Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost US Nuclear Bomb in Greenland

Using declassified documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, BBC news released details this week about a story of a missing US nuclear bomb.

No, not the 1,000 misplaced nuclear missile components from June.

Not the six armed nuclear cruise missiles that were shipped from North Dakota to Louisiana either.

Or the mistaken shipment of nuclear missile nose cone fuses to Taiwan.

This is a different scenario: a missing nuclear bomb we lost after a 1968 plane crash in Greenland. (Click here to watch a short video on it.)

The story? On January 21, 1968, a United States nuclear-armed B52 bomber, flying a routine "Chrome Dome" mission over Thule Air Base in northern Greenland, crashed just a few miles from the base.

From the BBC,

A remarkable operation would unfold over the coming months to recover thousands of tiny pieces of debris scattered across the frozen bay, as well as to collect some 500 million gallons of ice, some of it containing radioactive debris.


The high explosives surrounding the four nuclear weapons had detonated but without setting off the actual nuclear devices, which had not been armed by the crew.

The Pentagon maintained that all four weapons had been "destroyed".

This may be technically true, since the bombs were no longer complete, but declassified documents obtained by the BBC under the US Freedom of Information Act, parts of which remain classified, reveal a much darker story, which has been confirmed by individuals involved in the clear-up and those who have had access to details since.

The documents make clear that within weeks of the incident, investigators piecing together the fragments realised that only three of the weapons could be accounted for.

Even by the end of January, one document talks of a blackened section of ice which had re-frozen with shroud lines from a weapon parachute. "Speculate something melted through ice such as burning primary or secondary," the document reads, the primary or secondary referring to parts of the weapon.

By April, a decision had been taken to send a Star III submarine to the base to look for the lost bomb, which had the serial number 78252. (A similar submarine search off the coast of Spain two years earlier had led to another weapon being recovered.)

But the real purpose of this search was deliberately hidden from Danish officials.
The original underwater search was abandoned because of technical problems, and soon, winter began and the ice froze over. The search was abandoned.

According to former Los Alamos nuclear weapons designer William Chambers, who previously dealt with accidents, including this crash, "It would be very difficult for anyone else to recover classified pieces if we couldn't find them."

Not exactly a comforting national security story, given that, they contained uranium and plutonium, and "the abandoned weapons parts were highly sensitive because of the way in which the design, shape and amount of uranium revealed classified elements of nuclear warhead design," reports BBC - Not to even mention the health and environmental impact of the released radioactive material.

Read the full report here.

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