Monday, September 4, 2017

Analysis of North Korea's Nuclear Weapons, September 2017

Copyright 2017 by Michael H. Maggelet

4 September 2017


  I was wondering how long it would take North Korea to publish photographs of their claimed thermonuclear warhead, and was surprised at the press release of 3 September 2017, and nuclear test soon after. According to some estimates, the yield was approximately 120-150 kilotons.

  While I can’t comment on technical features of their warheads, it’s obvious that the fission warhead displayed in 2015 with an approximate diameter of 30 inches (76.2 cm) is a production device, and very likely uses manual insertion of nuclear components. The Defense Intelligence Agency stated on March 11, 2011 that the DPRK could deliver several plutonium based warheads.

North Korean fission implosion warhead, possible manual insertion design.

  I sincerely doubt the DPRK’s implosion warheads are one point safe, and thus present a safety problem when fully assembled for strike. “One point safe” is defined in US criteria as producing a nuclear yield less than a four pounds TNT equivalent when the high explosive sphere is initiated at any point, or by one detonator. A declassified Strategic Air Command safety study estimated that the accidental detonation of the HE on a solid capsule weapon (like Fat Man, or the early fission bombs fully assembled for a combat drop) had a fifteen percent chance of producing a 40 ton nuclear contribution. [1] 
  Modern US weapons, using sealed pits of hollow shells of active material, are inherently one point safe. [2]
  An unassembled open pit weapon, with the capsule stored in a storage container, is safe from accidental nuclear detonation.

  DPRK press release on the thermonuclear weapons progress, 9 March 2016.

  The thermonuclear warhead, below, obviously shows a reduced scale primary and thermonuclear secondary (and other features I won’t discuss), and in my opinion DPRK scientists received technical assistance from outside sources and friendly countries. Thus, given the advancements in N. Korean military hardware in the missile and nuclear fields, DPRK claims must be taken seriously (along with threats of EMP attacks via exoatmospheric nuclear bursts).


  That being said, while North Korea continues to threaten their neighbors and the US with nuclear annihilation, this is nothing new, and those of us who grew up during the Cold War were only six minutes away from Soviet SLBM’s, not to mention tactical rockets and missiles, and nuclear artillery at overseas locations. I personally never lost any sleep when I was stationed in Germany in the late '80's and early '90's despite Soviet grandstanding, Stasi trained terrorists, Warsaw Treaty Organization maneuvers, nor incessant propaganda from Pravda, Tass, and East German state media.

DPRK state media photo of two stage thermonuclear warhead.

DPRK photo showing firing set/X-unit and aft cap of primary, detonator cabling, and neutron generator.

  North Korea has achieved a threshold in the field of thermonuclear technology, and in years to come the world can only expect the DPRK to produce multi-megaton weapons for strategic use, and small diameter systems to include nuclear artillery, man portable atomic demolitions, and enhanced radiation warheads. 

1. SAC Historical Study 73, Jan-Jun 1958, pp. 78-79. Declassified from Top Secret Restricted Data.  
2. DOE Restricted Data Declassification Decision, pp. 74-75.

The content of this article is the personal opinion of the author.

Contact- mhmaggelet "at"

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rebutting the "Fake News" UK Daily Mail Article of 14 September 2016

 Copyright 2017 by Michael H. Maggelet and James C. Oskins

“Arkansas nearly wiped off the map in 1980 when a SOCKET fell down a nuclear missile silo and punctured a fuel tank, sparking a fire.” By Ariel Zilber, UK Daily Mail (14 September 2016 online article).

  The UK Daily Mail, like many other publications, has unfortunately chosen to publish Eric Schlosser’s  anti-nuclear diatribes and falsehoods without verifying the facts. 

  Eric Schlosser, a self described “investigative journalist” and anti-nuclear conspiracy theorist, has released a propaganda film on the 1980 Titan II accident which occurred near Damascus, Arkansas.
  For starters, it should be noted that Schlosser never submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the nuclear weapons accident report, nor did he conduct “exhaustive research” as he continually proclaims in interviews (he submitted a total of two FOIA requests, one of which is nothing more than reference documents copied word for word from a Rand safety study). Due to numerous inconsistencies in Schlosser's book and public statements, Mr. Maggelet FOIA'd all the logs going back seven years due to Schlosser's distortions of the historical facts surrounding nuclear weapons in general, and accidents and incidents. He simply took the easy route and contacted Mr. Maggelet asking permission to use information from our book "Broken Arrow, Volume II" a few weeks before his book was published.

  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the intentional distortions, disinformation, and fabrications made by Schlosser and quoted in the Daily Mail online article.

1. Claim- “On September 18, 1980, technicians at Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas, were trying to replace a socket on a missile.”
Facts- In actuality, two technicians were handling a heavy socket and breaker bar, in the process of  servicing a valve on the upper stage of the Titan II.

2. Claim- “When the socket fell down a 70-foot shaft, it punctured the missile's tank, causing a leakage of chemicals.”
Facts- The eight pound socket fell about 66 feet, punctured the first stage skin and propellant tank, and caused leakage of Aerozine 50 (a 50/50 mix of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine).

3. Claim- “A fire ensued, but, by a stroke of luck, there was no explosion that would have laid waste to much of the state.”
Facts- The explosion of liquid propellant occurred eight and a half hours after the socket punctured the missile (there was no initial fire). The explosion of the Titan II certainly did not lay waste to “much of state”, nor would its nuclear warhead have detonated in a nuclear manner (due to numerous safety features and weapon design principles).

4. Claim- “Schlosser reveals that there were about 1,200 of these kinds of accidents from 1950 to 1968.”

Facts- Schlosser's number of 1,200 includes over 1,150 minor reportable incidents that include crushed electrical cables, test set indications, dents on fins exceeding rejection criteria, and minor defects on inert training weapons. More serious incidents, such as "Bent Spears", are detailed in our book "Broken Arrow, Volume II". The fact that such small problems are reported illustrates the care and attention paid to all aspects of the nuclear weapons program.

5. Claim-
The United States narrowly avoided a nuclear disaster that threatened to obliterate the entire state of Arkansas, according to a bombshell new book.”
Facts- Since an ‘accidental” nor "intentional" nuclear detonation of the W53 on site was not possible due to safety devices, even an intentional 10 megaton detonation (by a Soviet ICBM) would not have obliterated the state of Arkansas. "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons" details weapons effects rather distinctly, not to mention historical test films showing the effects of multi-megaton yield weapons (and observers and aircraft within 30 miles are not incinerated).  According to several nuclear weapons effects computers (and asteroid impact calculators), it would take an asteroid or comet impact equivalent to approximately 2,250 megatons to "incinerate the state of Arkansas".  
6. Claim- “Command and Control", a book written by renowned investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, details how a maintenance accident in a missile silo buried underneath farmland in Damascus, Arkansas, nearly caused a thermonuclear explosion.”
Facts- Schlosser certainly isn’t renowned in the nuclear weapons community due to his numerous lies, and the accident, as previously mentioned, certainly did not nearly cause “a thermonuclear explosion". An accidental nuclear detonation, due to one point design, safety devices, and design features, was not possible. 
7. Claim- “Schlosser's book, which was made into a documentary directed by Robert Kenner, is all the more shocking since it reveals that accidents of this kind were much more commonplace than initially believed.”
Facts- Given the fact that Schlosser is the son in law of Robert Redford, his connections to Leftist activist groups and Robert Kenner aren’t surprising. The US Department of Defense has released information on many (not all, for security reasons) Broken Arrows when they occurred, and published lists in 1968, 1979, 1981, etc., and has aircraft accident reports available for anyone willing to submit the paperwork. One is not surprised by Schlosser’s “shocking” claims of 1,200 “nuclear weapons accidents”.

8. Claim- “It was a sign of the compartmentalized secrecy at the time,' Schlosser said. 'The weapons designers who knew there were safety problems didn't know how the weapons were being handled in the field, and the guys who were literally having their lunches sometimes sitting on nuclear weapons smoking cigarettes had no idea there were any safety problems with these weapons.'
Facts- The only compartmentalization involved the access to classified weapon information, not incident and accident information. The weapons labs and Sandia Corporation were notified of every incident and accident, as detailed in message routing and their response to several early accidents (they also worked with AFSWP to issue retrofit orders to replace obsolete or defective components).  As to Schlosser’s claim that weapon designers “didn’t know how the weapons were being handled in the field”, that’s a lie, since AEC custody representatives were on hand during weapon uploads and were the custodians for nuclear capsules at military bases.
  As for his statement that “guys were literally having their lunches sometimes sitting on nuclear weapons smoking cigarettes”, Schlosser again shows his complete ignorance of safety rules and procedures which were ingrained into every nuclear weapons specialist, aviation ordnanceman, load crew member, handler, missileman, torpedoman, and ordnance specialist from day one.   

9. Claim- 'The secrecy made everything more dangerous. The secrecy that was supposed to keep us safe actually endangered us.' "

Facts- What secrecy? Classified incident and accident reports were distributed worldwide to 945 organizations to include the weapons labs, military services, nuclear capable units, not to mention R&D, safety, and military contractors with a legitimate “need to know” (with a Secret Restricted Data clearance). We find it rather comical, if not the height of incompetence, for a retired employee of Sandia to proclaim that he never knew about incident reports kept in a classified tech library only a few minutes walk away.
About the authors-

Michael H. Maggelet is a retired USAF nuclear weapons team chief. As a USAF military dependent, he lived in the UK near RAF Chicksands from 1964-1965.  At the USAF nuclear weapons technical school at Lowry AFB, Colorado in 1980, Mike disassembled, tested, and assembled training weapons such as the W25/AIR-2A Genie, W28 warhead, B28FI bomb, B43, B53, B57, B61, W69/AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile, W62/Mk 12 Reentry Vehicle, munitions handling equipment, and clip-ins. During his career he worked on the SRAM, B43, B57, B61, and B83 in numerous locations to include New Hampshire, New York, and West Germany.
James C. Oskins is a USAF retiree, and was a nuclear specialist, nuclear weapons arming and fuzing specialist, and nuclear weapons team chief from 1955-1975. Jim initially worked on nuclear capsules and pits, and maintained the Mark 6 bomb, Mark 15 Mod 2, Mark 17, Mark 21, Mark 28, Mark 36, Mark 39, W39/Snark, W53/Mk 6 RV, Mk 53 bomb, B57, and B61. He had assignments in Maine, Texas, the United Kingdom, Kansas, and Nevada.

Mike and Jim are the authors of several articles and two books on nuclear weapons history and accidents. Their book "Broken Arrow, Volume II, A Disclosure of Significant US, Soviet, and British Nuclear Weapons Incidents and Accidents, 1945-2008" was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize in History in 2010.

For contact, fact checking, and historical consultation, we may be reached at mhmaggelet "at"