Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

If Only the Nuclear Arsenal Were Fool Proof

by

shutterstock_3627939

In his book Atomic Accidents (Pegasus, 2014), James Mahaffey reports that the US has lost, destroyed or damaged nuclear weapons 65 times between 1945 and 1989. Jan. 24 was the anniversary of a B-52 crash in N. Carolina where two 6,500-lb hydrogen bombs fell from the plane and nearly detonated when the bomber broke up in the air. Two recent accidents highlight the dangers today’s weapons still pose to the people who pay for them.

Trident submarine runs aground, Capt. sacked

On Nov. 25, 2015 the nuclear-powered Trident submarine USS Georgia ran aground in Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy is still investigating the crash, the sub’s Capt. David Adams was fired Jan. 4, and the service estimated the cost of repairs would be at least $1 million.

Imagine being among the terrified 160-member crew, thrown about your cramped quarters — along with anything else not tied down — not knowing the cause of blaring alarms. If fire suppressors spring on when the 560-foot, 18,000-ton sub bashed the shoreline, it was a rainy night in Georgia.

Capt. Adams told the press he would “miss sailing …again to stand against our nation’s enemies.” But who needs enemies with friends like Adams literally running $2 billion weapon systems into the ground?

Minuteman III missile damaged, launch crew fired

Meanwhile, in the nuclear heartland, three Minuteman III missile launch officers were fired after a recently disclosed accident that left one missile with at least $1.8 million in damages. [The missile is named “Damned if you do” in Nukewatch’s new Revised Edition of “Nuclear Heartland: A guide to the 450 land-based missiles of the United States,” which features maps of all three of the US’s active missile fields.]

The damaged, single-warhead rocket was in its underground silo near Peetz, Colorado, where Warren Air Force Base operates 150 of the missiles. The rocket, which has a 300-to-335-kiloton thermonuclear warhead, was shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Utah for repairs.

The Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board of the mishap report is being kept secret in spite of standing USAF policy. The Associated Press noted that under the Air Force’s own regulations such reports “are supposed to be made public.” Robert Burns reports that the AP’s request for a copy, under the Freedom of Information Act, was denied. A brief summary of the AIB report issued Jan. 22 says the accident “posed no risk to public safety,” a claim made unverifiable because no details of the damage were disclosed.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, interviewed by Burns Jan. 23, said, “By keeping the details of the accident secret and providing only vague responses, the Air Force behaves as if it has something to hide and undermines public confidence in the safety of the ICBM mission.”

The public summary says the weapon “became non-operational” during a test on May 16, 2014 and that the next day, the chief of a “mishap crew” violated “technical guidance” during the team’s checkup “subsequently damaging the missile.”

Blunder kept secret from higher-ups

Although the accident happened 20 months ago, it was first revealed this month. In fact, commanders at Warren AFB kept it secret from their military and civilian superiors in the Pentagon. At the time, the Minuteman missile system, its launch control staff in particular, was under investigation for narcotics trafficking, mass cheating on exams, performance failures, and misconduct by command authorities. On orders from Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel, nuclear-weapons experts conducted a three-month investigation of the missile “wings” at Air Bases in Great Falls, Mont., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Minot, North Dakota.

Asked if the May 17 accident was reported to the high-level investigators, Lt. Col. John Sheets, spokesman for the Air Force Global Strike Command in Omaha, which controls the ballistic missile force, said, “No” and referred further questions to the Pentagon.

It bears repeating that nuclear weapons accidents have the potential for catastrophic radiation releases with long-term health and environmental consequences. These two accidents amplify the seriousness of recent high-level calls for the elimination of the missiles.

Former Pentagon Chief William Perry said last Dec. 3, “Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security, they endanger it.” He pointed specifically to the land-based missiles, saying ICBMs “aren’t necessary,” are “destabilizing,” and “are simply too easy to launch on bad information and would be the most likely source of an accidental nuclear war.”

In an essay titled “A Threat Mostly to Ourselves,” Paul Nitz, a personal advisor to Ronald Reagan, wrote, “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them is costly and adds nothing to our security.” Gen. James Cartwright, a retired four-star general of the Marine Corps, issued a report in 2012 signed by Sen. Chuck Hagel (later Sec. of Defense) that recommended getting rid of the land-based missiles.

Perhaps Gen. James Kowalski, a retired three-star general and Deputy Commander of StratCom which oversees the ICBMs, said it best. Recalling a string of scandals, accidents and staff firings in Dec. 2014, Gen. Kowalski said, “The greatest threat to my force is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”

Scores of accidents documented by Mahaffey and by Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, beg the question: What is the government waiting for? Is a self-inflicted nuclear weapon disaster the only way to force the military to turn the nuclear pistols away from our heads and put the safety on?

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Sullivan
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]