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

September 19, 1980 - Damascus, Arkansas

DOD: During routine maintenance in a Titan II silo, an Air Force repairman dropped a heavy wrench socket, which rolled off a work platform and fell toward the bottom of the silo. The socket bounced and struck the missile, causing a leak from a pressurized fuel tank. The missile complex and the surrounding area were evacuated and a team of specialists was called in from Little Rock Air Force Base, the missile's main support base. About 81 1/2 hours after the initial puncture, fuel vapors within the silo ignited and exploded. The explosion fatally injured one member of the team. Twenty-one other USAF personnel were injured. The missile's reentry vehicle, which contained a nuclear warhead, was recovered intact. There was no radioactive contamination.

CDI: The explosion of the volatile fuel blew off the 740 ton silo door of reinforced concrete and steel and catapulted the warhead 600 feet. The 54 liquid-fueled Titan II missiles have been operational since 1963. It is estimated that Titan II ICBMs carry a 9 megaton warhead. The Office of Technology Assessment study estimated that a 9 megaton airburst on Leningrad would result in 2.4 million fatalities and 1.1 million injuries. With age, the seals on the missiles are corroding, increasing the number of leaks. The worst missile accident occurred in Searcy, Arkansas on August 9, 1965 when a fire in a Titan II silo killed 53. The Air Force has disclosed that between 1975 and 1979 there have been 125 accidents at Titan sites in Arkansas, Arizona and Kansas. From March 1979 to September 1980 there were ten other leaks and accidents at Arkansas Titan sites. On August 24, 1978 at a Titan site in Rock, Kansas, two airmen were killed and thirty others injured when they were exposed to deadly oxidizer gas. The silo at Damascus, Arkansas will be filled in with gravel while that at Rock, Kansas is being refurbished and is planned to be operational in September 1982.


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