There's also one missing off the coast of GA:
"On Feb. 5, 1958, a B-47 bomber dropped a 7,000-pound nuclear bomb into the waters off Tybee Island, Ga., after it collided with another Air Force jet. Fifty years later, the bomb -- which has unknown quantities of radioactive material -- has never been found."
> You sure? Nuclear weapons are guaranteed to bite you eventually, being stupid enough to have them sorta implies you deserve your eventual reward.
And well, of all the ways the millennia old weapons race could have ended, it could have been worse.
(I did mention reasonable durations of travel.)
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nfgrebvqf zhpu uneqre gb qrgrpg, naq gura chg gur ebpxf n pbyyvfvba pbhefr jvgu Rnegu
Solution: Nuke it
Problem: 15 medium-sized radioactive asteroids heading for Earth
Outcome: a giant asteroid parked in Earth orbit, ready to mine for all its worth.
(Hell, if you're lucky, the bulldozer may only need the fuel to get there, and then can use bits of target asteroid for reaction mass. A nuclear-thermal nozzle will eat anything.)
(Of course, then another 4 big asteroids appear...)
Two of the four bombs exploded due to conventional fuses detonating, spreading radioactive material over land.
Okay but seriously. How good are the safety mechanisms? Is there significant risk an unarmed nuke could explode if going fast enough or with enough vibrations?
Making a nuclear weapon actually detonate in a nuclear manner is one of the hard problems of making a nuclear weapon. Basically you have to set the explosives off just right. An accidental detonation of the conventional parts of the bomb can't do that (short of like space re-entry speeds or some other thing that could provide the force needed even without an explosion). The fear has always been around the detonation systems since those are the only thing realistically capable of setting off a nuclear explosion. Since the 1950s as detonation systems have gotten more reliable they've added more and more redundancy so those have all sorts of interlocks to prevent them from going off if not armed and fired. It's not like an airbag where if you hook up 12v to the right pins it goes bang. They actually need to be armed and then fired which requires a whole bunch of systems doing their thing in a specific order. The systems that arm weapons (like the aircraft and rocket side hardware) are relatively sophisticated and robust and a hell of a lot of man hours have been put into them over the years because the last thing you need is a risk of ordinance going off when you're already trying to fight a fire.
Dunno, wikipedia says the parameters are encrypted.
Anyway it would probably be good enough to just rip all the safety/firing electronics out, and replace it with your own best effort attempt at controlling the fireset capacitors charging and firing.
What's there to vary anyway? Charge voltages, and discharge timing? Odds would be you could probably make it go boom in a more controlled manner than what happened in past accidents when the bombs exploded after hitting the ground.
The trouble would be getting past the tamper-proof barrier, because the modern bombs are probably made to self-destruct, from what I've read, so instead of a nice ready-made bomb internals waiting for a simpler arduino control circuit for a fireset, you'd be dealing with a hot mess, after trying to get in.
Just some uninformed thoughts.
I also found some images of fat man firset online: https://lanlmuseum.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/3D33BB7F-... Interesting device. :)
Laymen refer to any use of crypto as "encrypted".
> Anyway it would probably be good enough to just rip all the safety/firing electronics out, and replace it with your own best effort attempt at controlling the fireset capacitors charging and firing.
It's really not though, it's very very specific to the design of the warhead, and the electronics are embedded in it in a way that you can't just take it apart and put it back together. It's all nasty stuff like FOGBANK that if you could remanufacture, you wouldn't need to steal a nuke in the first place.
> What's there to vary anyway? Charge voltages, and discharge timing? Odds would be you could probably make it go boom in a more controlled manner than what happened in past accidents when the bombs exploded after hitting the ground.
Yep, nanosecond precision detonation on the shaped charges, and not just "all at the same time", but a very specific sequence that's dependent on the exact geometries, isotopes and these days, how they've decayed over decades. That's what Oak Ridge uses those fancy super computers for.
> The trouble would be getting past the tamper-proof barrier, because the modern bombs are probably made to self-destruct, from what I've read, so instead of a nice ready-made bomb internals waiting for a simpler arduino control circuit for a fireset, you'd be dealing with a hot mess, after trying to get in.
They are very much not designed to self destruct. Really the opposite. And yes, the threat model is that without the codes, you leave someone with components that they essentially have to remanufacture into a new bomb, which takes a well funded state actor. Or they just use the bits as a dirty bomb, which is why that gets so much play in the age of terrorist cells. But you don't get a full on usable nuke by just sticking a microcontroller on a stolen bomb.
Are they though? This accident had 5 of it’s 6 safety switches arm during the accident.
This means that the development of the weapon in question occurred sometime in the first 12 years after the first nuclear weapons were tested.
I think that it is safe to assume that this very old weapon design has only been approved on since the 1950s.
Here is why I am not sure.
The nuclear weapons program is seen (in all good faith) by all those running it as vital to national security and national survival.
Anyone who expresses the slightest skepticism or concern about any aspect of it is seen as undermining this vital national goal. It should be noted that the skeptics / concerned are on very difficult ground professionally, because there are so many layers of secrecy and the barriers to disclosure are so strong that asking questions is actually nasty and rude. The people who are being questioned cannot disclose their true position or hint at why an arguement or line of questioning is silly and so they have to sit there (decent and honourable as they may be) sharply aware that they look shifty and silly. This is bloody unfair and unpleasant, it's never going to build bridges or relationships. It is an "unprofessional" line to follow.
So, these people (the skeptics) are then excluded from the program and anything that connects to it. The exclusion happens professionally (that guy is not honest or straightforward - don't trust his judgement), commercially/employment/youarefired & socially (you are a heretic, abhorrent, communist, idiot, greenie).
And that is ok - as far as it goes - I understand, I get it, there are many other roles and interests in life to pursue. But what it has created is the most profound bubble around the development, control and management of nuclear weapons within which everyone involves genuinely believes that they are safe, effective and necessary. There is no doubt. And without doubt there is complacency and ignorance. I hope to god that this doesn't lead to a major accident, but right now I am pretty sure that it will.
So, the failsafes worked as intended.
And yes, they should be even more failsafe.
The linked story says “ Robert McNamara, who’d been Secretary of Defense at the time of the incident, told reporters in 1983, "The bomb’s arming mechanism had six or seven steps to go through to detonate, and it went through all but one.””
Where is your quote from? I can’t find it in the Natgeo article.
They made up for it elsewhere, though, with the sort of behavior everyone expects:
It's a level of safety and reliability engineering that exists nowhere else; you simply cannot comprehend it unless you've worked there.
It wasn't always this way but it's been true since the 1970s. The accident described in the article was one of several that created Sandia's engineering culture.
If you somehow got your hands on a modern nuclear weapon and you had a team of PhD engineers, a year of time, and the best tools in the world, you might be able to get the radioactive material out, but you absolutely would not make it explode.
Generally this sounds nice, but I don't really believe it without some evidence of actually motivated red teams testing the system.
The engineering process for these things is highly adversarial. Layers and layers of red teams trying to break them in the conceptual phase, the design phase, the build phase, and the deployment phase. Plus coding extremely detailed computer models of the weapons and their usage scenarios and trying to make things fail in simulation. On the fastest supercomputers in the world.
> If you somehow got your hands on a modern nuclear weapon and you had a team of PhD engineers, a year of time, and the best tools in the world, you might be able to get the radioactive material out, but you absolutely would not make it explode.
I'm saying that there's no "might" about extracting the radioactive materials. Nor do you need "a team of PhD engineers, a year of time, and the best tools in the world". An angle grinder and a couple days should suffice.
As for making it explode, that may indeed be very difficult, but I am not highly confident given the military's general attitude and track record. Hopefully my cynicism is unfounded, but supercomputer simulations primarily designed to ensure that aging weapons still function doesn't really help with security.
Obviously the military could make mistakes when the weapons are in their custody, but civilian designs make sure those mistakes don't cause an unplanned detonation. Nor can a rogue military unit arbitrarily decide to start WW III. If they tried, the weapons would turn into bricks.
I'm curious about non-US nuclear weapons and how many of these safety measures are present in those weapons.
This is a product of what weapons are designed for; the warhead is designed to resist premature detonation, but the fuel (and oxidizer if present) must be readily and easily combustible in an engine.
Back then? We came within one safety of h-bombing North Carolina.
"The bomb’s arming mechanism had six or seven steps to go through to detonate, and it went through all but one.”
Also, I thought that: at atomic bomb is pure fission, a thermonuclear bomb is Fusion driven by a fission bombs heat and pressure wave? The article seems to use the term "atomic" to refer to thermonuclear weapons.
Non-colloquially, scientists would probably refer specifically to "fission" and "fusion" weapons, or to specific design used (eg. gun-type linear implosion, explosive lens, Teller-Ulam).
Most of the energy from most "H-bomb" designs actually comes from fission.
You must be talking about “nuclear weapon.” Never in my life I heard “atomic bomb” being used in reference to a hydrogen bomb.
> Almost no weapons currently in use by major nation-states are pure fission devices.
All tactical nukes are pure fission devices.
The tactical nukes I believe you are referring to are the W54 Davey Crockett, W48 6.1" shell, and W79 8" shell, all pure linear implosion fission weapons. All of those have been out of service since 1992, though.
Before all that, it seemed much more reasonable to do so, if you were concerned that your enemy might sneak their bombers close enough to destroy your bomber airfields before you could get your bombers airborne.
In theory (specifically US nuclear deterrence) each leg of the nuclear triad has a different purpose (and institutional stakeholders).
Bombers flying at a target are slow enough that in theory you can convince someone they are about to make a serious mistake, while still maintaining the ability to deescalate/give the adversary an off ramp.
Bombers are visible, verifiable, and put a clock on negotiations. They are a form of communication. They signal premeditated violent intention. ICBM/SLBM are an act of war.
There is lots of literature on the practical use of nuclear weapons. All of it thankfully questionable and untested. It can get pretty wonky pretty fast. Countervailing, decapitation, C4ISR, escalation ladders, tactical vs. strategic nukes, etc.
I wonder which embassies contain nuclear warheads. For the ones that do, which staff know what is in the mysterious secretive box? Who presses the button, and does that person know what the button does?
I would guess as a first approximation - almost certainly zero. The risks of discovery are far too high.
Those things take maintenance. It'd be tough to transport them and any repair parts and needed personnel in and out without anyone ever noticing. Risks of discovery are pretty high, considering how many bugs and spies have been successfully snuck into most embassies. Hell, if I was going to plan such a thing, I'd probably rather stick it in a random building somewhere than in an embassy.
Maybe more importantly, if you've got a nuclear war in progress, it's not necessarily such a good idea to kill the only people who can surrender.
Missiles don't turn around either, but I wonder if any of them have the ability to be disarmed or self-destructed. Might be a useful ability in some situations, but also a vulnerability that an enemy might exploit. I expect people like us would never know for sure if such a thing existed anyways.
There was a famous oopsie in 2007 where they mistakenly flew some live nukes around. In this case, cruise missles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_United_States_Air_Force_n...
There also was a railway version, SS-24 Scalpel (РТ-23 УТТХ) which was mounted inside always-on-the-move train locomotion. Decommissioned in 2005 but they have new version in development.
A pre-emptive strike isn't defense it's just starting the war and it also doesn't prevent you from being struck.
Unless you're in Cuba firing at the US or Europe aiming at Russia there's always time to launch a retaliatory strike before the first missiles hit and missile bases were designed to survive really close hits. That's part of why the US freaked out so much about missiles coming to Cuba and why Russia developed more mobile launch capability than the US. The only real 'defense' against and ICBM (at the time we're maybe figuring out real defenses now) was to be able to survive to strike back which isn't so much a defense as deterrent.
Rather we use hand-written letters and a lot of trust:
They nearly used them in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War:
Strictly speaking, the term "atomic bomb" shouldn't even be used for a fission bomb since the reactions involved are nuclear reactions, not chemical ("atomic") reactions.
However, in non-technical contexts, I have seen "atomic bomb" used for both fission and fusion bombs.
That and high-school chemistry.
My 40yo ass would get thrown out of high school before I could ask "where's the chem lab" but thanks
plus ca change
So both the Carolinas, and Georgia.
"I remember a talk about North
Carolina and a strange, strange pond
You see the sides were like glass
In the thick of a forest without a road
And if any man's hand ever made that land
Then I think it would've showed"