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Broken Arrows to Faded Giants

What does DoD consider a "nuclear accident?" >Page 1, 2

DoD Directive 5230.16 goes on to clearly define a "Nuclear Weapon Accident," as follows:

NUCLEAR WEAPON ACCIDENT

An unexpected event involving nuclear weapons or nuclear components that results in any of the following:

  • Accidental or unauthorized launching, firing, or use by U.S. forces or U.S. supported Allied forces of a nuclear-capable weapons system.
  • An accidental, unauthorized or unexplained nuclear detonation.
  • Non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon or nuclear component.
  • Radioactive contamination.
  • Jettisoning of a nuclear weapon or nuclear component.
  • Public hazard, actual or perceived.

As a tool for indicating the severity of a nuclear weapons accident, DoD officials are provided the following codeword key to be used only in internal communications: (Listed in order of most to least serious.)

Broken Arrow 
"A Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff term to identify and report an accident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead or nuclear component." (Broken Arrow is the worst case scenario.)

Bent Spear
"A Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff term used in the Department of Defense to identify and report a nuclear weapon significant incident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead, nuclear components, or vehicle when nuclear loaded."

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."

A couple of our Broken Arrows

Palomares, Spain - 1966
The most serious reported accident in the U.S. Military's nuclear history took place in Palomares, Spain on Jan. 17, 1966 when a B-52 loaded with four nuclear bombs suffered a mid-air collision with a KC-135 refueling plane. All four bombs were ejected from the B-52 in the crash. One was recovered on the ground and a second from the sea after a long and difficult search. However, the high explosive packages of the other two bombs detonated on impact with the ground. While the nuclear payloads of the bombs did not detonate, over 1,400 tons of surrounding soil and vegetation were contaminated with radioactive materials. The US conducted an extensive cleanup of the area under the scrutiny of the Spanish government.

Lakenheath Air Base, Suffolk, England - 1956
On July 27, 1956, A B-47 bomber crashed at Lakenheath Airbase in Suffolk, England. While the bomber carried no nuclear weapons, it hit a concrete nuclear weapons storage bunker known as the "igloo," where three U.S. Mark VI nuclear bombs -- the same type of bomb dropped on Nagasaki -- were stored. In the collision, three of the bombs sustained damage that could have resulted in detonation. In explaining the accident, Gen. James Walsh, commanding officer of the U.S. 7th Air Division in England, sent a brief cable to Gen. Curtis LeMay, commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Command. "Aircraft then exploded, showering burning fuel over all. Crew perished. ... Preliminary exam by bomb disposal officer says a miracle that one Mark Six with exposed detonators sheared didn't go." 

Chances are than none the world's lost nuclear arsenal will ever detonate. Instead the ever growing list of sunken bombs and reactors will just rust away, slowly releasing their radiation into the sea for centuries, like Faded Giants.

Reference Links

Grey Lady Down -- Rescue of the Kursk
Russian Culture Guide Linda DeLaine covers the sinking of the Kursk and efforts to rescue the Russian sub's crew. 

The Russian Navy
Stories and Web sites full of history and information on the Russian Navy from
Russian Culture Guide Linda DeLaine.

Nuclear Spring
Total number of U.S. nuclear bombs lost in accidents and never recovered: 11 -- This an more nuclear remembrances from your About Guide.

US Navy Submarine Photos
Pictures of U.S. Navy Submarines in Action. From US Military Guide Rod Powers.

US Navy Fact File: Attack Submarines
Information on hardware of the U.S. Navy from US Military Guide Rod Powers.

  Historic Confederate Sub Hunley Raised
The wreck of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley has been recovered intact under the direction of a National Parks Service team. The Hunley became the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship during battle 136 years ago. From your About Guide.

Directive 5230.16, "Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance"
Text of the DoD document on dealing with nuclear accidents.

Nuclear Weapons: Pay Up to Cleanup
The U.S. spends about $96 million a day on nuclear weapons. The DOE estimates that from $151 billion to $195 billion will be needed through 2070 for cleanup and closure of nuclear weapons facilities. From your About Guide.

Cold War: Costs of Victory
The Berlin Wall and communism fell, but now the U.S. is spending $475.5 million to help the former Soviet Union dismantle and store its excess nuclear weapons. From your About Guide.

US - Russia Agree to Destroy Plutonium
Meeting in Moscow, President Clinton and Russian President Putin have agreed that both nations should destroy their stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium and work together on missile warning systems. From your About Guide.

Nuke 'em?! - The problem
Las Vegas Guide Robert Romano looks at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage issue from the viewpoint of a next-door neighbor.

Nuclear Waste in the US
Links to articles and sites dealing with United States nuclear waste issues. From Environment Guide Patricia Michaels.

Other Information Sources

A history of accidents
"MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian and Soviet nuclear submarines have been involved in a number of accidents during the past four decades. Poor maintenance and economic troubles since the 1991 Soviet collapse have worsened the problem." CNN -- Aug. 14, 2000

Norway calls crisis talks on Russian submarine
CNN & AP -- Aug. 14, 2000

Russian "Oscar" Class Submarine Photos
From Haze Gray and Underway, one of the leading information sources on navies of the world.

"Oscar" Class Submarine Specification
From Haze Gray and Underway, one of the leading information sources on navies of the world.

Greenpeace - Save Our Seas 2000
The often confrontational environmentalist organization's effort to rid the oceans of nuclear contamination.

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