The National Security Archive yesterday published a new “Electronic Briefing Book” entitled “New Details on the 1961 Goldsboro Nuclear Accident” which details the 1961 nuclear weapons accident in Goldsboro, North Carolina as described by a recently declassified Sandia National Lab report. The report was originally declassified by a FOIA request by Eric Schlosser, who wrote about this and other nuclear accidents in his 2013 book Command and control : nuclear weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the illusion of safety. If the bomb had detonated, it would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima!
By the way, all of the National Security Archive’s electronic briefing books have been cataloged in Worldcat so you should download the records to your library catalog post haste!
Washington, D.C., June 9, 2014 – A recently declassified report by Sandia National Laboratory, published today by the National Security Archive, provides new details on the 1961 Goldsboro, North Carolina, nuclear weapons accident. While both multi-megaton Mk 39 bombs involved in the mishap were in the “safe” position, the report concluded, by the time one of them hit the ground it was in the “armed” setting because of the impact of the crash. If the shock had not also damaged the switch contacts, the weapon could have detonated.
Since the advent of the nuclear age, the nightmarish possibility of an accidental detonation has made weapons safety a boiler-plate item in the U.S. nuclear weapons program — yet potentially serious errors continue to occur. A series of 2013 reports on the Goldsboro accident provided a fresh reminder of the role of luck in preventing nuclear disaster: the same switch involved in the 1961 event had failed in other incidents.
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