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January 17, 2004

1966 - US Nukes Spain


On this day in 1966, the US accidentally nuked Spain with 4 B28 hydrogen bombs aboard a B-52 that collided with a KC-135 tanker. There were four aircrew from the B-52 that survived, none on the KC-135. No one on the ground was hurt. Four bombs fell, two exploded their TNT loads (which are part of the nuke process). Fortunately for everybody in the area, the safeties worked, and we "only" spread 7 pounds of plutonium and americium around the area.

This kind of accident is called a Broken Arrow. This particular incident was dramatized in the movie Men of Honor where the diver Carl Brashear loses his leg during the recovery operation for the bomb that went into the Mediterranean.

The terms used for nuclear inicidents in DoD speak are:

Broken Arrow: This term identifies an accident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead or nuclear component, involving significant damage to the weapon and/or surrounding area that requires a massive response.

Bent Spear: This term is used to identify and report a nuclear weapon significant incident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead, nuclear components, or vehicle when nuclear-loaded. This covers things that result in non-dangerous damage to a weapon or that involves serious PR problems. Dropping a tool on a missile nose cone, or a fender bender in a truck carrying a nuke for example, can generate a Bent Spear report. Nothing like having your name on the President's desk within 24 hours... And an expensive report of survey for that nose cone. Why? if you dinged it sufficiently, that ding will generate enough drag that a Pershing II warhead might deviate enough from it's flight path to effectively miss it's target. Yeah, it's a nuke - but it really is a very small one, which we could do because we built the missile to be so accurate. If you dinged a cone, it had to be shipped back to the US for repair. That's expensive!

Empty Quiver: "A reporting term to identify and report the seizure, theft, or loss of a U.S. nuclear weapon."

Faded Giant: "A reporting term to identify an event involving a nuclear reactor or radiological accident."

Working with nukes was no fun. It was nothing but opportunity to fail after opportunity to fail. Not to mention scary every time you went through the assembly process. I was never so happy as when the Army decided to get out of the nuke business!

John | Permalink | Comments (2) | Observations on things Military
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