NUCLEAR WEAPONS ACCIDENTS

October 2013

 

Command And Control is a new book by Eric Schlosser.  It covers the management of nuclear weapons, and deplores the secrecy surrounding their deployment, saying that ‘secrecy surrounding British nuclear weapon accidents has exceeded even that of the US‘.  It gives details of numerous nuclear weapons accidents, most of which were either never made public, or were deemed trivial.

A UK report in 1992 suggested that none of the UK accidents was serious, and, according to the Ministry of Defence, the UK had no record of any accidents involving US weapons on British soil.

Yet …

  • 1956, Lakenheath, Suffolk: a US plane crashed into an atomic bomb store.
  • 1961, Lakenheath: fuel tanks of a US bomber were mistakenly jettisoned. They hit the runway and a hydrogen bomb beneath the plane was engulfed in flames.

In 1987, a widely-reported accident involving UK nuclear weapons occurred in Wiltshire.  An RAF truck carrying hydrogen bombs skidded on ice into a field.

The Pentagon’s official list of nuclear weapons accidents mentions 32 incidents. Yet a 1970 study by one of America’s nuclear weapon laboratories, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, says there were at least 1,200.  A USstudy gave a ‘safety grade’ to every nuclear weapon in the nation’s arsenal. Twelve received a D, the lowest grade.

In December 1990, the US Panel on Nuclear Weapons Safety warned that the design of the Trident missiles, and the propellant used, posed significant risks.

January 1961,  North Carolina: a US bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed.   Most of the safety devices failed.  Just one electrical switch prevented catastrophe.