A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.
The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.
Though there has been persistent speculation about how narrow the Goldsboro escape was, the US government has repeatedly publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans' lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that "one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe".
~ from US Nearly Detonated Atomic Bomb Over North Carolina -- Secret Document by Ed Pilkington ~
Setting aside the issue of so-called nuclear safety for a moment, if this bomb had indeed detonated, what do you think the American public -- those who were still alive -- would have been told at the time? Remember that this would have occurred at the height of the Cold War, only 1.5 years ahead of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
While no one can know for sure what would have been declared, my guess is that President Kennedy would have gone on TV to announce that we had been attacked by Russia and that American nuclear warheads were on the way to Russia as he spoke. Because of an inopportune accident of mammoth proportions, the world as we know it today would not exist. No, it would be a giant nuclear wasteland!
This is why nuclear weapons -- just like chemical and biological ones -- should be outlawed and ANY nation that processes them should destroy them safely at breakneck speed. While conventional weaponry is bad enough, one inadvertent oops involving a nuclear warhead could alter life on this planet for everyone, not just the hapless victims of where the munition exploded. Since most governments are reluctant to admit their own mistakes, the enemy -- whoever that happens to be at the time -- would get blamed and this one accident most likely would set off a chain reaction that humanity would never recover from.