The recent news article regarding the almost accidental nuclear explosion during JFK's watch - instigated me to call attention to this article that I posted a few years ago - one of my first blog articles that I think stands up pretty well a few years down the line.
WMD IN MY BACKYARD –
By William Kelly
The search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq may have come up empty, but from where I’m sitting in the middle of New Jersey, it seems that there’s plenty of WMD right here in my backyard. It seems that I don’t have to go far to find such WMD as missing mice infected with biological warfare diseases, unaccounted for vials of liquid anthrax, nuke missile meltdowns and nuclear warheads missing offshore. It’s all right here. I couldn’t make this up, and we don’t need no terrorist to do it to us, it seems we shoot ourselves in the foot.
Just recently, as detailed in the local news, vials of anthrax are missing, along with three bubonic plague infested mice. Then there’s the BOMARC missile meltdown, complete with nuclear warheads, what they call a “Broken Arrow” incident that occurred at Fort Dix/McGuire AFB, which polluted the nearby ground and water.
Know any terrorists looking for some nuclear warheads? There’s two in the water a few miles off Cape May, New Jersey, jetsoned during an emergency from a military plane out of Dover AFB in Delaware, and never recovered. Just like Ian Fleming’s fictional 007 adventure “Thunderball,” in which two nuclear bombs are hijacked by the terrorist organization SPECTRE – Special Executive for Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, for blackmail purposes.
Missing mice and anthrax, missile meltdown, nuke warheads lost offshore, we got it all. And each case study is a lesson in accidents that can get out of control. The most recent are the stories of the missing mice and anthrax.
MISSING INFECTED MICE AND ANTHRAX
Three bubonic plague infested mice went missing from a government lab in Newark in September, 2005, and not long after two-two inch tubes of liquid anthrax bacteria were reported unaccounted for at the New Jersey Public Health Environmental Laboratory in Trenton.
According to the Associated Press (Wayne Parry, Aril 26, 2006), “The mice were never located, and officials said the rodents might have been stolen, eaten by other lab animals or just misplaced in a paperwork error.” The three toxic mice were absent from their Newark lab affiliated with the University of Medicine and Denistry, where a scandal even more pressing than the missing mice forced the resignation of the director and sparked a federal financial probe.
“The Newark lab that lost track of the plague-infested mice conducts bioterrorism research for the federal government,” Wayne Parry Reported. “After the incident, the facility improved its video surveillance and stopped using contracted animal handlers. Before the incident, the center relied on a single security guard.”
The anthrax, kept at a more secure facility, was discovered missing during an inventory of more than 19,000 samples stored in a state laboratory, prior to their being relocated to an even more secure facility. 350 of 352 positive anthrax samples are accounted for. According to Lauren O. Kidd of the Gannett newspapers, “The state is obliged by the FBI to store the positive samples as potential evidence if a suspect is charged in connection to the unsolved anthrax attacks that killed five and harmed at least 17 in October 2001. The U.S. Postal Service requires the state to store the thousands of negative samples as well, officials said.”
“In both cases, authorities say they think the items in question weren’t actually lost, but were simply unaccounted for due to clerical errors,” wrote Parry.
“It is likely that the discrepancy is an inventory or clerical error and not truly missing samples,” said state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz.
Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright said, “The fact that they don’t know the answer means they’re not running a properly secured facility. The odds are that it was an accounting error, but it is very possible that one of the persons with access to the lab has removed the material.”
Of the 300 institutions in the country capable of safely handling such materials, 16,500 individuals are certified and cleared to handle and possess deadly bio-agents, and only eleven people have such clearance at the Trenton lab where the anthrax was stored. All were questioned and cleared.
“The Trenton lab has multiple levels of security,” writes Parry, “including a padlocked containment area requiring two different sets of identification for access,…video monitoring and 24-hour security guards.”
“Samples of anthrax have been stored at a Trenton lab since shortly after the October 2001 anthrax mailings that went through a Hamilton (N.J.) post office, killing four people across the country and sickening 17.”
“The chance that these two positive specimens are somewhere outside of the laboratory is very small,” said Bresnitz, noting the missing anthrax is, “not in a mode that we think could be used as weapons. The spores would have to be put into an aerosol form to be used as a weapon, which would take a high level of technical sophistication.”
Well, we know who has a high level of technical sophistication. As Rutgers professor Ebright says, “If an adversary of the United States, such as al-Quada, wanted to obtain this material, the most effective, simple procedure to do so is to plant a person in one of those numerous institutions that the administration has put in place working with this material. Because the number of those institutions has increased and because it happened without an increase in effective security, the risk to the United States has dramatically increased.”
Not rare in New Jersey, we apparently have an abundance of anthrax, as New Jersey’s Homeland Security director Richard Canas said, “I think the genesis was that they were inundated with samples. What I would like to see is bringing this number down. Let’s at least cull these down into something more manageable.”
Indeed. And if you see three lose mice running around that glow in the dark, please notify the office of Homeland Security that you found their missing rodents.
Then there’s the nuke missile meltdown, a “Broken Arrow” event.
BOMARC Missle Meltdown. June 7, 1960
The United States was in the mist of the Cold War in early June, 1960, when major cities and military bases were surrounded by batteries of anti-missile missiles, poised to be launched to defend the country against jet bomber or missile attack with thermonuclear weapons.
The BOMARC – was one such anti-missile system, and a battery of them were set up on the east edge of McGuire Air Force base in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Surrounded by scub pine forests, a public nature preserve was just across the two lane blacktop highway from the line of missiles nestled in the woods. The idea behind shooting a nuclear warhead as a defensive weapon depended upon an advance notice being given to launch the anti-missiles so they could detonate high in the atmosphere and take out the incoming bombers and missiles with them.
Set to be launched on two minutes notice, the BOMARC missiles were poised skyward, set in a row a few hundred yards apart. On June 7, 1960, a helium tank under high pressure exploded, rupturing the fuel tank that caught fire.
It is what they call a “Broken Arrow” event, or “any accidental or unauthorized incident involving a possible detonation of a nuclear weapon by U.S. Forces (other than war risk); the non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon; radioactive contamination; the seizure, theft or loss of a nuclear weapon or component (including jettisoning); Public hazard, actual or implied.”
While McGuire AFB is now the home base to the state of New Jersey’s nuclear response strike team, they were a little less sophisticated in 1960.
The local, mainly volunteer fire and rescue squads from nearby town of New Egypt, in Ocean County, responded to the explosion, and fought the fire with traditional firefighting weapons – high pressure water.
With the rocket’s fuel feeding the fire, which burned out of control for awhile, the nuclear tipped missile burned completely, and while there was no nuclear explosion, the fire melted the nuclear materials, which combined with the water runoff and contaminated the ground and the ground water below, which fed into a local creek.
One official report reads: Table 5-1: U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents, 1950-1980
June 7, 1960 / BOMARC / McGuire AFB, New Jersey
“A BOMARC air defense missile in ready storage condition (permitting launch in two minutes) was destroyed by explosion and fire after a high-pressure helium tank exploded and ruptured the missile’s fuel tanks. The warhead was also destroyed by the fire although the high explosives did not detonate. Nuclear safety devices acted as designed. Contamination was restricted to an area immediately beneath the weapon and an adjacent elongated area approximately 100 feet long, caused by drain off of firefighting water.’
Another source is: U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, by Chuck Hansen (Orion Books, New York, N.Y., 10003, 1988.
Also see: “The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age: The Hidden History, The Human Cost” by John May, (Pantheon Books, NY, NY, 1989)
While the event took place in 1960, on July 29, 1999 it was announced from McGuire AFB that, “Officials at McGure AFB say they have hired a South Carolina firm to clean up radioacative plutonium that leaked during a 1960 fire at a nuclear missile site. The Trentonian reported that the cleanup was announced a day after federal authorities added other McGuire dump areas to the Superfund list….but not the missile site in Plumstead Township, which was abandoned in 1972.”
Under “Completed Actions,” the DOD report notes that, “Following the explosion that occurred in 1960, paint was applied to the shelter and concrete was poured over the most heavily plutonium-contaminated portions of the asphalt apron and floor area of the shelter. An asphalt cover was placed in the drainage ditch that leads from the shelter to the nearby stream to impede erosion of contaminated soil. Access to the accident area is restricted by a 6 foot chain link fence topped with barb wire.”
The nearby Colliers Mill Wildlife Management Area, a nature park just across the highway from the accident site, is a popular public camping and recreational park.
From what I understand, having talked with residents of the area, a local piney with a truck was hired to haul some of the contaminated dirt away from the site.
An extensive Public Health Assessment by the Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center – of the “Broken Arrow” event at the McGuire Missile, New Egypt, Ocean County, New Jersey, concluded, “No apparent health hazards are associated with an explosion and fire at the BOMARC site in 1960, which released radionuclides to the environment via smoke, dust and water runoff from fire-fighting efforts. Workers responding to the accident, downwind at the time of the accident, or involved in cleanup may have breathed in alpha radiation when they inhaled radionuclides, primarily plutonium, carried on smoke or attached to resuspended soil, or they could have been exposed to small amounts of external gamma radiation.”
The report continues, “Given the lack of information about the exposure conditions at the time of the accident, it is challenging to accurately assess workers intake and does. Conservative estimates, however, suggest that radiation dose received during or after the accident are not expected to cause harmful long term effects or cancer.”
NUKE WARHEADS MISSING OFFSHORE
On my seventh birthday, I had no idea that this was happening.
JULY 28, 1957 – C-124 Globemaster Jettisons Cargo – 2 Plutonium-239 atomic warheads – within an area 100 miles southeast of the Naval Air Station, Pomona.
The Department of Defense has officially reported thirty-two serious accidents involving nuclear weapons, three of which occurred while transporting weapons from one place to another, using the C-124 “Globemaster” transport.
Destination Europe, the C-124 with three weapons aboard took off from Dover AFB in Delaware, but immediately began experiencing engine trouble. In order to avoid crashing into the water, the crew jettisoned two of the weapons into the water.
According to a 1981 report by the Center for Defense Information [ Washington, D.C. #0195-6450 The Defense Monitor (Vol. X. Number 5) U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents: Danger In Our Midst – republished by MILNET – http://www.milnet.com/cdiart.htm ]
“On July 28, 1957, a C-124 jettisoned two weapons from a C-124 aircraft. There were three weapons and one nuclear capsule on board the aircraft, though nuclear components were not installed in the weapons. Enroute from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, “a loss of power from number one and number two engines [of four a major problem for this aircraft when carrying extremely heavy atomic bombs of this era ] was experienced. Maximum power was applied to the remaining engines; however, level flight could not be maintained. At this point, the decision was made to jettison cargo in the interest of safety of the aircraft and crew. The first weapon was jettisoned at approximately 2,500 feet altitude. No detonation occurred from either weapon. Both weapons are presumed to have been damaged from impact with the ocean surface. Both weapons are presumed to have submerged almost instantly. The ocean varies in depth in the area of the jettisonings. The C-124 landed at an airfield in the vicinity of Atlantic City, New Jersey, with the remaining weapon and the nuclear capsule aboard. A search for the weapons or debris had negative results.”
“The weapons were jettisoned within an area 100 miles southeast of the Naval Air Station, Pomona, N.J., where the aircraft landed,” the MILNET report notes. “The two weapons are still presumably in the area, somewhere east of Rehobeth Beach Delaware, Cape May and Wildwood, N.J.”
Even though this incident took place in 1957, you can be sure that bombs are still there. “Plutonium-239, an isotope used to fuel atomic bombs,” the report dryly notes, “has a half-life of 24,400 years and remains poisonous for at least half a million years.”
The problem is – who is looking for these lost nukes? Nobody. If we don’t keep looking for them until they are found, then the terrorists will one day most certainly go looking for them.
Nor do we know what long-term effects of these nuclear accidents if we don’t find out what happened to them and monitor the affected environment.
Under the DOD definition of a nuclear accident, the jettisoning of nuclear warheads is a “Broken Arrow” event #4 – “Seizure, theft, or loss of a nuclear weapon or component (including jettisoning);” a “Public hazard,” whether “actual or implied.”
The DOD report on nuclear weapons accidents concludes “the increased numbers of nuclear weapons suggest that more accidents and perhaps more serious accidents will occur in the future.”
William Kelly -