • Re:Trains? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by St.Creed ( 853824 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:15AM (#39097977)

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

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:30AM (#39098029)

    Why would it feel any different than trucking a couple of thousand bees? Or oil? Or some potentially dangerous material?

    Nuclear warheads and uranium don't just up and spontaneously explode y'know.

  • by dell623 ( 2021586 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:54AM (#39098091)

    What exactly is the point of this piece? To inform us that heavily armoured and secured nuclear cargo moves across the U.S, is that such a massive surprise? 'Tom Clements' is not a 'nuclear security watchdog', he is an anti nuclear activist, working for the heavily anti nuclear lobby group called Friends of the Earth. It is extremely disingenuous to present him as an expert, by definition he has no clue about the kind of security concerns involved. His comments suggest that the 'nuclear weapons on the highway' are armed devices that would go off if the driver goes in the wrong lane or takes a sharp turn. A terrorist capable of breaking through the kind of defences these trucks have would be able to cause a lot more damage by directing those efforts towards the nearest busy downtown area. There is nothing to suggest that there was any security breach in any of the incidents mentioned, that the security arrangements didn't work as intended and that any lives were put at risk.

  • Placards (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smurd ( 48976 ) * on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:55AM (#39098095)

    I hope they have their own cleanup and recovery team following them at all times. Since the pictures show a truck with no placards, any normal Emergency Services team must be deemed expendable.

  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:59AM (#39098101)

    What world are you living in? Nuclear weapons didn't bring peace, they brought subterfuge as conflicts between the US and the USSR had to be fought between proxy nations with "aid". It's quite easy to claim that the US and the USSR was at war several times without public acknowledgement.

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

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:09AM (#39098131) Homepage

    I would be a lot more worried about the tankers transporting chlorine or any other kind of hazardous aggressive material. The nuclear material is usually contained very well to withstand normal accidents.

    And not much is likely to happen if a nuclear warhead was involved in an accident since it requires a detonator which should have been removed before transport if proper procedures have been followed.

    The thing you should worry about the most is if someone decides to hijack the cargo. Or the newspaper headlines printing that you had an accident involving a warhead.

  • LIMITED war (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coder111 ( 912060 ) <coder@rrmail.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:27AM (#39098191)
    Total war on big scale hasn't happened since WW2. No other war has come anywhere close with the scale of casualties and destruction. How high is the chance that USA and USSR would have fought it out on full scale if not for nuclear weapons? Or else, how high is the chance that USSR would have overran western Europe and USA wouldn't have been able to do much about it.

    There has been no major war between world powers, and we have nuclear weapons to thank for that. No matter how much we hate them.

  • by Stickerboy ( 61554 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:29AM (#39098201) Homepage

    I heard about this some years ago, and the reason was rather sinister.

    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.

    Given that the United States, under current treaty limits, has thousands of warheads more than it needs to demolish every potential adversary in the world several times over, such a conspiracy would be both ridiculous and a huge waste of resources. What would keeping 50 more secret warheads traveling as a security risk accomplish when you have more than 5,000 already on hand?

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

    by Dan541 ( 1032000 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:08AM (#39098383) Homepage

    Yup, this article is just more anti-nuclear scaremongering.

    Just wait, next thing we know Greenpeace will be setting up roadblocks.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <> on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:31AM (#39098467) Homepage Journal

    It brought war to its obvious conclusion, and eliminated all delusions around the topic, and attached a stigma to warring nations that didn't exist before, and forced peace upon us all, even those who didn't want it.

    Actually that was mainly thanks to Europe. Having just been through a second all-out war we didn't want a third and we made that happen through political means. War was not just impractical, it was unthinkable between western European nations. Combined with a UN that was far more effective than anything which came before it became virtually impossible to have any kind of major war between developed nations.

  • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:37AM (#39098481)

    This is how you're supposed to do it.

    I agree, but unfortunately that's a much more expensive proposition when the country in question is the size of the US.

  • Re:Trains? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:05AM (#39098603) Journal

    That can be mitigated in ways. On the train manifest, the particular container (I would imagine that if they sent this kind of stuff, it's specialized handling container would be in a standard ISO container) can be flagged as a "hot to chassis" delivery, which gets unloaded with priority. They unhook the car, roll it to a sidetrack, pull the container off the rail frame with a rubber-tire gantry, and drop it on a highway chassis. The truck then hooks up, and drives out the gate.

    None of this, however, prevents the problem of trains being very obvious, and not having the ability to change their route easily, nor the ability to change timing without screwing over every other train scheduled to use that section of track.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:40AM (#39098755) Homepage Journal

    This is how you're supposed to do it.

    Like everything in security, it depends on your threat scenario.

    Among other things, leaving the UK is a lot easier and faster than leaving the USA. If the UK loses a warhead, it can be out of the country within a few hours on average. Losing a nuke is bad. Having to recover it out of foreign territory, even of a friendly nation, is a diplomatic nightmare.

  • by coder111 ( 912060 ) <coder@rrmail.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:07AM (#39098919)
    ICBMs are expensive. Very expensive. And carrying conventional payload they wouldn't be able to do much damage, as they aren't that accurate.

    I do agree that USSR didn't have the capability to invade America, but they certainly had the ability and the will to overrun Western Europe- and arguably they still do. I doubt USA had the capability to invade European part of USSR, but I think invasion of Vladivostok would have been possible.

    Our mentality was shaped by the threat of nuclear war, so we don't even consider the war between major powers. Maybe the leaders would have been much more hawkish over the last 70 years without this threat? Given that due to human errors and miscommunication we almost came to "hot" war even with nuclear weapons on several occasions, it's much more likely the war would have broken out without them.

    Anyway, back on topic. I think this article is mainly anti-nuclear scare mongering. I don't see much wrong with transporting nuclear materials and weapons with trucks, as long as appropriate precautions are taken. And it looks like they are being taken. And I really doubt there are enough terrorist with enough training and equipment on US soil to mount a successful attack and steal nuclear materials or weapons and get away with them.

  • by coder111 ( 912060 ) <coder@rrmail.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:18AM (#39099007)
    For the budget of Iraq war, we could have had a functional colony on Mars RIGHT NOW. For the price of stimulus package, how high a percentage of our economy would be running on renewable energy?

    Free Market is a TERRIBLE way to distribute resources. It optimizes corporate profits and personal greed and rewards quarter thinking. It does not promote advancement of society, but only of small number of people. Free Market does NOT encourage investment in risky long term enterprises. And by doing hard and risky long term projects is how we can advance the humanity. Corporate governorship is all about preserving profits and status quo- they will not invest in disruptive technology and will interfere with others trying to emerge any technology that threatens them. And we need disruptive technologies if we are going to survive next 100 years when we run out of cheap oil and easily accessible freshwater, and agriculture becomes much much more difficult.

    I don't know how the world should be governed, but it should definitely not be governed by corporate lobbyism.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:49AM (#39099247)

    I dunno, Tom. Korea and Vietnam are rather good examples the grandparent commenter's point. MacArthur urged the president to allow him to surge into China -- which would have greatly expanded the conflict. The US and USSR had a proxy war in Vietnam (and Afghanistan in the 1980s, for that matter) without things escalating between them. These are precisely the sorts of conflicts that helped trigger WWI and WWII, and the threat of nuclear war ties the hands of the great powers. Not saying I like it, but he seems to have a point.

  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @10:50AM (#39099259) Journal

    He has no clue about the security involved because he is an anti-nuclear activist and thus not privy to the full security measures being taken. An anti-nuclear activist, by definition, does not have access to the full security procedures used to secure nuclear material and most especially nuclear weapons as such information is classified and provided on a "need to know" basis, and he does not have a "need to know".

    You would want to know about their dangers, but you would not be able to get any information that is classified. And, even knowing their dangers, you would not necessarily know about the safety and security procedures. And, as you would be an anti-nuclear activist, you would be guaranteed to be playing up the dangers while downplaying or out-right ignoring the safety and security protocols and procedures.

  • by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @01:19PM (#39100729)
    That's the difference - in most countries the "mass produced swill" is fucking awesome. You don't have to go seek out a great beer in, say, Germany - wherever you stop for a drink will most likely have one. Try that in the US :)

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith