Saturday, September 21, 2013

U.S. threw two H-bombs on North Carolina

The Guardian brought us some chilling news:
US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document
A B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air near Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the detonation mechanism of one of the bombs the bomber carried was ready to do its job.

Its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

In fact, two Mark 39 bombs could have detonated but only one of them came "really close" to the catastrophe. Each of them carried the equivalent of 4 megatons of TNT, 250 times more than 16 kilotons of TNT deposited by Hiroshima's Little Boy. In this comparison, the bomb in Japan would be a very little boy, indeed.

Needless to say, if the folks weren't this lucky, 30,000+ of the inhabitants of Goldsboro would be gone. But the actual impact would be far worse. The whole Northeast – with its tens of millions of people and some huge metro areas – could have been partially crippled and completely frightened by the fallout.

I forgot to tell you that the scary events took place on January 24th, 1961. Now your level of adrenaline has probably decreased a little bit.

America has avoided this catastrophe. Even if it hadn't avoided the catastrophe, it would survive as a country. But its psyche would be completely different. Just think about 9/11, the impact that the 3,000 casualties have had on the feelings and thinking of almost everyone – and on the policymaking. Or think about the tsunami-caused hassle in Fukushima with its 0.0 nuclear fatalities (and two workers with radiation burns) and the hysteria it has caused and it is still causing (whenever someone runs a new story on a few tons of radioactive water added to the nearly infinite ocean, for example).

Now imagine that the casualties would be counted in millions – approximately matching the casualties of the World War II. And all this would be due to a stupid accident. It's very likely that America would ban all nuclear technologies – and maybe many others. But maybe it wouldn't. On the contrary, it could have paradoxically lost the fear of them. Other countries wouldn't abandon the weapons, I guess.

It's hard to retroactively predict the events in the hypothetical alternative world (you're invented to speculate in any way you like) but I sort of feel that not just because of the (almost) direct casualties, the world would be a worse place than it is today. Thank God and Alessandro Volta et al. for the low-voltage switch.

The U.S. possesses about 4,650 nuclear warheads today, less than the peak value. I don't think that the detonation of all of them would be enough to break the Earth into two pieces, as we were taught (by teachers whom I can, using the current knowledge, clearly recognize as being totally ignorant about physics and lacking the sense of scale) 30 years ago ;-), but it would surely cause lots of mess on the surface. So I sincerely hope that NSA hasn't implanted some "loopholes" into the safety mechanisms of these weapons that allow the agents (and all other people behaving like agents) to detonate them without the proper passwords. ;-)


  1. Interesting story but again, conventional nukes are peanuts when compared to antimatter nukes. Careless usage of antimatter (nuke) destroys the whole planet, literally. The REAL bad news is that building such a device is relatively easy!

    Well, in the worst scenario we don't need to feel bad about scientific advances which made it possible. There won't be any we after the worst case! I'm pretty pessimistic about our future. There might be another GRB event in a near future and this time Earth is the ground zero :-(

  2. Yes, it's easy. You just need to put in at least the same amount of energy you want to release...

  3. ...and then you have to build a huge accelerator and wait couple billion years to create enough of it. That's easy.

  4. Hmmm, perhaps the Civil War never ended. After all, North Carolina seceded from the Union.

  5. You must have watched "Primer" to get inspiration :)

  6. Mmm.. never heard. I'm not talking BS here, you can easily try it by yourself. All you need is a cobalt (two pieces), magnets, radiation meter and a certain technique.

    For bigger (and more hazardous) simultaneous annihilation event you need more than things mentioned above.

  7. I lived near that region at the time when 4 of the five latches failed... but this is no secret for it has been known at least since the 70's and anyone could find it in public libraries.

  8. Well, you could perhaps record a "safe" annihilation event (including the "certain technique") and upload the video so we could all see it and judge ourselves. And don't forget point 6 of the CI

  9. I know of two similar (well maybe not as close a call) incidents in Canada involving American planes. There is one where a bomb was jettisoned and self-destroyed in a rural area not far from my home town... my grand-dad still talks about all the military deployment it caused.

  10. Funny that this story is getting such play again.
    It was widely discussed at the time and even made the cover of some popular magazine, maybe Mechanics Illustrated, but resurfaces periodically as well.
    Imho, the more interesting story is that some bombs were lost completely, even ignoring the nuclear armed torpedoes on the various lost subs. Overall, it seems the nuclear weapons management has been reasonably effective to date.
    In fact, one could indeed argue that the lack of any subsequent nuclear accident/strike has caused people to lose sight of how deadly these things really are.
    An observer at the Mike shot in the Pacific noted sea birds burned in flight 15 miles from ground zero.

  11. I'll think about it (that's my money maker ;-)). There is already few videos where beta radiation is generated ->

  12. strictly speaking...Sep 21, 2013, 6:52:00 PM

    Maybe you haven't heard of something called lepton and baryon number conservation?

    To make antimatter, you need to produce an equal ammount of matter because of conservation laws, and as a result you have to put in at least as much energy in as you'd get out from annihilating said antimatter with matter.

    Sure, antimatter bombs may be trivial to make if you're a type II civilization on the Kardachev scale. But it certainly isn't for us mortals.

  13. I read a book in the late sixties about the problem they had with nuclear weapons. Not only did they have some nearly go off but they lost a number also. One was in the Okefenokee swamp and it never been found, keep that in mind next time your in northern Florida or southern Georgia.

  14. Well, that's true in the case if you think that a particle and its antiparticle are different particles.

    They are not, that's the trick! And I can prove it ;-)

  15. Prove? In what sense of "proof"?

  16. By manipulating cobalt nuclear spin orientation and introduce it with an opposite spin direction (spin axis poles headon). You'll get the proof for sure ;-)

  17. That's a good question. I don't think so. The required pressure and/or temperature is very high and most of it is lost if the pressure acts from the outside and if most of it is lost in the air.

  18. The USSR and the US observed a moratorium on nuclear testing from roughly mid-1959 until September 1961. Accidents such as the one described alarmed the US weapons laboratories and the US AEC, and led to a number of clandestine, sub-critical, shallow underground tests at Los Alamos, the result of which was greatly improved safety for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The tests were highly secret due to the fact that a moratorium on testing was in effect. They were conducted despite of the moratorium, because most involved recognized the extreme danger of the stockpile as then configured.

    The tests were all conducted at Technical Area 49 on the grounds of Los Alamos Laboratory. Information regarding such was finally released to the public within the past 10-15 years, I believe.

  19. Answer: no.

  20. I think it unlikely that the fallout would have been an issue. If the bomb was parachute delivered, it was probably set for an air burst. Air bursts are preferred (because of a greater radius of destruction) for all but hardened target.

    An air burst (such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki) produces no local fallout. All of the radioactive material (the remaining fissionable material and transmuted bomb parts) becomes an extremely hot plasma which rapidly rises to the stratosphere. From there, it spreads over an entire hemisphere. The stratosphere is so named because it has an inverted temperature lapse rate, so that it is very stable - it is a huge thermal inversion."

    The primary radiation injuries from the Japan bombings were due to prompt radiation - that released by the fission reaction of the bomb, and from highly radioactive fission products before those products rose high enough (decaying very rapidly) that their impact on the ground was minimal. Some amount of additional radiation was produced by neutron activation of material on the ground. I believe it was negligible in impact.