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Below is the Pentagon’s brief narrative of the incident, a copy of which was provided this project by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (hereafter SIPRI or Stockholm Institute): During a B-52 airborne alert mission structural failure of the right wing resulted in two weapons separating from the aircraft during aircraft breakup at 2,000 - 10,000 feet altitude.One bomb parachute deployed and the weapon received little impact damage. A portion of one weapon, containing uranium, could not be recovered despite excavation in the waterlogged farmland to a depth of 50 feet.
The recovery team managed to excavate some 40′ only to fall short of the unexploded weapon.
It is thus arguable that any nuclear device could be called technically “unarmed” right up to the moment of its detonation.
Even the account of the accident provided by Hansen sends mixed signals, referring to “unarmed” weapons and “partially armed” weapons, and indicating that at least some of the steps necessary for arming were in fact completed in each of the two bombs.
S.” was the MARK 17/24, with a potential yield of “15 to 20 megatons.” There is no need to exaggerate the destructive potential of an MK39 device to illustrate a horrible scenario, and 24 megatons is certainly not required. As for the giant MK17/24, it was retired from service in 1958.) Information taken from the 1987 published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, lends some support to Hansen’s identification of the Goldsboro devices.
Even four megatons rates as a mighty weapon, more than 250 times the power of the blast that annihilated Hiroshima. Dietrich Schroeer, nuclear physicist and professor of physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the blast from a ground-level detonation of four megatons would have left a crater in the ground a third of a mile wide and leveled homes five miles away, while the heat would have set fires and inflicted third-degree burns to a distance of nine miles from the point of detonation. According to Table 1.2 on page 10 of that publication, approximately 700 MK39s were manufactured, all from 1957 to 1959.
Leitenberg described to a reporter for this project U. airborne-alert activity during the late 50s to early 60s: “In those years, we kept something like 30% of the SAC aircraft in the air at all times, an amazing percentage, and an equal proportion on the runways ready for takeoff at five minutes’ notice.” He added, “Flights went to turnaround points perhaps two-thirds of the way to their targets.
But they were all called training missions, at least, if anything went wrong.” It is predictable and even understandable that military sources would tell the press that the weapons involved were “unarmed.” Professor Eric Mlyn of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who directs The Robertson Scholarship Program and has written extensively on defense policy, says the U. and the Soviet Union were in “full-fledged, all-out competition” at the time of the accident and that all matters concerning nuclear weapons were kept very secret.Moreover, the B-52 involved in the Goldsboro crash was not on a training flight; it was, according to the Department of Defense account, on an “airborne alert” mission, an operation designed to keep U. nuclear arms airborne and deliverable 24 hours a day.Milton Leitenberg, arms-control specialist and Senior Fellow with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, wrote the SIPRI chapter on nuclear-weapons accidents.The last of the MK39s was retired from service in 1966. Military reports at the time of the accident described the two thermonuclear devices as “unarmed.” However, that word is inherently inexact, no matter how it is used.The final “arming” of any military nuclear device requires the completion of numerous steps, executed in the proper sequence and timed correctly.Nuclear Physicist Ralph Lapp caused a stir in 1961 when on page 127 of his just-released book, he said that in the Goldsboro incident the distressed aircraft had jettisoned a “24-megaton bomb.” This reference appears to be the origination of what Hansen says is a persistent bit of misinformation on the Goldsboro crash, repeated by Greenpeace, Mother Jones, and most news sources ever since.