Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unknown Nuclear Attacks on Atlantic City and Other Places

People in the 1950s and 1960s grew up with the fear that America and Communist Russia might go to war, and that hydrogen bombs might start coming down onto heads of everyone.

What we did not know is that several times the American Air Force accidentally dropped hydrogen bombs onto America!

Obviously, the dropped hydrogen bombs did not explode. But in a few cases, the hydrogen bombs were never found!

To understand what happened in these cases, we have to know a little bit about how hydrogen bombs of the 1950s and 1960s worked.

Inside the hydrogen bombs of the 1950s and 1960s, conventional explosives were wrapped around a very heavy radioactive metal like plutonium or uranium, which was placed near a mix of forms of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium. If all of the ordinary explosives were caused to explode at the exact some moment, this squeezed the heavy metal inside enough to force the metal’s molecules together enough to make the radiation of each molecule drive the other molecules around it wild, generating “critical mass,” making it explode as an atomic bomb, which heated the hydrogen enough to make it explode as a hydrogen bomb.

Making all of the ordinary explosives explode at the same moment is a very hard thing to do. Hitting the explosive very hard with a hammer, or dropping the bomb out of a plane so that it hits the ground very hard, for instance, will not do this. Being hit by a hammer or just hitting the ground makes the ordinary explosives explode in a disorganized way, so that they just break the hydrogen bomb into little pieces.

So, in May, 1957, a B-36 bomber flying over New Mexico...
... accidentally dropped its hydrogen bomb. The bomb hit the ground with full force. Impact made the ordinary explosives in the bomb explode with no hydrogen blast or atomic blast, but the area was splattered with radioactive materials.

In July, 1957, a C-124 Globemaster cargo plane flying along the New Jersey coast...
...and carrying 3 hydrogen weapons coincidentally lost power in 2 of 4 engines. Hydrogen weapons were very heavy objects in the 1950s. To increase their chances of landing safely, the plane’s crew dropped 2 of the bombs into the ocean near Atlantic City. Afterwards, the bombs were never found.

In 1987, 30 years later, hundreds of dead dolphins, covered with what looked like radiation burns, washed up onto the beaches from New Jersey to Virginia. Perhaps one of the Atlantic City bombs were corroded by the sea water, and released some of its radioactive material into the water where the dolphins were swimming.

In February, 1958, a United States Air Force B-47 bomber...
...carrying a powerful hydrogen bomb collided in the air with an American jet fighter over the state of Georgia. The plane’s crew, afraid that if they crashed when they tried to land the plane the radioactive parts of the bomb would be spread all over their Air Force base, asked for, and received, permission to drop their hydrogen bomb into the waters below without setting it off. They dropped the bomb into the Atlantic Ocean, in shallow water just beyond the mouth of the Savannah River, where they believed it would be easy to recover. The bomb was never found.

In March, 1958, a B-47 accidentally dropped a hydrogen weapon onto Florence, South Carolina. Like the accident in New Mexico in 1957, the bomb hit the ground, and this set off the explosives intended to make the uranium in the bomb “go nuclear,” which in turn was intended to make the hydrogen mix inside explode as a hydrogen bomb. Only the ordinary explosives went “ka-boom,” however, spraying the area with radioactive materials.

A museum in the area proudly displays pieces of the hydrogen bomb dropped on Florence, South Carolina.

In January, 1961, a B-52 bomber flying over North Carolina...
...suddenly broke apart in the sky, dropping two hydrogen bombs. One bomb experienced only slight damage and was found again. The second bomb broke into many pieces, and its dangerous uranium center was never found.

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