Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Versus the Historical Facts

Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Versus the Historical Facts.

Copyright 2014 by Michael H. Maggelet

   With the advent of the internet, the anti-nuclear movement has spurned a whole slew of new conspiracy theories on nuclear weapons accidents. These range from a supposed Broken Arrow involving a B-52 crash near Monticello, Utah, to the purported accident at RAF Greenham Common in 1958, to the W53 at Damascus, Arkansas almost “incinerating the entire state”. In such cases, a review of the aircraft weight and balance sheet, and the declassified accident reports and AEC post mortems shed more light on the bizarre world of the anti-nuclear movement, where political activism, hysteria, and disinformation are key to aping the disarmament agenda. 
  Such is the case of one Eric Schlosser, whose background as an “investigative journalist” includes a book on fast food. Schlosser, among others, has made dozens of ludicrous claims by purporting to uncover “hundreds” of nuclear weapons accidents (which of course, are nothing more than incidents and accidents detailed in two books by Jim Oskins and myself). Schlosser contacted me wishing to use the Director of Nuclear Safety report on the Damascus, Arkansas Titan II accident a few months before his manifesto was published- so much for his claims of “exhaustive research”.

  Of course, to the anti-nuclear movement and conspiracy theorists, the facts don’t matter. This is evident in statements by several media anointed “nuclear weapons experts” who wouldn’t know a gun type from a sewer pipe. While Schlosser may be the ranking King of BS (“BullSchloss”), there are others with blogs typing out utter nonsense and “facts” which are intentionally distorted from declassified documents.

  Anti-nuclear activist Hans Kristensen is a Danish researcher who has proclaimed that the B53 bomb was “unsafe”. This is based off a declassified LLNL document which gave dubious “safety ratings” to various weapons. Kristensen contends that the 53 “… did not have Enhanced Nuclear Detonation Safety (ENDS), Insensitive High Explosive (IHE), Fire-Resistant Pit (FRP), Protective Action Link (PAL), or Command Disable (CD).” In fact, the 53 was produced in 1962, years before many of these concepts were implemented- ENDS in 1968, IHE was not required by DOD until 1984, and the 53 did not require a fire resistant pit since the Type 76 pit (U-235) does not present the contamination hazard of plutonium.1  

  PAL wasn’t a requirement for the SAC only B-53 when it was fielded, nor was command disable. All SAC B-52’s required at least three crew members to arm and release weapons using Aircraft Monitoring and Control equipment, and SAC’s B-52’s were maintained on ground alert after January 1968 (the Coded Switch Set was also introduced around 1970). PAL of course means “Permissive Action Link”, not “Protective Action Link”. So much for expertise.

  The 53 system has been involved in three accidents, with one warhead HE and pit melting in a fire at Bunker Hill AFB with minor contamination.  The W53 and B53 were safe, reliable, and exceptionally robust weapon systems. 2

  Douglas Keeney is another individual who takes license with historical fact. For example, he claims that one accident weapon “in Morocco that almost certainly went nuclear if only partially.” 3   He’s made some rather ridiculous statements regarding the lost Tybee Mark 15 Mod 0, including one that a lighting strike on the bomb could result in a nuclear explosion. 4
  Weapons such as the Mk 15 Mod 0, equipped with automatic in-flight insertion mechanisms did NOT fly airborne alert with nuclear capsules in the AIFI- they only sat ground alert. Keeney also used a significant portion of James Oskins recollections as a USAF 332X0 nuclear specialist at Biggs AFB, TX without permission for his book “15 Minutes- General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation.”

Mark 36 thermonuclear weapon identified in B-47 accident debris by Michael H. Maggelet and James C. Oskins (photo DOD) 


  Eric Schlosser’s recent “breaking news” in July 2014 with claims that a Sandia document is “proof” that one of the Mark 39 Mod 2 accident weapons near Faro, North Carolina (12 miles NE of Goldsboro) was “one step away” from detonation comes as no surprise. This is materially false, as the document in question, Sandia Corporation SC 81-61, clearly states that two solenoid safety switches in each of the two weapons were safe, electrically isolated and could not pass an electrical signal to the X-unit (pages 5, 11, 14, and 20). This is reiterated in documents declassified over a decade ago by the Department of Energy (“Official Observer’s Report, Air Force Accident, Goldsboro, North Carolina” by AEC/ALO rep Ross B. Speer). This myth originated from Daniel Ellsberg and has been perpetuated by others with no knowledge of the Mark 39’s sequence of operation (despite the fact such info has been declassified/sanitized and available to serious researchers for over seventeen years).  
  While the process to detonate the Mk 39 Mod 2 is complex, each weapon was individually armed through specific voltage and amperage through the DCU-47/A (T-380) readiness switch (controlled by the pilot), and the T-249 or DCU-9 monitored by the bomb-nav (or other crew member). Charging of X-unit components, to include saturable core transformers and spark gaps, could only take place after the MC-788 Ready/Safe Switch and MC-772 Electrical Arm/Disarm switches had been pre-armed via aircraft power and crew intent. The Mk 39 with an uncharged X-unit cannot be charged via the 12 volt nose impact piezo switch, nor can the piezo voltage bypass the two electrically operated solenoid safety switches in the safe position.



EOD and MMS personnel examine Mk 39 “Bomb 2” at Faro, North Carolina. This weapon was severely damaged on ground impact after falling several thousand feet. The two electrically operated safing switches were both found in a later post mortem to be “SAFE”. The weapon could not have detonated in a nuclear fashion since the high voltage thermal battery was not activated, and the X-unit and numerous other components were not activated nor fired. The bomb’s HE did not detonate and the pit was recovered, along with the full reservoir. The secondary punched through the nose of the weapon and has never been recovered. 


  Eric Schlosser’s anti-nuclear bias and political agenda are pretty evident in “independent” radio and Youtube video’s showing his disdain for the military and links to Leftist anti-nuclear organizations. Hardly a scholar, Schlosser has made dozens of ludicrous claims, a few of the most absurd I’ll address below.

Eric Schlosser Myths- “They were trying to do an emergency landing at one of our most top secret important military installations in Greenland which had a secret radar site there, and the pilot was just able to guide the B-52 away from this top secret installation and it crashed. Plutonium was spread all over the Arctic. Those hydrogen bombs could have detonated full scale!” (Jim Axelrod interview with Eric Schlosser on CBS News Online, Youtube, 21 September 2013).

Facts: The construction of Thule Air Base by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USAF was public knowledge in 1953, and featured in numerous media outlets (“The Big Picture” television report on Thule, “Operation Blue Jay”, 1953, from the National Archives, and dozens of movie reports from Universal Newsreel on Thule AB from 1953 onwards). The BMEWS site was operational on 1 January 1961, and by November 1962 the Soviets had positioned a trawler near Thule with a history of cable cutting. 6

  The B-52G was intentionally flown over Thule where the aircrew bailed out, it then continued to fly and crashed more than 7.5 miles from the base on the sea ice. Danish AEC radiological health surveys prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Arctic is not heavily
contaminated with plutonium, nor does the dispersed plutonium oxide present a major health hazard to wildlife or the environment. The safety features in the four Mk 28 FI weapons worked as designed, and have proven time and again to be one point nuclear safe (two HE detonations at Palomares in 1966, four weapon HE detonations at Thule in 1968). 7

Mk 28 FI weapons in a clip-in assembly on MHU-7 trailer 

Eric Schlosser Myths- On Goldsboro- “What prevented the detonation was one switch, one safety switch, and a fair amount of good luck, because that safety switch was later found, in some cases, to be defective. And as the plane was breaking apart in mid air, there were so  many wires, there was so much electrical  equipment  in  that  plane,  that  if  one  of  those  wires  had crossed with the arming wire of the bomb, there would have been a full scale nuclear detonation of this hydrogen bomb...”

Facts: In actuality, as previously shown, the Mark 39 had two electrical safety switches. A defective R/S switch would have been detected via the T-249A during any safety status check (and during any post assembly, pre-load, and monitoring checks). I don’t see anything in the FOIA incident reports of “that safety switch” in the Mk 39 Mod 2 being “defective”. 8

   Specific voltage through aircraft monitoring equipment (pilot’s readiness switch and aircrew AMAC), aircraft/bomb cable, specific pins, and wiring in the shielded neoprene cable would have to occur before any rotation of the R/S switch and Electrical Arm/Disarm Switch. Since weapon electrical components are isolated and housed in electrically grounded and potted fiberglass housings, with additional protection by ESD’s, thermal fuses, resistors, etc., stray voltage has not resulted in unintentional charging of the X-unit on a war reserve weapon in DOD custody. 9

Eric Schlosser Myths- Schlosser states the Labs were “unaware that nuclear weapons in the 1950’s were being taken out of their bunkers and put on airplanes for ground alerts. They were never consulted about that” (Global Security Newswire, 23 Sep 2013), and “…the secrecy was so intense that the Air Force wasn’t telling the weapons designers problems that they were having in the field.”

Facts- Storage and security was the responsibility of AEC and the military services in the early days, as shown in several AEC/DOD site custody agreements (which also spell out incident/accident reporting). It’s obvious Schlosser and others who argue about “custody disputes” just can’t grasp the subject matter nor comprehend the content of documents such as  “The History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1977”, which has been declassified since 1999. The fact that AEC was aware of incidents and accidents is evident in the routing of messages from AFSWP to AEC, AEC observers present at several early accidents, and the fact that an AEC capsule custodian had to be present with a military capsule technician to open the AEC cap building before and during the “Bombs on Base” program in 1956. Jim Oskins states that AEC reps were also present when aircraft were uploaded.
  Weapons incident reports, and subsequent product improvement reports, are readily available from declassified government archives, and claims that weapons designers were unable to review non-compartmentalized SRD reports (Dull Swords, Bent Spears, and Broken Arrows) is pure nonsense since the classified FC DASA Technical Letter 20-3 reports (obtained by Jim and I via FOIA in 2008) were kept in the FC DASA (DTRA) Tech Library and widely distributed to the military services and AEC complex.

Eric Schlosser Myths- Regarding the Titan II accident, “The accident that I wrote about at length could have destroyed the state of Arkansas while Bill Clinton was governor.” (Rolling Stone, 16 September 2013).

Facts- As I previously noted, Schlosser contacted me since he couldn’t FOIA the report in “Broken Arrow, Volume II” for his forthcoming masterpiece. Schlosser goes on to claim in interviews that his “exhaustive research” is “meticulous”, while ignoring the fact that his footnotes are largely derived from previously published books and online sources (not only did he borrow heavily from our Broken Arrow books, but according to one online posting, his “research” into the Titan II is largely derived from “Titan II: History of a Cold War Missile Program” by David Stumpf). Schlosser never did forward a copy of his book as promised.

  The W53 warhead at Damascus was severely damaged after being blasted out of the silo and thrown 500 feet into a ditch (no HE detonation). Since the Mk 6 RV separated from the warhead, all battery power to charge the X-unit was removed.  In addition, the neutron generators were blown off the warhead, and det cables were broken and frayed.  The 53’s X-unit (capacitor discharge type) used a rotary chopper converter which required two independent signals from the arming and fuzing subsystem in the RV; one to start and run the chopper motor and another to supply continuous low power voltage to be transformed to high voltage (which would be chopped, rectified, and stepped up to the necessary voltage). The RV also required two distinct g-force inputs during the launch and reentry phases before the ESD’s could supply power to the warhead. Thus, with the warhead blown out of the RV, no electrical power was available to the warhead. A nuclear detonation at Damascus was not possible.10

  So, there you have it, a brief rebuttal to a collection of innumerable conspiracy theories promoted by individuals with zero experience in the nuclear weapons field, desiring to promote themselves as “nuclear weapons historians” and “scholars”, at the same time making a buck off their new found knowledge and sad lack of expertise.   


 1. “Los Alamos Source Data for B53 Mod 1, Nuclear Explosive Safety Study”  (FOIA’d by Hans Kristensen). One wonders if these people actually read the documents they request. Info on hazardous materials is available from the INWS brief.  

 2. “DOD Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving US Nuclear Weapons, 1950-80”. The EOD render safe and post mortems are presented in “Broken Arrow, The Declassified History of US Nuclear Weapons Accidents”. The B53 was “ inherently one point safe”, see B53 NESS, p. 73.

 3. “On Point- Lost Nuclear Bombs: A Dangerous Place for Confusion” by L. Douglas Keeney (27 March 2011). http://www.commandposts.com/2011/03/lost-nuclear-bombs-a-dangerous-place-for-confusion/.

 4. “Lost Archives 4: Irretrievably Lost - The search for the Savannah Warhead”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKo647E53BU. An exceedingly poor documentary.

 5. “History of the Mark 39 Warhead” by Sandia Corporation, declassified from SRD, 1997.

 6. By November 1962, the Soviets had positioned a trawler with a history of cable cutting near the BMEWS undersea cable (excerpt from McNamara to Pres. Kennedy, "Strategic Retaliatory Forces, 1964-1968").
 7. “History of the Mark 28 Weapon” and “Hydronuclear Experiments” (LA-10902). The 28-0 was restricted from use in the Hound Dog after hydronuclear experiments showed a very slight nuclear contribution (one-thousandths of a pound fission release); it was modified and the safety issue rectified. The 28 Mod 1 warhead used an external neutron generator. Info about Thule health surveys in “Thule Nuclear Weapons Accident Dose Evaluation Report, April 2001” and “Radio-ecological  Investigations”  by  Asker  Ankerborg,  pp.  11-12.  Danish  Atomic  Energy  Commission,  Research  Establishment  Riso, April 1969.

 8. Pre-arming incidents are detailed in “Technical Letter 20-3”, and various NWEF documents Jim Oskins and I obtained via FOIA over seven years ago.   

 9. ibid, see also “Safety of Air Delivered Nuclear Weapons Now in Stockpile”, Fowler (SNL) to Graves (DMA), no date, possibly 1974. Declassified from SRD.

10. “History of the Mark 53 Warhead”, pp. 27-28, and SC 42-41 “A Survey of Nuclear Safety Problems and the Possibility for Increasing Safety in Bombs and Warhead Designs”, p. 30, Feb 1959.  

Michael H. Maggelet is a retired U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons team chief. He has written two books on nuclear weapons accidents with James C. Oskins. While in tech school Mike trained on the early sealed pit weapons to include the W25, B28FI, and the later B53 bomb. He worked on the B43, B57, B61, B83, and AGM-69A SRAM. Mike’s research for the NWTA includes articles on Little Boy and Fat Man, early Soviet nuclear weapons, Warsaw Pact special operations forces, and Soviet nuclear torpedoes.

Mike's Note- I will be posting more material on the antics of anti-nuclear activists (not to mention some US major media outlets) deleting posts by nuclear veterans correcting their poor research, intentionally blocking our posts on their blogs ("awaiting moderation"), and posting material without proper accreditation.  

"Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Versus the Historical Facts" Copyright 2014 by Michael H. Maggelet