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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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  • by NimbleSquirrel ( 587564 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:34AM (#39098035)
    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.
  • Re:Trains? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:46AM (#39098065)

    Hundreds or thousands of trucks go through a given stretch of interstate highway every day. Trains operate at a much smaller volume with fairly precise schedules and predictability. While it's not impossible to secure a train, its still a higher risk given the above mentioned facts. A terrorist could study train logistics and plausibly infer which trains are likely carrying nuclear cargo.

    From the standpoint of being hijacked, trucks on random unpublished routes are far less likely to be intercepted by bad guys than trains.

  • by xmundt ( 415364 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:46AM (#39098069)

    Greetings and Salutations.
              Nothing surprising about this. Containers of radioactive materials, and nuclear weapons have been trucked around the country for decades. Please note that in that time, There have been a total of three accidents with zero loss of nuclear materials. The bottom line is that the nuclear materials have to be moved somehow, and, overall the current transport system has proved to be safe and effective.
              The world is a dangerous place, but, before we run about screaming that the sky is falling, perhaps we should look at the probabilities of a given disaster. There is always a non-zero chance that any disaster can happen - for that matter quantum theory tells us that there is a non-zero chance that all the oxygen molecules in a room will end up on the left half of the room, leaving nothing but nitrogen on the right half. However, in many cases (like these) the probability of a disaster that releases radiation or puts significant amounts of it in an enemy's hands (or moves all the oxygen out of half of a room) actually happening is so low that it might happen once in the entire lifetime of the universe.
              I would prefer it that we lived in a world where nuclear energy was only used for peaceful purposes, so we did not have to have nuclear weapons to shuffle around the countryside. However, that is not the case. In addition, I want to remind y'all that the US has been transporting those stores of nuclear devices to a secure facility where they are being disassembled. Would you prefer that the DOD build a recycling plant a few blocks down from the local high-school and do the work at the storage location of the warheads? I would think not....I would rather see them transported to a recycling facility that is experienced and out of the population dense areas of the USA.
    pleasant dreams

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

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @06:53AM (#39098087) Journal

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

    That's an incredibly one-dimentional view of things. There were certainly enthusiastic supporters, like Teller. And even Oppenheimer backed off on his recomendation to eliminate the arsenal, once he saw more of international politics.

    Honestly, nuclear bombs are unequivocablly a very good thing. 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.

  • US, Pakistan, Nukes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:11AM (#39098145) Homepage

    Anybody remember the Atlantic story [] from a while ago about Pakistan transporting its nukes?

    It was presented as "Oh noes, they move their nukes in ordinary trucks [] instead of military convoys. Maybe we should invade them and secure their arsenal."

    Lo and behold, the DoE is using the same method in the US.

  • Re:Trains? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Monday February 20, 2012 @07:11AM (#39098147)

    To add to that, you have the complication of security while the train sits in a marshalling yard, or is waiting to be offloaded onto a truck for final destination delivery anyway. There is a lot of waiting around that a train does, while a truck can be loaded in a high security area and immediately drive out and onto the road.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:04AM (#39098371)

    Hypothetically, could terrorists or a determined government such as the Iranians steal nuclear weapons from a convoy like this?

    Well, thinking about the problem step by step. How COULD an evil entity with a lot of resources (but not enough resources to make a bomb from scratch) steal a nuke?

    First, they have to KNOW which convoy has the actual warheads, versus merely parts. Theoretically, secretly placed cameras outside the military bases known to have nukes being sent for disassembly could spot a convoy. If the convoys are multiple trucks in a row, alone with obvious escort vehicles, then MAYBE those are the ones with the bombs.

    This is where the U.S. government might or might not be sneaky about it. One obvious trick would be to use decoy convoys that are heavily armed and escorted, and then to slip the truck with the actual warheads in with a bunch of trucks leaving the post returning from food deliveries. And to space the unmarked escort vehicles out so that it isn't obvious which truck they are protecting.

    And remember, from the point of view of the Iranian terrorists, this is a trick that could only work once. Once they try to steal a bomb, the U.S. government would probably just cease transporting nukes by road at all, forever.

    So they have to KNOW which truck it is. So they need a traitor, no other way. That would probably be difficult. If some sleeper agent tried to enlist tommorow, and to steer their career towards this area of the military, what are the chances they would succeed? I have no idea, but I am guessing that the military assigns people to sensitive positions like this with some degree of randomness. The terrorist sleeper agent could easily end up, even if they passed all the security checks, somewhere completely unrelated.

    Perhaps they could replace a civilian contractor working on the post somewhere close enough to plant a bug or something. Dunno.

    Ok, so the terrorists somehow know which truck. Now they need to stop the truck. They have to get ahead of it and set up an ambush.

    Here's where this is somewhat plausible : in some rural stretch of road, far away from a populated area or military base, with terrain on either side of the road unable to support a truck, the terrorists set up their ambush. They stage an accident to cause the trucks to stop, and use fifty caliber or 20 millimeter rifles to disable the engines of the trucks. They then need enough shooters to win a gunbattle against the escorts AND the QRF. Who have heavy weapons and special forces training.

    How many might it take? 50 men? A hundred? And all of them have to keep quiet until the attack. NONE of them would survive the retaliation, participating in something like this would be a guaranteed life prison sentence or death penalty. Probably the death penalty.

    Anyways, the terrorists use armor piecing ammo from 50 caliber or 20 millimeter rifles to shoot through the armor of all the escort vehicles and the trucks. They attempt to jam the radios used by the escorts. They now have to somehow recover the warheads.

    This is where surprises come in. How about a claymore mine embedded in the side of one of the trailers? Or some other defense? What if these convoys are escorted by attack helicopters? There's a lot of things that a traitor might not necessarily know about.

    Ok, so they do manage to get to the trailers, and they use shaped charges to slice through the armored metal of the trailers. They find a warhead, and they have a cargo lift to remove it.

    How long does this take? The moment the word gets out, EVERY available resources, every soldier, every jet, every cop, everything is going to be mobilized to stop these people. But this does take time, and if the terrorists are well equipped with lifting equipment and the right tools, they might manage to load the bombs up and attempt their escape. This is where even 1 surviving special forces commando trucker could make a difference, right out of a movie like Under Siege 2. I c

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:06AM (#39098377) Homepage

    Albert Einstein said: "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."

    He also said that if he had known the Nazis would not make atomic bombs, he never would have worked on them. Of course, now even digital watches (or at least smartphones) have enough computer power to design the essence of atomic weapons...

    Here is a website by psychiatrist Donald Pet about moving to that newer way of thinking we need: []

    Here is related stuff I have written: []
    "Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land? ... These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. ..."

    Sometimes when you find ourself in a hole and you don't want to be there, the best thing to do is stop digging and start thinking in a new way about how you got there and how to get out.

  • Re:LIMITED war (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:38AM (#39098487) Homepage Journal

    How high is the chance that USA and USSR would have fought it out on full scale if not for nuclear weapons?

    Not as high as you think. Both sides had large armies and fleets of bombers capable of reducing cities to rubble with conventional weapons. Then surface to air missiles were invented and bombers became useless, so the focus shifted to ICBMs. Even if they were not nuclear tipped there would still have been little anyone could do to stop one taking out important buildings with conventional explosives.

    The USSR never had the resources to invade America, and America might have been able to invade the USSR but would have wound up with the same problems the Germans faced with long and bitter winters and difficult conditions. The terrain alone makes it very difficult, and China would never allow US tanks to simply roll through from that side.

    Chances are there would have been a similar cold war, with both sides unwilling to enter a major conflict.

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @08:51AM (#39098557) Homepage Journal

    I remember seeing what was obviously a nuclear convoy in Wyoming in 1992. There were four or five slightly oversized 18-wheelers with SAC license plates. In front and behind and between each of them were armored cars with police lights and machine guns. Overhead there was a helicopter. They were just pulling on, and I ended up cutting into the middle of the convoy briefly so that one of the armored cars could move up to the front.

    They were traveling somewhat slowly, probably 50mph, so I lost sight of them fairly quickly, but a ways on ahead was another armored car, and I noticed another helicopter scouting ahead. Further on ahead I saw a tow truck removing a disabled car.

    That was an interesting day.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:48AM (#39098807)

    Now they need to stop the truck. They have to get ahead of it and set up an ambush.

    Here's where it gets completely implausible.

    Because now they have to move their guys to a position ahead of the truck, in some isolated spot in the middle of nowere, rehearse the mission, then wait for the truck to get there.

    And if the truck takes a different route (maybe a truck full of gravel spills and closes the interstate they were planning on taking - yes, that happens, I was delayed getting home the other day for something just that stupid - gravel on the road due to a dumptruck spill), they have to move their guys to another spot, and rehearse again...

    Remember, it's impossible to plan the attack more than a few hours ahead, what with the possibility that you're wrong about the exact route (or the driver stops for a quickie at a truckstop). Coupled with the need to move your guys into position after you know the route, it's not quite so easy as one might think....

  • by rust627 ( 1072296 ) on Monday February 20, 2012 @09:54AM (#39098833)

    A Japanese artist has assembled a map of the world with a moving timeline showing the location and relative scale of each nuclear detonation from 1945 to 1998

    It also has a score card,of who is responsible for each detonation []


  • by coder111 ( 912060 ) <{moc.liamrr} {ta} {redoc}> on Monday February 20, 2012 @12:31PM (#39100195)
    You will notice that nowhere in my post I proposed that we go to USSR style centralized planned economy, nor impose dictatorship. I've lived in USSR, it wasn't much fun.

    What I meant to say is that if dictatorship/absolute monarchy is DOS v1.0, Soviet Union style planned economy is Windows 3.1, free market corporate dominated democracy is Windows 95. All of these systems SUCK bad. We need something better.

    The only case when democracy and free market work, is when we have plentiful competition, well educated and involved society and good regulation by government that is not selfish and working for the benefit of society. Achieving this might be more realistic, but it is just as much an utopia as achieving communism. And I see the world going into opposite direction- mergers centralize power and lessen competition, more and more governments fall under the feet of multinational corporations and greed. And greed will get you nowhere. Greed might be a good motivator, but combined with Tragedy of Commons, Broken Window Fallacy (PR & marketing) and Cost Externalization a system comprised of multiple greedy entities results in a very suboptimal solution.

    I don't know what system will emerge, but never in the history of mankind did we have the ability to distribute and process information at the scale we do now. This must enable emergence of new government systems. For example direct democracy might actually be more feasible. Totalitarian control is more feasible as well.

    I think we need to develop some kind of aggregation and error correction of ideas, that will turn multiple fallible men into a system with inbuilt redundancy that will be much less fallible. Something like ECC works in electronics. I don't know how, maybe something like refined and automated Delphi method. I don't have the answers. I just believe the freedom on the internet and in real world must be preserved until smarter people than me find them.


Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong