The more Americans learn about the true hazards of nuclear weapons, the more concerned they are with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. The national support for a bilateral nuclear freeze is but one example,. Following are some nuclear related stories that could have strengthened the public’s demand for a nuclear-weapons-free future. The failure of the media to widely publicize these stories qualifies this for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1981.
NUCLEAR ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN — On November 2, 1981, we almost nuked Scotland but few Americans ever heard about it. A fully-armed Poseidon missile was dropped 17 feet from a crane during a transfer operation from the submarine, USS Holland, to the USS Los Alamos, a mother ship. Hundreds of Poseidon missiles are still armed with the W68 warhead which is triggered by LX-09, an unstable explosive, even though production of the suspect weapon was halted in 1977 after a fatal accident at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Amarillo, Texas. Extensive tests showed the explosive detonates 50% of the time when dropped from 13 inches; the Poseidon fell 17 feet. Scotland was lucky. SOURCE: New Statesman, 11/27/81, “Accidents Will Happen” by Norman Solomon and Duncan Campbell.
THE REAL “BIAS” IN OUR NUCLEAR STRATEGY — accuracy is the most essential ingredient in our nuclear counterforce once strategy and yet recent reports indicate that our super-sophisticated ICBM’s may not be as accurate as originally thought. The “bias factor,” resulting from unpredictable variations in gravity, atmospheric conditions, and wind velocity, could throw a missile off target by as much as a quarter of a mile. Such an error would fail to destroy a hardened missile silo, key to the counterforce strategy. The “bias factor” throws into doubt the validity of the whole rationale underlying the U.S. nuclear weapons posture and makes the expensive MX missile system questionable. SOURCE: Inquiry, 10/5/81, “Bombs Awry” by Fred Kaplan.
UNCLE SAM AND NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION — since 1959, the State Department, the Export-Import Bank, and U.S. producers of nuclear reactors have worked together to supply 49 reactors to 12 nations throughout the world, And we don’t really know how those reactors are being used. In late November, 1981, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the international system of safeguards intended to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials to atomic weapons “would not detect a diversion in at least some types of facilities.” U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., earlier warned “For countries such as Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, South Africa, Taiwan, South Korea and others, nuclear power technology exported from the United States and other countries is first and foremost a source of plutonium to make atomic bombs and only secondarily, if at all, a source of electricity,” SOURCES: S.F. Chronicle (Network News Service), 9/6/81, “How U.S. Spread Nuclear Power Around the World” by Howard Jaffe; N.Y. Times, 12/l/81, “World Nuclear Safeguard Weak, U.S. Regulatory Agency Concludes” by Judith Miller.
NUCLEAR TERRORISM — a physicist has charged that the U.S. has gone to great lengths to withhold information about the adequacy of physical security and material accounting and control at nuclear facilities. Examples of inadequate security include the 164 kilograms of highly enriched uranium discovered missing from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation in 1964 and 1965; the 200 tons of uranium ore hijacked from the Liberian freighter, Scheersburg A, in November, 1968; and the 22 kilograms of highly enriched uranium discovered missing from the naval reactor fuel facility at Erwin, Tennessee, in the fall of 1980. Lax safeguards at nuclear power plants was highlighted in September, 1961, when several protestors evaded security guards, during the Diablo Canyon blockade, for two days after breaching three “secure” perimeters around the 735 acre reactor compound. SOURCES: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 8/81 “Secrecy and Nuclear Power by Thomas B. Cochran; Healdsburg (CA) Tribune, 10/21/81, “The Whole Story Behind the Diablo Blockade” by Will McCracken and Margaret Randle.
WHAT CALIFORNIANS DON’T KNOW … — unless Californians happened to read the April, 1981, issue of New West magazine, they might not know they are living in an enormous nuclear bunker. It contained the first documented expose of where nuclear bombs are stored, transported, and shipped in California. The large-scale, secretive, and virtually self-regulated use of radioactive materials by military bases in California include: 1) an estimated 1200 nuclear weapons on at least 12 bases; more than half of these are located in or near major urban areas and some are sitting on active earthquake faults; 2) as many as 19 navy vessels powered by 29 nuclear reactors have home ports in California harbors; radioactive spills and contamination are known to have occurred, yet the navy’s nuclear accident records are classified; 3) the navy transports nuclear weapons by truck, barge, and helicopters through heavily populated areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other major cities; 4) U.S. military installations have in many cases failed to coordinate emergency plans with local communities and refuse even to acknowledge the presence of nuclear weapons in the cities. SOURCE: New West, 4/81, “Where the Bombs Are” by David E. Kaplan.
NO “SAFE” LEVEL OF RADIATION — some of the most important data on the effects of nuclear radiation on humans may be wrong according to new research being done at the Lawrence Livermore weapons laboratory in California and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The new findings suggest that the basis of 15 years of radiation research may be in error with radiation toxicity understated, Government physicists have recalculated the data on the radiation fields created by the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and produced some unexpected results. Their statistics show that most of the cancer caused by those bombs came from low LET gamma rays suggesting that this common type of radiation is more hazardous than had been assumed before. They all agree that the previously accepted figures for high LET (neutron) radiation at Hiroshima are grossly overstated, The implications of these findings are significant, especially in the area of industrial safety and health since the low LET radiation is the most common kind, including X-rays, electrons, and the radiation from nuclear reactor waste. SOURCE: Science, 5/22/81, “New A-Bomb Studies Alter Radiation Estimates” by Eliot Marshal.
RADIATION FROM UNDERGROUND — when the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty moved nuclear testing underground, it was. not, as Washington officials still claim, a solution to the problem. “Safe” underground tests regularly leak, spraying deadly radiation into the air. Though these tests are not as dangerous as the open-air tests of the 1950s, Americans were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation from underground tests through the ’60s and ’70s and remain in danger today. As recently as September 25, 1980, an underground test broke through the earth scattering its radiation to the winds. “Venting” occurs when the covering earth is blown away creating a shaft out of which spews dirt, rocks, and debris, all highly radioactive. Material can be blown high into the atmosphere where winds carry it across the continent. Fallout from venting has been detected over Nebraska, Iowa, California, Idaho, several East Coast states, and at least once in eastern Canada. Ventings have been covered-up and kept from public disclosure because of their classified status.
However, in 1980, General Mahlon Gates, operation manager for the Nevada test site, admitted that at least 40 ventings had occurred. Department of Energy monitoring stations, normally used to record radiation levels, reportedly were found to have been switched off during some tests apparently to avoid providing evidence that venting had occurred, SOURCE: The Washington Monthly, 1/81, “Another A-BOMB Cover-up” by Raymond E. Brim and Patricia Condon.