We are in the midst of the most serious national crisis of my lifetime. I couldn’t think of of what would be appropriate for this week’s Nuclear Friday post until I checked my bookmarks before work this morning and remembered there was some interesting nuclear news from November seventh, when the world seemed like such a different place. A diver off the Pacific coast of Canada may have found evidence that would fully resolve one of the oldest broken arrow cases. “Broken Arrow” is a US military term for a lost, damaged, or malfunctioning nuclear weapon. This is a good metaphor for these times. I feel like I am living inside a powerful and dangerous country that is malfunctioning, damaged, lost.
The 1961 Goldsboro incident is one of the better known and most serious broken arrow cases. A B-52 bomber broke apart in an in-flight refueling accident because a fuel transfer pump was not distributing the weight of the fuel evenly across the bomber’s tanks. The plane rolled out of control and discharged its two Mk.39 bombs with a yield of 4 megatons each. Because of the odd and uncontrolled angle of the bombs’ release, manual safety devices that prevented detonation were dislodged from the bombs. Still, the bombs had other safety systems and neither one detonated. But in 2013 information was made public that showed how close we came to disaster.
Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control was allowed to release this short excerpt from a Sandia National Labs internal documentary that explains how one of the two devices came very close to detonating. It’s three minutes of Sandia’s best:
One little switch kept the bomb from detonating.
I wish there were one little switch, some small and seemingly redundant system, which could undo what has happened this week. I want to wake up and find out the bomb is harmlessly stuck in the mud.