The Broken Arrow Project: Visualizing the Dangers of Maintaining the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

November 13, 1963 - Atomic Energy Commission Storage Igloo/Medina Base, Texas

Nothing Infallible

"Some day there will be an accidental explosion of a nuclear weapon, a pure accident, which has nothing whatsoever to do with military or political plans, intentions, or operations. The human mind cannot construct something that is infallible. Accordingly, the laws of probability virtually guarantee such an accident - not because the United States is relaxing any of the conscientious precautions designed to prevent one, or because the Soviet Union is ncessarily getting more careless with warheads, but simply because sheer numbers of weapons are increasing...Nuclear weapons will surely spread throughout the world. They may become available in international trade: even that is not to be excluded. With thousands of nuclear weapons in existence, the danger of a nuclear accident in the world is unquestionably increasing."

Oskar Morgenstern
The Question of National Defense


DOD: An explosion involving 123,000 lbs. of high explosive components of nuclear weapons caused minor injuries to three Atomic Energy Commission employees. There was little contamination from the nuclear components stored elsewhere in the building. The components were from obsolete weapons disassembled.

CDI: While three employees were dismantling the high-explosive component of a nuclear bomb it began burning spontaneously, setting off the larger amount of high explosives. Three other accounts of accidents (as well as this one) involving components of nuclear weapons were supplied to Dr. Joel Larus of New York University by the AEC on January 12, 1966: Hamburg, New York (January 4, 1958) ... An eastbound Nickel Plate railroad freight train was derailed, and five cars carrying "AEC classified material" were involved in the accident. According to the report there was no damage to the material and no injury to AEC personnel escorting the shipment. Winslow, Arizona (November 4, 1961) ... A trailer truck caught fire while carrying a small amount of radioactive material. There was no contamination resulting from the fire. Marietta, Georgia (December 3, 1962) ... A Louisville and Nashville train was derailed while carrying nuclear weapons components. The material was not damaged, but three couriers were injured. Accidents of this sort probably happen more frequently than reported. In December 1980 a Department of Energy trailer carrying plutonium overturned on icy roads on Interstate 25 near Fort Collins, Colorado, on its way from Richland, Washington, to Los Alamos, New Mexico. Each year hundreds of nuclear convoys travel millions of miles on U.S. highways. Even when there is no accident, exposure over a period of years to radioactive material by certain Department of Energy couriers and privately contracted transporters and personnel may be carcinogenic. It has been estimated that nearly 120,000 persons have access to U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissionable material. A study on the hazards of low level, intrinsic radiation inherent in nuclear weapons is being conducted by the Defense Nuclear Agency and will be released in 1982. The weapons work at Medina was phased out in 1966 and consolidated with production activities in the Pantex, Texas (near Amarillo) and Burlington, Iowa, final assembly plants.


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