What is EMP?

June 7, 2014

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2014 by Charles Glassmire

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Jun. 7, 2014

What is EMP?

          In the early 1960’s, after the Soviets abrogated a test moratorium,  the United States began  high altitude nuclear testing (one of which was code named Starfish Prime) to attempt to destroy any incoming ICBM’s. Some of these tests were unique for the detonation altitudes, being above 200 miles, and essentially triggering in space far above any existing atmosphere. The Starfish Prime test, surprisingly produced serious electrical blackouts in cities some 900 miles distant from the explosion. Luckily, in places like Hawaii, the rugged technology of the electric grid was rather ancient, thus subject to less damage, and was eventually repaired and restored to working order.

 Scientists running the test were surprised by this consequence, and also noted many of their electrical test instruments were destroyed. The culprit was a large Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from the burst. This effect had been predicted early on by Enrico Fermi at the 1945 Alamogordo test, but awareness of the effect seemed to fade over the years, mostly because few tests were at high enough altitude to initiate an EMP. Additional high altitude tests were, later on, to shed light on the mechanisms generating this seldom seen effect.

empsideviewWhat causes this extremely damaging event? When a nuclear weapon is detonated at altitudes above the existing atmosphere, there is an immense burst of gamma radiation released at the moment of detonation.

Gamma rays are electromagnetic waves similar to radio waves or visible light radiation, but more energetic. After burst, this wave of radiation hits the upper atmosphere with a huge impact, and has energy sufficient to knock off electrons from the air molecules, thus causing charged electrons to separate from the now positive atoms. This effect is simple ionization, but with an enormous energy content.

electronsSpiralNow a large wave of negative electrons begins to follow the magnetic field lines of the earth, moving over the Earth’s surface while spiraling around the lines of the Earth magnetic field. This action generates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of very high intensity, headed for the surface and expanding outwards in a rapidly broadening wave.(1)

Ninety percent of the energy of this wave is contained in high frequencies, up to about 1 GigaHertz(1). This very short wavelength allows the pulse to couple easily with electrical systems, including computers, power supplies, semiconductors, alarm systems, banking computers and ATM circuits, intercom systems, life-support system controls, transistorized receivers and transmitters, power system controls, radio and communication links, microwave towers, long electrical lines used for power transmission, etc.(1) 

When this pulse hits one of the above, it arrives with a very sharp rise time of only a few nanoseconds! This arrival time is so short that there is not time for any safeguard circuitry to close before the pulse couples in. It is likely that this arriving pulse will destroy any surge suppressors, opening the way for later stages of the pulse to couple into the now unprotected circuitry. E.g. this means that your PC surge suppressor cannot close quickly enough to provide any protection to your computer from an EMP attack.

The EMP propagates towards the Earth’s surface in a radially spreading wave, acting along a line of sight from the burst. Therefore, the higher the burst the greater land mass will be impacted and damaged. “The greatest threat is from a high-altitude EMP detonated at 25 to 250 miles above the Earth’s surface… if even a small 1 megaton weapon was detonated at 250 miles above [Kansas for instance] the resultant pulse could disrupt, disable, and damage electronics across most, if not all, of the continental United States(1)”.

But what about the backup generators? When electric power is lost, critical systems are often designed to automatically switch to local generators for their electric power. This will work as long as the generators are supplied with fuel, such as gasoline or diesel. However, these fuels ultimately must be supplied through the national network of supply trucks. These vehicles also deliver critical items such as food to the local supermarkets. The EMP will shut down most modern engines. They simply stop functioning. Older trucks, with sturdier ignition systems may continue to run but evidence is slim on this point. So – when the trucks stop the generators stop. And the food stops…

(To be continued…)

A monochrome YouTube video of the Starfish Prime event created by Joint Task Force Eight and DSWA, and some other shots in the Operation Fish Bowl series, is available.  Note the interesting color effects which appear near the end of the sequence:

(http://youtube.com/watch?v=KZoic9vg1fw).

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(1)  “EMP Attacks and Solar Storms” (Disaster Preparedness for…) Expanded Edition, Dr. Arthur T. Bradley, available from Amazon.com, 2012, ISBN 9781478376651.

(2)   “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons”, Dept. of the Army pamphlet No. 50-3, March 1977.

(3)  “A ‘Quick Look’ at the Technical Results of Starfish Prime”, U.S. Dept. of Defense, Report ADA955411, www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA955411&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf, August 1962, pp. 19-21.

(4)  “Space Systems Failures: Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rocket and Space Probes”, Ralph D. Lorenz, David Michael arland, Springer. ISBN 0-387-21519, 2005.iiHarland, Springer, ISBN 0-387-21519-0, (2005).

(5)  http://www.futrescience.com/emp/fishbowl.htm.

(6)  Brown, W.L. and Gabbe J.D, The Electron Distribution in the Earth’s Radiation Belts during July 1962, Journal of Geophysical Research, 68 (3), March, 1963.

(7)  Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Weapon EMP Effects (http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm).

 

Starfish Aftermath

June 24, 2013

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Glassmire

 Jun. 24, 2013

Starfish Aftermath

                          On August 30, 1961, the Soviet Union announced they were ending a three-year moratorium on nuclear testing; they then began a long series of large nuclear detonations. In response, the United States began planning an anti-ballistic missile strategy. A joint effort in testing by the Atomic Energy Commission and the images3Defense Atomic Support Agency was begun using high-altitude nuclear bursts which would hopefully destroy an incoming ICBM. On 9 July 1962, the Starfish Prime nuclear test was detonated in the Central Pacific at an altitude of about 250 miles above Johnston Island. The warhead was rated at 1.4 megatons and it detonated as planned. At that instant, the Hawaiian Islands, located some 900 miles away, experienced a travelling blackout of electricity service, throwing some major cities on the islands into darkness.(4)

          In major Hawaiian cities, 300 street lights immediately blacked out. As switches and current regulators burned, burglar alarms all over the cities began to sound. Some microwave telephone links among the islands were destroyed as microwave towers acted like long antennas picking up the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse); as did long lines and circuits induced with current. Electrical generators stopped their output of electricity as giant coils were affected by induced surges.

          “Strong electromagnetic signals were observed from the burst, as were significant magnetic field disturbances and earth currents.” (5)

          The night sky became a stunning aurora display and light-show. One observer, watching from Kwajalein some Starfish another view1400 nautical miles distant, described it(5) :

          “…At 0900 GMT a brilliant white flash burned through the clouds rapidly changing to an expanding green ball of irradiance extending into the clear [night] sky above the overcast. From its surface extruded great white fingers, resembling cirro-stratus clouds, which rose to 40 degrees above the horizon in sweeping arcs turning downward toward the poles and disappearing in seconds to be replaced by spectacular concentric cirrus-like rings moving out from the blast at tremendous initial velocity, finally stopping when the outermost ring was 50 degrees overhead. They did not disappear but persisted in a state of frozen stillness. All this occurred, I would judge, within 45 seconds.(5)

          “…As the greenish light turned to purple and began to fade at the point of burst, a bright red glow began to develop on the horizon at a direction 50 degrees northeast and simultaneously 50 degrees southeast, expanding inward and upward until the whole eastern sky was a dull burning red semicircle… halfway to the zenith obliterating some of the lesser stars. This condition, interspersed with tremendous white rainbows, persisted no less than seven minutes…”(5)

          The Starfish Prime test created a far larger than expected electromagnetic pulse (EMP) than was anticipated by planners. Many of the test instruments were “driven off scale” (3) . This caused serious problems in attaining accurate test data, and in understanding the nature of the EMP phenomenon.

          The Gamma rays from the test further injected very high energy beta particles (energetic Compton electrons) which followed the magnetic field of the Earth, and some were deposited into low Earth orbit. They lingered for some time and were eventually recorded by Brown in the Journal of Geophysical Research  as new radiation belts around the Earth.(8)  Almost immediately, three satellites in low orbit were damaged. Eventually seven more satellites failed, when their solar starfish side viewsarrays and/or electronics were damaged by the free electrons. These included Telstar(6)((the first commercial communications satellite), TRAAC, Transit 4B, Injun 1 and Ariel 1.(6)(7) Later evidence showed damage to Explorer 14, Explorer 15 and Relay 1.(7)

          Sometime later, calculations of the strength of the EMP at the surface indicated this type of detonation could cause, not just a serious problem, rather an EMP weapon detonated over Kansas at an altitude of 200 miles or greater, could virtually shut down the communications, electrical generation, auto and truck transport in the U.S., radio broadcast and telephone and land line transmission systems of the entire country.

          The Federation of American Scientists noted “…The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air… a large device detonated at 400-500 Km (250 to 312 miles) over Kansas would affect all of the continental U.S. The signal from such an event extends to the visual horizon as seen from the burst point…” (9)(2)

 (to be continued…)

           NOTE: A monochrome Youtube video of the Starfish Prime event created by Joint Task Force Eight and DSWA, and some other shots in the Operation Fish Bowl series, may be seen.  Note the interesting color effects which appear near the end of the sequence:

(http://youtube.com/watch?v=KZoic9vg1fw).

 ________________________________________________________

(1)  The Nuclear Weapons Archive, Operation Dominic, http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Dominic.html.

(2)  “Electromagnetic Pulse”, Wickipedia.org.

(3)  “Starfish Prime”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime.

(4)  “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons”, Dept. of the Army pamphlet No. 50-3, March 1977.

(5)  “A ‘Quick Look’ at the Technical Results of Starfish Prime”, U.S. Dept. of Defense, Report ADA955411, www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA955411&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf, August 1962, pp. 19-21.

(6)  “Space Systems Failures: Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rocket and Space Probes”, Ralph D. Lorenz, David Michael arland, Springer. ISBN 0-387-21519, 2005.iiHarland, Springer, ISBN 0-387-21519-0, (2005).

(7)  http://www.futrescience.com/emp/fishbowl.htm.

(8)  Brown, W.L. and Gabbe J.D, The Electron Distribution in the Earth’s Radiation Belts during July 1962, Journal of Geophysical Research, 68 (3), March, 1963.

(9)  Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Weapon EMP Effects (http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm).

Starfish Prime

March 12, 2013

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Glassmire

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Mar. 11, 2013

Starfish Prime

            On August 30, 1961, the Soviet Union announced they would no longer honor a three-year moratorium on nuclear testing which they had entered into jointly with the United States. In response, the United States began planning a series of high-altitude nuclear tests to determine whether a nuclear detonation at high altitude could destroy an incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The series of five shots were code named Operation Fishbowl, and the second test in the series was named Starfish. It was scheduled for the summer of 1962 in the Central Pacific Ocean.

          It was also necessary to gather more information on the electromagnetic effects from a high altitude nuclear burst. Before the first (ground level) test at Alamogordo New Mexico in 1945, Enrico Fermi had predicted a large electromagnetic pulse from the detonation, and required the electrical test instrumentation to be heavily shielded, and sometimes double shielded.(2) Subsequently, the official historical record of the test stated ”…In spite of this [shielding] many records were lost because of spurious pickup at the time of the explosion that paralyzed the recording equipment…”. Later the British observed serious instrumentation failures in their testing, due to an effect they dubbed “Radioflash”.

          Earlier, in the 1950’s, the U.S. had conducted high altitude weapons tests which further confirmed the existence of a phenomenon which was little understood, and which was named “EMP” for electromagnetic pulse.

          In 1962, the Soviet Union also conducted high altitude nuclear testing over inhabited Kazakhstan, including several cities within EMP range. Damage reports were of a geomagnetic storm-like EMP pulse which induced an electric current surge in a long distance underground power line which then caused a fire in the power plant of the city of Karaganda. These results were kept secret by Soviet scientists, and not revealed to western scientists until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

          So it was, on 20 June 1962, the original Starfish test was launched from Johnston Island on a Thor missile. Unfortunately, its rocket engine shutdown after 59 seconds into the launch, necessitating the missile and its W-49 thermonuclear warhead be destroyed by the range safety officer at about 35,000 feet. The detonation was completed safely, without any nuclear yield. Large chunks of the missile and warhead fell to earth, along with some Plutonium onto Johnston Island and nearby Sand Island, requiring thorough decontamination of these areas.(3) Thus, the failed test needed to be repeated, and the new test was code named Starfish Prime.

          Preparations for the Prime test were exhaustive. A large number of United States ships were arrayed in the ocean around Johnston Island. Additional observation ships were stationed to the area of the Pacific north of the test island. Some additional ships were deployed far to the south of the Equator, in the Samoan Islands region, to observe this unique location where the flux lines of the Earth’s magnetic field were suspected of diverting electrons from the test explosion and subsequent atmospheric ionization.

          The Soviet Union attended the test as uninvited guests to the party. One Soviet ship loitered in the region near Johnston Island. Another positioned itself in the southern ocean at the end of the southern magnetic field line conjugate.

          It was necessary to make many data observations at the moment of burst from the high region surrounding the initial thermonuclear event. To that end, some thirty sounding rockets (probably obsolescent Nike Ajax missiles) were outfitted with a variety of measuring instruments. They were arrayed around Johnston Island to be launched at the moment when the Thor missile passed its apogee and began reentering the atmosphere prior to the detonation. In addition, rocket-borne instruments were arranged to launch from Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, some 900 miles distant from Johnston.(3)

          The test series was to be executed with the utmost secrecy from all civilian population. Surprisingly starfish side viewshowever, on the night of the test, many hotels scattered throughout the Hawaiian Islands were holding what they called “Rainbow Bomb” party events. These were held on the hotel rooftops and all guests invited, so that they might observe the intense atmospheric auroral lighting events visible in the night sky for hours following a nuclear test.

          So it was, on 9 July 1962, at 11 pm Hawaii local time, a Thor missile carrying the Starfish Prime W-59 warhead was launched into the night sky. Shortly thereafter, hugh numbers of measuring missiles were launched to rendezvous with the reentering vehicle. The missile trajectory peaked at about 680 miles altitude, actually far into space, and then the reentry vehicle began accelerating to terminal velocity, Starfish_Prime_aurora_from_Honolulu_1and proceeded to reenter the atmosphere as programmed. Thirteen minutes and 41 seconds after launch, at a downward trajectory position altitude of about 250 miles the thermonuclear warhead detonated, with its design magnitude of 1.4 megatons.(3)

          The Rainbow Bomb partying people on Hawaii, some 900 miles away, were rewarded with a brilliant flash in the night sky, followed by spectacular color changes to the atmosphere. But one guest on the telephone to Kauai discovered that his telephone connection was replaced with static. At that exact same instant, all were startled to note that their lights went out as the Hawaiian Islands were plunged into wide spreading blackout! …

 (to be continued…)

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(1)  The Nuclear Weapons Archive, Operation Dominic, http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Dominic.html.

(2)  “Electromagnetic Pulse”, Wickipedia.org.

(3)  “Starfish Prime”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime.

Mars Bluff: Aftermath

January 8, 2013

 Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Glassmire

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Jan. 7, 2013

 Mars Bluff: Aftermath

         A SAC B-47 Stratojet bomber crew, on a simulated combat mission out of Hunter Air Force Base Georgia, aGregg House Rear Viewccidentally dropped a 30-kiloton Mark 6 atomic weapon from its bomb bay. The date was March 11, 1958 over the peaceful town of Mars Bluff, South Carolina, when suddenly a tremendous explosion destroyed the home of railroad conductor Walter Gregg. As described in our last entry, family members were wounded and treated in hospital, and one 9 year old required surgery. The Gregg house was destroyed along with two of his automobiles and a small truck. Ironically, there was no radiation spread from the weapon detonation, since the Plutonium core of the bomb was not inserted. Thus the detonation was only from chemical explosive, but for months afterward the Air Force periodically checked the family and the surrounding land for radiation contamination – and found none.

When the B-47 crew returned to base and landed that day, they found a strange reception. The aircraft parking area was surrounded by Air Police with weapons pointed. The aircrew was required by regulations to carry loaded sidearms; they were General Curtis Lemayimmediately disarmed of these and then were taken to, and locked into, a room in the Operations Center of the base. It was suspected that espionage had taken place in a deliberate weapon release. The crew was forbidden to contact anyone, including their families, and was informed they were to remain locked in until further notice. Later that evening, no less a senior staff than General Curtis Lemay, then Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, telephoned and talked personally with the air crew. Satisfied the incident was purely accidental, he ordered their immediate release. They were charged to speak to no one about the event (and later they were all transferred to overseas assignments.)

Cub reporter Thom Anderson had ignored the advice of his preoccupied editors at the Florence Morning News to “check on it in the morning” and had arrived at the farm with a photographer. He diagnosed the event, including pictures, and the following morning the News headlined the story of an atomic bomb destroying the Gregg household. His paper contained four stories on the event, and carried much more coverage than the New York Times, which had to telephone Thom at the paper to try to get some details of the explosion for its New York edition. Thom also fielded inquiry’s from multiple foreign newspapers. He later was to become the Managing Editor of the News. Strangely, coverage of the story by the national press was to virtually vanish after three days, in stark contrast to the media hysteria typical of today’s nuclear coverage.

The Air Force announced they would make a fair settlement with the Greggs. They sent an officer who accessed the house Gregg had built with his own hands at a nominal value. They got no allowance for housing since they had moved in with their relatives. Their belongings were virtually destroyed in the wreckage, and were estimated at their depreciated value instead of their replacement cost. The officer insisted they provide a list of every item lost, together with its purchase date and original purchase price. The Air Force compensated them for a loss of between “6 to 14” chickens which roamed freely over the yard; lacking a body count, some of them were vaporized in the blast. Since Gregg’s vehicles were destroyed by the blast, the officer provided them a rental car for one week – claiming this was sufficient time to process their insurance claim and purchase another vehicle. Overall the Air Force offered them compensation of $44,000, for loss of property and personal injury.

The Greggs declined the offer and asked their congressman for permission to sue the Air Force. The request went to President Eisenhower, who signed his approval and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. Three years later they received $55,000, from which they had to pay their legal bills. The Greggs abandoned farming and moved into Florence- living there in a modest bungalow.

Immediately after the blast, the Air Force sent a special crew to control access to the site and search for any parts of the weapon which were spread over a wide area. After a week they turned over control back to the State Police and announced all bomb parts were the property of the United States government. A nephew of Walter Gregg, Clyde Gregg, allegedly found a piece of the weapon in a nearby field – he never admitted to the location of the piece, but rumor says it was offered for sale on eBay in 2005. Rumor also says Clyde turned down an offer of $6,000 and has stored the piece under a stuffed beaver in his home. It’s also noted the Florence Historical Society Museum contains several pieces on display for the curious to view and perhaps remember.

Now Days nobody talks much about the event in Mars Bluff. If one drives East out of Florence on U.S. 76 to the intersection of East Palmetto Street and University Road, there on the roadside one sees a historical marker titled “Atomic Bomb sign markerAccident at Mars Bluff…”. Asking local teenagers for directions to the atomic bombing site evokes a puzzled stare. There were some directional signs to the “Atomic Bomb Crater Site” but most have been stolen by students from the local college. Walter Gregg was in his 90’s in 2012, and he’s reluctant to discuss the matter anymore. He says the aircrew flying the bomber have all written to the family with their deepest apologies for the event, and some have even visited and stayed over a few days to become good friends of the family.

The Air Force took some preventive measures after the fact. It is said a multimillion dollar upgrade to the nuclear arsenal explosives now surrounding nuclear weapons insures they no longer can detonate from impact, but require a special electrical signal. Flying procedures now require that the safety pin securing the weapons into the aircraft must remain in place throughout the flight until approaching the target area.

Perhaps the citizens of Mars Bluff will sleep a little more securely tonight…

 (To be continued)

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“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

“The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135832/, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3, http://rense.com/general45/Manrec.htm.

“Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08, http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.phop?name=News&file=print&sid=95

“Atom Bomb Dropped Here”, RoadsideAmerica.com/story/24951.

“Mars Bluff Bomb”, www.florencemuseum.org/artifacts/mars-bluff-bomb/

“March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton, http://www.moultrienews.com.

Mars Bluff: Impact

November 26, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

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Nov. 26, 2012

 Mars Bluff: Impact

         It was March 11, 1958 in the peaceful town of Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Suddenly, at 4:20 p.m. a tremendous explosion destroyed the backyard playhouse which 37 year old railroad conductor Walter Gregg had constructed for his two little girls. Just 20 minutes earlier the two girls and a friend had left the playhouse to play in the side yard. Overhead, a SAC B-47 Stratojet bomber crew, on a simulated combat mission out of Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia, had accidentally dropped a 30-kiloton Mark 6 atomic weapon from their bomb bay, and its chemical explosive had detonated upon impact with the playhouse. The crater measured 50 feet across and 35 feet deep. The concussion was felt and heard seven miles away and the rising cloud was observed from the roof of the downtown courthouse miles away.

Walter Gregg was with his son in the tool shed, making shelves when they heard the sound of a B-47 overhead. Suddenly a hugh explosion rocked the shed and the house where Mrs. Gregg (Effie) was sewing. The two men were blinded as the air was filled with swirling dust. Trees in the nearby forest were uprooted with tremendous cracking noises.

You couldn’t see 10 feet in front of your face,” Gregg said. “The only thing I could figure is that a plane had crashed.”(3)

He raced outside to locate his family with ringing ears from the tremendous concussion. His right arm was bleeding from a deep cut and a pain in his side. There Gregg House Damage (aerial view)was a tank of heating gas beside the house and he feared that it would detonate. As his hearing returned, he heard the sounds of his family screaming. (3)

You can’t really describe it, said Walter Jr., who now lives in Florence. The noise was incredible, and the dust was crazy. You can’t really describe it.” (3)

Walters’s  garden stood beside the playhouse, and was now only a deep gaping hole in the land. Now chunks of earth and debris began falling from the sky, some weighing hundreds of pounds. Some pieces began destroying the house as they impacted. He observed the house had been moved off its foundation from the blast and now tilted at an angle. The two began to be pelted with smaller pieces of dirt and rock. Effie ran from the house screaming and bleeding from a head incision where parts of the ceiling had hit her. (3)

Several outbuildings were being destroyed. Both of Walters’s vehicles were destroyed. Then he found the children. His two terrified girls, age nine and six, Rear View of Housesuffered cuts, bruising and scratches, and their nine year old cousin Ella had serious internal pain, bleeding and was in distress. (3)

A State Trooper arrived and said his car had been forced off the road by the blast wave. Neighbors began to arrive to see what had happened. The family was rushed to Florence Hospital, where all but Cousin Ella Davies were stitched up, treated and released. Ella required 31 stitches, and wasDestroyed  Greff Auto admitted to hospital for internal surgery. The family then spent the night at the home of Walter’s brother. It wasn’t until late that evening that Walter Gregg discovered that his house had been destroyed by an atomic bomb!

But the local newspaper in Florence actually knew what had occurred within a few minutes of the blast. At least Thom Andersen, a staff member of the Florence Morning News, already knew. He was a cub reporter manning the office desk alone when the call came in about 5 p.m.. (He was later to become the News’s Managing Editor). The rest of the staff was at the courthouse covering a sensational trial occurring there. Thom raced there to tell the Editors about the blast. He was told that a fuel tank had probably exploded and to “check on it in the morning”.(1)

But Thom showed the stuff of a reporter with a nose for news. Ignoring the indifferent advice of his bosses, he hired a freelance photographer and lit out for Mars Bluff! (1)

  (To be continued)

____________________

(1)  “Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

(2)  “The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135832/, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

(3)  ”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3, http://rense.com/general45/Manrec.htm.

(4)  “Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

(5)  ”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08, http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.phop?name=News&file=print&sid=95

(6)  “Atom Bomb Dropped Here”, RoadsideAmerica.com/story/24951.

(7)  “Mars Bluff Bomb”, www.florencemuseum.org/artifacts/mars-bluff-bomb/

(8)  “March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton, http://www.moultrienews.com.

Mars Bluff: Broken Arrow

October 18, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

 ______________________________________________________________________________

Oct. 18, 2012

Mars Bluff: Broken Arrow

        The United States Military has a special code word to signify a situation where a nuclear device is lost to control and supervision by its authorized military personnel. This constitutes an emergency of the first magnitude and triggers certain actions and procedures requiring immediate action. The code word is “Broken Arrow”.

On March 11, 1958, a Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojet bomber, aircraft number 53-1876A, was piloted by aircraft commander Captain Earl Koehler. It was climbing out to 15,000 feet over South Carolina to join three others

B-47 Stratojet

in a nuclear training flight under operation Snow Flurry. Nestled in her bomb bay was a 30 Kiloton Mark 6 Nuclear Weapon.

Due to a mechanical malfunction, the weapon is not locked into the bomb bay after takeoff. This action would have put it into a secure condition impossible to drop from the aircraft, as is required by Air Force regulations.  Navigator Captain Bruce Kulka is ordered to the bomb bay to insert a safety pin locking device by hand. In attempting to do this he inadvertently triggers the emergency bomb release, dropping the nuclear bomb out of the aircraft and almost pulling him out of the bomb bay along with it – without his parachute! Below nestles the peaceful town of Mars Bluff South Carolina. The time is 4:19 p.m.

As the weapon, weighing almost four tons, smashes through the bomb bay doors, Captain Kulka splays across the weapon like Slim Pickens in Doctor Strangelove, and finds himself sliding after the bomb. He manages to grab

Slim Pickens Rides to glory in Dr. Strangelove.

onto a desperate handhold and pull himself back into the aircraft – but the bomb falls free. By this time the flight is at 15,000 feet altitude but moments later the plane is rocked by the blast from the detonation.

Now the Aircraft Commander must send a special coded message to his command at Hunter Air Force Base, indicating an unscheduled (sic!) bomb drop! But this alert procedure has never been used before, and the Operations Center at Hunter does not understand the message. They refuse to acknowledge the transmission! Now to add insult to injury, in desperation Aircraft Commander Koehler radios the civilian FAA tower at Florence Airport, a small airfield near Mars Bluff. A civilian pilot landing at Florence later reports hearing an uncoded open transmission over the civilian common channel, asking the tower to please telephone Hunter Operations and advise them aircraft 53-1876A has inadvertently dropped a “device”!

On the ground in the community of Mars Bluff, Walter Gregg’s family is enjoying a calm Tuesday afternoon. His two girls, age 9 and 6 are playing with their cousin (age 9) in a playhouse Walter had constructed for them. About 4 p.m. they decide to move out of the playhouse onto the lawn some 200 yards away. Mrs. Gregg is sewing in the house and Walter and his son are building shelves in a nearby shed.

The bomb impacts at 4:20 p.m. directly upon the wooded location of the girls’ playhouse behind Greggs home, and erupts in a tremendous explosion. Several tons of special TNT-like chemical have detonated upon impact. The

Location of Bomb Detonation and Gregg House.

event is not nuclear, since the pit containing the Plutonium core was not installed into the bomb and remains safely in the birdcage inside the aircraft; thus the explosion is fierce but chemical in nature and involves no radioactive material. Nevertheless the crater is 35 feet deep and 70 feet wide. (Still today pilots report seeing concentric circles of destruction surrounding the crater). Parts of the bomb are later recovered some seven football fields distant.

Several miles away, a motorist by the name of J. A. Sanders is travelling down U.S. Highway 301. He is startled by a tremendous noise and his automobile is

Bomb Crater.

twisted around on the road from the impact of the blast wave. A state trooper on the same highway does a U-turn and begins racing in the direction of a nearby rising column of black smoke. Residents of a nearby Mount Mizpah Baptist Church discover their building is severely damaged and partially destroyed …

 (To be continued)

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(1)“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

(2)“The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135832/, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

(3)”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3, http://rense.com/general45/Manrec.htm.

(4)“Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

(5)”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08, http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.phop?name=News&file=print&sid=95

(6)“Atom Bomb Dropped Here”, RoadsideAmerica.com/story/24951.

(7)“Mars Bluff Bomb”, www.florencemuseum.org/artifacts/mars-bluff-bomb/

(8)“March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton, http://www.moultrienews.com.

Trouble at Mars Bluff

September 18, 2012

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

 __________________________________________________________

Sept. 17, 2012

 Trouble at Mars Bluff

            On March 11, 1958, the rural community of Mars Bluff South Carolina was a sleepy little suburb some six miles outside of the city of Florence. At about 3 p.m. one of its citizens, Walter Gregg, was with his son (Walter Gregg Junior) making benches in a work shed near his house. 37 year-old Walter was a railroad conductor with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and an ex paratrooper from World War II. He had built the house himself with special care and high quality materials, and the family had moved in five years earlier. His wife, Ethelmae, (Effie) was busy inside the house. They had met on a blind date and married in 1942.

          Walter had constructed a play house in the backyard for his two girls, Helen age six, and Frances age nine, who were playing there with their cousin Ella Davies, also age nine.  Their games soon led them out of the playhouse onto the grass to a location about 200 yards away, when they looked up to notice the loud sound of a high flying jet aircraft approaching …(1)

__________ 

           Early that same morning, at 0800 hours, at Hunter Air Force Base near Savannah Georgia, aircraft number 53-1876A was being readied for a mission. She was a six-engine B-47 Stratojet, one of the Air Force’s newest and hottest nuclear bombers, and she was being prepped for a long range Special Weapons mission under Operation Snow Flurry. The operation was to be a high altitude mission across the Atlantic for four Stratojets of the 375th Bombardment Squadron of the Strategic Air Command.

          The objective was to carry a nuclear weapon to Bruntingthorpe Air Base England, aerial refuel enroute and then, before landing, conduct a simulated weapons drop onto an electronic target in Great Britain. Briefings by two generals on this mission had begun some ten days earlier and tension was building. The operation would be scored, points awarded and the timing for the mission was a critical measure of aircrew performance.

          But there was a problem. The “Special Weapon” involved was known as a Mark 6 Nuclear Weapon – an “Atomic Bomb” to the layman. Measuring 5 feet in diameter and 10.6 feet in length, the weapon weighed almost 4 tons, and could produce a nuclear detonation of magnitude about 30 kilotons (about double the size of the Hiroshima bomb). She was filled with a special high explosive designed to compress the Plutonium core into a tiny sphere capable of generating a chain reaction and releasing enormous amounts of energy in the process.

          The Plutonium core for the weapon (called the “pit”) was surrounded by a Uranium tamper. It had been delivered by an officer representing the Atomic Energy Commission early that morning (at this point in time all nuclear materials were still owned by the AEC, and “loaned” to the military for special operations). The pilot, Captain Earl Koehler, signed for the pit, certifying he wouldn’t use it for non-military purposes. The pit was not inserted into the bomb, but was stored in the aircraft separately in a special container known as the “Birdcage”. The pit could be inserted at any time during the flight, arming the weapon to create a nuclear explosion. Without the pit, only the thousands of pounds of TNT-like explosive could detonate in a conventional chemical explosion.

          There were two systems to secure the weapon inside the aircraft bomb bay. A pneumatic device which could be locked remotely from the co-pilot position, and a simple steel locking pin which could be manually inserted into position. When the pin was placed it was impossible for the bomb to leave the aircraft. By Air Force regulation, the pin had to be removed on takeoff and landing so that, in an emergency, the weapon could be jettisoned, allowing better control of the aircraft. It was then to be locked again after takeoff for the duration of the flight.

          The problems began after the aircrew arrived early that morning. The aircraft crew consisted of Capt. Koehler Aircraft Commander, Capt. Charles Woodruff Co-Pilot and Nav/Bombadier Capt. Bruce Kulka. A special two man loading crew was unable to engage the locking pin to secure the weapon in the bomb bay, thus guaranteeing safe handling before takeoff, which was scheduled for late afternoon. A special weapons supervisor was summoned. After suspending the weapon in a shackle mechanism, he utilized all his high technology skills and special training, secured a hammer and proceeded to pound the pin into its locked position! Since all pre-flight checks had to be completed by 10:30, neither crew ran the engage/disengage cycle to test the locking mechanism.

           After briefings for weather and operations, engine start was at 3:42 p.m. Nine minutes later while 1876A taxied into takeoff position, Co-pilot Woodruff pulled the pneumatic lever at his station behind the pilot and dis-engaged the locking pin. The weapon now could be jettisoned freely in event of emergency. Wheels up was at 3:53 and the bomber began the climb to 15,000 feet to join her three sister ships. Passing through 5,000 feet, Woodruff pulled the lever to re-engage the locking pin to secure the weapon in the bomb bay. Nothing happened, except a red light began blinking on the pilot’s console. Negative Function! For another 5 minutes Woodruff worked the locking mechanism to no avail. The Nuclear bomb was not secured and the crew now had a serious problem!(1)

          The Aircraft Commander now told Navigator Kulka to leave his position in the nose of the plane, go into the bomb bay and try to seat the pin by hand! This required the crew section to be depressurized and all to go on oxygen. It also meant Kulka had to remove his parachute, since the small crawl tube leading to the bomb was not large enough to allow a bulky parachute. So now, dragging an oxygen bottle hosed to his mask, Kulka crawled to the bomb bay and began searching for the locking pin.

          After 12 minutes of frantic searching, all realized no one knew the actual location of the locking device. Kulka, being a short individual, then deduced (correctly) the pin was invisible above the top of the bomb curvature, and he began jumping up to try to see over the top of the weapon. Inadvertently, his hand took hold of the handle for emergency bomb release, and his next jump released the weapon. A four ton nuclear bomb fell onto the bomb bay doors, dragging Kulka down with it. After a few seconds the bomb bay doors gave way and the bomb fell free of the aircraft into the airspace over South Carolina …

 (To be continued)

____________________

(1)  “Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

(2)  “The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135832/, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

(3)  ”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3, http://rense.com/general45/Manrec.htm.

(4)  “Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

(5)  ”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08, http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.phop?name=News&file=print&sid=95

(6)  “Atom Bomb Dropped Here”, RoadsideAmerica.com/story/24951.

(7)  “Mars Bluff Bomb”, www.florencemuseum.org/artifacts/mars-bluff-bomb/

(8)  “March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton, http://www.moultrienews.com.

Finger Pointing

August 16, 2012

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

 ___________________________________________________________

Aug. 15, 2012

Finger Pointing

            As described in our last entry, ABCNews, in a repeat of a test done in 2002, in 2003 again shipped a 15 pound metal cylinder of depleted Uranium from the port of Jakarta Indonesia, (the largest Muslim country) to the port of Long Beach. The container arrived on 23 August 2003, and, due to the country of origin, was promptly flagged for inspection by HS agents. Later HS claimed they found nothing unusual or suspicious. Experts say the detection devices employed at the time could not distinguish depleted Uranium from enriched bomb quality U unless the trunk was opened for detailed inspection. ABC found the trunk still sealed with the wire seal which had been installed in Jakarta.

          ABCNews subsequently stated on Sept. 10,

          “… For a second year, U.S. government screeners have failed to detect a shipment of depleted uranium in a container sent by ABCNews from overseas as part of a test of security at American ports…”

           Officials in the Department of Homeland Security seemed upset about this second event. In an interview on World News Tonight hosted by Brian Ross, HS Security Assistant Secretary Asa Hutchinson told him “I think you’re a news reporter that is trying to carry out a hoax on our inspectors…” Hutchinson said “We targeted it, we inspected it, we confirmed that it was not a danger to America”. Meanwhile, Homeland Security assigned agents in four cities to investigate ABC personnel and news sources involved.(5)

          The shipment was given to a trucking company for transport inland. The driver became suspicious when told of the contents, suspecting that something was missed during the inspection, and called his company. Cesar Melgar, president of the trucking company said “This container went through an exam and so we were wondering about that, how come customs didn’t get this.” The trucking company alerted the FBI.

          That night (Sept. 2, 2003), the shipment left the port and the FBI began a weeklong investigation of the event, suggesting violations of felony smuggling laws.(5) HS stated that any decision to prosecute would be made by the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. At midnight September 2nd, federal agents appeared at the gates of the ABCNews bureau in Los Angeles. They demanded access to ABC personnel and demanded to be given the uranium in question. The canister was already on its way to the New York Office.(5) ABCNews editor Ursula Fahey said “Agent Susan Land of U.S. Customs said she was there on the authority of the Department of Justice…They wanted our people and they wanted the package…”. ABC later turned over the package to HS technicians who confirmed the material was harmless depleted Uranium.

          Two U.S. agents appeared at night at the San Diego home of cameraman Jeff Freeman, who had worked on the project. They demanded the video tapes he had shot. They identified themselves as FBI agents, but had no warrant or subpoena. It was later discovered they were not agents of the FBI. The tapes had been already shipped to ABCNews in New York. (5)

          A nuclear physicist named Cochran had supplied the Uranium to ABC and instructed them in packaging and shipping safely. That Saturday morning, two U.S. Customs Agents appeared unannounced at his home in Washington D.C. Cochran and his wife were going shopping and found their driveway blocked by federal agents! He told ABC

          “they pulled up and blocked my driveway so that I couldn’t pull the car out,…They didn’t call me up, they didn’t knock on my door, they just swooped in and stopped my exit from the driveway.(5)

Cochran told the agents to show up at his office on Monday during business hours when his attorney would be present.

            Later, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a concerned letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft stating his concern about “a chilling effect on legitimate investigative reporting…” in the ABCNews case…

          “WASHINGTON – 17 July 2012 – The Obama administration has failed to meet a legal deadline for scanning all shipping containers for radioactive material before they reach the United States, a requirement aimed at strengthening maritime security and preventing terrorists from smuggling a nuclear device into any of the nation’s 300 sea and river ports.

            The Department of Homeland Security was given until July 1 [2012] to ensure that 100 percent of inbound shipping containers are screened at foreign ports.

            In a little-noticed action, the department’s secretary, Janet Napolitano informed Congress in May that she was invoking a two-year blanket exemption because the screening is proving too costly and cumbersome…Under [the current] system fewer than half a percent of the roughly 10 million containers arriving at U.S. ports last year were scanned before departure. DHS said those checks turned up narcotics and other contraband but that there have been no public reports [sic! – ed] of smuggled nuclear material.

            In response to the 9/11commission report, Congress passed a law in 2007 specifying that no cargo container may enter the United States before being scanned with imaging equipment and a radiation detection device… DHS says monitors scan 99 percent of containers for radiation after they arrive at U.S. ports, but experts say the monitors at America’s ports are not sophisticated enough to detect nuclear devices or highly enriched Uranium, which emit low levels of radiation.

            GAO has warned that a nuclear device could be detonated while at a port…causing billions of dollars in damage in addition to the loss of life. Estimates of damage caused by a nuclear detonation at a major port range from tens of billions of dollars to $1 trillion…”(4)

  (to be continued)

____________________

(1)  “Customs fails to Detect Depleted Uranium”, ABC News, page 1 to 3, Sept. 11, 2002.

(2) http://abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/Primetime/sept11_uranium030910.html.

(3)  Some references seem to cite “Los Angeles” as the port of entry.

(4)  “Feds miss cargo screens deadline”,  Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 17 July, 2012.

(5)  http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?is=129321&page.

Border Breach – Again!

June 19, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

 _________________________________________________________

Jun. 18, 2012

Border Breach – Again!

“Fool me twice and shame on me…”

           The crate now rested in a New York Port Authority warehouse at Pier number 1 across the river from Manhattan. The Port Authority Police assigned to guard the warehouse did not inquire about the container, and there were no radiation detectors evident at the facility. When ABC News personnel arrived to claim the shipment, the container was still sealed, indicating it had not been opened for inspection.(1)  Experts later testified the contents of the pipe could not have been distinguished from weapons grade radioactive material without opening it for detailed examination.

          When the story hit national TV news, Customs loudly disclaimed the situation. The Customs Commissioner said they screened the item and found nothing dangerous. “We ran it for radiation detection and we also did a large-scale X-ray…Nothing appeared that would indicate there was a potential for a nuclear device to be in the container…” When asked later why a large round metal object in a shipment of Turkish horse carts didn’t arouse any suspicion, he responded “Well, look I’m not gonna get into it…We have the X-ray pictures”. (1)  He refused to produce the images when requested by ABC News.

          Now it is a year later (2003) and near the anniversary of Sept. 11, ABC News decides to try a second time. This time the port of entry is chosen at the opposite end of the country – the Port of Long Beach. This is the second largest port handler of shipping containers into the United States. To justify entry on the west coast, Jakarta, Indonesia is chosen as the point of origin in the Pacific Rim – Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world.

          The very same capped pipe with 15 pounds of depleted Uranium is chosen. This material is safe to ship but is radioactive and suitable for use in a dirty bomb. It is placed in an elaborately decorated teak trunk, deposited at a Jakarta furniture store and is then loaded along with other furniture into a shipping container.

          In late July 2003, the shipment is ready for pickup, destination Long Beach California. “It took us only a few days to find a shipper willing to send a container to America with almost no questions asked”,(2)  said David Scott, an ABC producer. The shipper chosen is Maersk Logistics, a hugh company with headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. “We did not tell the company about the depleted Uranium, and they never asked”, said Scott.(2)

           Maersk later stated their company regulations don’t mandate container inspection unless at the port. They provide “door to door service” and rely on official inspectors to find any problems.  

          Later “…In a statement, Maersk said the ABCNEWS findings had caused it to investigate and review its procedures overseas. “Any important deviations from normal procedure will be rectified immediately,” the statement said. Furthermore, “Security procedures”  will be reviewed again in order to evaluate whether any adjustments should be made.”(2)

          The container is shipped off to the U.S. without further examination. On August 23rd the shipping container is offloaded to the Port of Long Beach(3) . Since the origin was listed as Jakarta, the container is set aside for screening by agents of Homeland Security. Curiously, the X-ray scanners and radiation detectors do not detect anything suspicious in the container.(2)

          After the story broke in September, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Asa Hutchinson told ABC “The system first passed the test because we did target this shipment”.(2)  Other officials said the detectors saw nothing unusual in the shipment. Subsequently, experts testified if the contents had been weapons grade Uranium, providing an additional 1/8th inch lead shielding around the inside of the pipe  would produce a radiation signature similar to depleted Uranium.

          Tom Cochran, a nuclear physicist from a private organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, had provided the original sample of depleted Uranium to ABC for use in the test. He said “If they can’t detect that, then they can’t detect the real thing … the only way to know whether this is the real thing or depleted Uranium is to actually open the container and take a look …”(2)  

          In what seems like deja vue, when ABC personnel arrived to reclaim the shipment as it was released from the port, the same metal seal placed on the trunk in Jakarta was still intact, indicating the container could not have been opened.

          Graham Allison, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense told ABCNEWS, “the test that you put to them, which looks to me to be a fair test, they fail.” California Senator Dianne Feinstein, concerned about this urgent matter, said “I think this is a case in point which established the soft underbelly of national security and homeland defense in the United States.”

          But Homeland Security officials scoffed at the ABC test, saying the depleted Uranium was harmless. However they seemed to not be aware that the Uranium had passed through their detectors.

          The first sign of trouble came from a truck driver who had received the shipment to be transported inland! He became concerned that something was missed during the port inspection. The truck driver called Maersk, and they, in turn, alerted the FBI …

(to be continued)

____________________

(1)  “Customs fails to Detect Depleted Uranium”, ABC News, page 1 to 3, Sept. 11, 2002.

(2)  http:/abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/Primetime/sept11_uranium030910.html.

(3)  Some references seem to cite “Los Angeles” as the port of entry.

Border Breach – Twice

May 29, 2012

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

__________________________________________________________________________

May 28, 2012

Border Breach – Twice

 “Fool me once and shame on thee…”

           On the fourth of July, 2002, almost one year after 9/11, two nondescript American travellers began a journey across seven countries of Europe, heading ultimately for the United States. Among the luggage accompanying them, was a medium sized suitcase. It contained a metal pipe about the size of a soda can, lined with lead. Inside this can was 15 pounds of the element Uranium.

          Natural Uranium contains about 0.72 percent of the U235 isotope. The Uranium sample being transported was classified as “depleted”, meaning it contained less than the natural .72 percent of 235. To be used in a nuclear weapon this sample would need to be enriched to 85 or 90% U235.  Thus, neither natural nor depleted Uranium is suitable for use as a nuclear bomb. But even depleted U is radioactive and is dangerous for use as a terrorist “dirty bomb”.

          So our travelers proceeded on their journey by train, with the suitcase comfortably tucked into the luggage rack above their seats. Crossing the border into Hungary their passports were examined, but the suitcase remained undisturbed overhead. From there the train proceeded to Romania and across the Transylvanian Alps. Again no attention was paid to the baggage. Then through the spreading landscape of Bulgaria and on to Turkey; without any question of the contents of the baggage.

          Istanbul is known to authorities as a crossroads of nuclear black market smuggling.  This team was following precisely the route across Europe known to be used by smugglers transporting Uranium from the former Soviet Union.  From here, export to the Middle East is simple. During the entire 47 hour rail journey no radiation detectors were in evidence, and the baggage arrived undisturbed in Istanbul.

          “Turkish authorities report they have detected more than100 cases of such attempted   smuggling in the last few years…” (1)

           Luckily, this team was not a group of dedicated terrorists. Rather, they were employees of ABCNEWS from the United States. The objective was to see whether it was possible to smuggle a dirty bomb past all authorities and into continental United States. So far their detection score was hovering at zero.

          Within a few hours of arriving in Turkey, the baggage was being prepared to move by sea into a port of the United States. A very decorative oriental chest was purchased on the street, the suitcase was placed inside and the assembly was then nailed inside a wooden crate. To avoid legal problems in case authorities detected the shipment, it was clearly marked that it contained depleted Uranium. (For education or research purposes, a United States citizen is allowed to possess up to 15 pounds of depleted Uranium under Nuclear Regulatory Commission general license.)

          Shipments by sea are packed into large shipping containers, usually 40’x8’x8’ and the metal container itself is then sealed before loading aboard ship. So now our ersatz “dirty bomb” found itself nestled beside “­crates of hugh vases and Turkish horse carts (1) . The shipping company now in charge of the crate did not know or check to see what was inside the crate. Loaded on board ship it sailed on July 10, now securely on its way to the Port of New York, U.S.A.

          Graham Allison is an expert on nuclear terrorism and at that time the Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He was also a former Assistant Secretary of Defense. He said

           “A ship, I think, is one of the most dangerous delivery devices. A weapon or material in the belly of a ship has been one of the nightmare scenarios for people that think about how nuclear weapons might arrive in the U.S.” (1)

           In the mid 1990’s, documents were seized from one of Osama Bin Laden’s high aides. They indicate Bin Laden planned at that time, to use shipping containers packed with sesame seeds to smuggle high-grade radioactive material into the United States(1)

           On 29 July at 2 a.m., our suitcase sailed under the bridges of New York and tied up at the Staten Island dock outside of the City of New York. U.S. Customs performed the usual inspection of the cargo container and it passed into continental United States. (Later, Customs claimed they had singled out the crate for X-ray examination and had found nothing dangerous.)  Within several days the unopened crate was on a truck being transported into Manhattan. The container was delivered to a New York Port Authority warehouse on Pier No.1, across the river from Manhattan, just below the Brooklyn Bridge (1)

 ____________________

(1)   “Customs fails to Detect Depleted Uranium”, ABC News, page 1 to 3, Sept. 11, 2002.


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