The date was January 23, 1961. Three days earlier, John Kennedy had been sworn in as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. Americans on the East Coast were going about their days not realizing that they had come close — shockingly, seriously, terrifyingly close — they would come to being the victims of a nuclear explosion the likes of which the world had never witnessed.
The most shocking and serious and terrifying thing? Had it happened, it would have been an accident — friendly fire of the worst and most destructive kind.
It went like this, The Guardian reports. An American B-52 bomber had taken off that late-January day from the Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. It was to be a routine flight along the Atlantic seaboard: a 24-hour “Coverall” airborne alert mission. All was going normally when the aircraft developed a leak in its right wing during a refueling rendezvous. The plane, suddenly, went into a tailspin.
The problem — the problem even bigger than the fact that a human-crewed plane was spinning toward the earth — was the plane’s payload. The bomber was carrying what its name suggested it would: bombs. Hydrogen bombs, in this case — Mark 39s. The plummeting plane had a payload of four megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT — and each bomb was capable of delivering a force that would be 260 times more deadly than the ones that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki 17 years before. The plane spun, then broke up in the air. The five crew members ejected. The bombs the plane was carrying were suddenly flying on their own. They were, at that point, plummeting to the ground with no plane to guide them.
To recap: two hydrogen bombs, detached from their vehicle, heading toward North Carolina.
Read more. [Image: U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons]
Here’s the crazy thing about the plan to build an almost mile long, 90-foot deep, subterranean ice wall around the Fukushima nuclear plant: It’s not really very crazy at all. Building cryogenic barriers sounds like the specialty of an obscure supervillain, but it’s a well-established technique in civil engineering, used regularly for tunnel boring and mining. Ground freezing was even tested as a way of containing radioactive waste in the 1990s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and performed admirably.
Joe Sopko, the civil engineering firm Moretrench’s director of ground freezing, has spoken with several consultants about the details of the project, and he’s convinced it’s certainly possible. “This is not a complicated freeze job. It really isn’t,” he told me. “However, the installation, because of the radiation, is.”
Read more. [Image: TEPCO]
Just a few hours after the August 4 inauguration of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, the White House issued a statement saying that Tehran would find a willing partner in Washington should it choose to engage “substantively and seriously” on the issue of its controversial nuclear activities.
That sentiment bore little resemblance to what many members of Congress have been saying recently, which is that now is not the time to scale back tough sanctions. In fact, dozens of lawmakers are working to enact even tougher sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Rohani focused on what he characterized as Washington’s mixed signals in his postinaugural press conference on August 6. “The statements of the White House are not in line with some of the behavior we’re seeing,” he said. “Overall, I’m not pessimistic about the future of negotiations.”
The 64-year-old moderate cleric said the Iranian establishment had “strong political will” to resolve the nuclear issue while preserving the rights of the Iranian people.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
In this letter Albert Einstein advises President Franklin D. Roosevelt of developments in the field of nuclear energy, particularly the possibility that foreign governments might harness a uranium-based nuclear chain reaction to create a weapon, and recommending quick action by the Roosevelt administration to advance American nuclear research. This letter was a collaboration between Einstein, physicist Leo Szilard, and economist Alexander Sachs, who had been an administrator of the National Recovery Administration and Roosevelt adviser. Sachs personally delivered the letter to Roosevelt on October 11, 1939. The outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939 had delayed the delivery. This letter is credited with launching what would eventually become known as the Manhattan Project.
An explosion has occurred at a nuclear site in southern France, according to the country’s nuclear safety watchdog.
The facility at Marcoule is a nuclear waste management site that does not include any reactors. The explosion took place near a furnace, an spokesperson for ASN, the watchdog, told Reuters.
Officials in the Gard region confirmed Monday’s explosion but also said they could not give any more information.
The Marcoule site is located in Langedoc Roussillon, in southern France, near the Mediterranean coast.
AP is reporting one dead, but no leaks. Apparently, it was an oven that exploded, not a reactor or anything crazy like that.
Yeah, it’s happening. On an old soybean field on the edge of town.
But check out the activists who found an old-school way to fight the plan.
(Photo: James Rea)
Since the time of Trinity — the first nuclear explosion in 1945 — nearly 2,000 nuclear tests have been performed, with the majority taking place during the 1960s and 1970s. When the technology was new, tests were frequent and often spectacular, and led to the development of newer, more deadly weapons. But starting in the 1990s, there have been efforts to limit the future testing of nuclear weapons, including a U.S. moratorium and a U.N. comprehensive test ban treaty. As a result, testing has slowed — though not halted — and there are questions about the future. Who will take over for those experienced engineers who are now near retirement, and should we act as stewards with our enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons? Gathered here are images from the first 30 years of nuclear testing.
See all the staggering photos of nuclear explosion (and how the technology changed society) at The Atlantic’s In Focus.
[Image: A 1971 photo of a nuclear bomb detonated by the French government at the Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia. (AP Photo)]
The 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is next month. On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions destroyed Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 station and several hundred staff and firefighters tackled a blaze that burned for 10 days and sent a plume of radiation around the world in the worst-ever civil nuclear disaster. More than 50 reactor and emergency workers were killed at the time. Assessing the larger impact on human health remains a difficult task, with estimates of related deaths from cancer ranging from 4,000 to over 200,000. The government of Ukraine indicated early this year that it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene to visitors. It’s expected, meanwhile, that a 20,000-ton steel case called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), designed as a permanent containment structure for the whole plant, will be completed in 2013.
See more photos at In Focus
[Image: Efrem Lukatsky/AP]
That first operation was amazingly successful. After a two-hour run, during which power levels of several thousand horsepower were achieved, the reactor was shut down. Six years of study, organization, planning, conniving, fighting for funds, building laboratories, manipulating people, developing new materials and devices had paid off. The first day of Mark I had surprised its most optimistic proponents.
There were many happy people in the Idaho desert the night of May 31, 1953. The happiest was Captain Rickover, who had had the vision, constantly forced the program against opposition, and provided the technical judgment to steer it through areas far beyond those previously known.
Then followed a month of careful, precise building up in power level. Test operations went on night and day, seven days a week. Power was increased in small steps. What could happen on these increasing steps could only be conjecture until the trial run had been completed. Every man at the desert site knew the danger associated with each increase in power."
Writing for The Atlantic in January, 1959, Commander E.E. Kintner provides a first-hand account of powering up one of the world’s first nuclear reactors.
Read more at The Atlantic
Every variable in building an immensely complex industrial plant was up for grabs: the nature of the radioactive fuel and other substances that form the reactor’s core, the safety systems, the containment buildings, the construction substances, and everything else that might go into building an immensely complex industrial plant. The light water reactor became the technological victor, but no one is quite sure whether that was a good idea.
Few of these alternatives were seriously investigated after light water reactors were selected for Navy submarines by Admiral Hyman Rickover. Once light water reactors gained government backing and the many advantages that conferred, other designs could not break into the market, even though commercial nuclear power wouldn’t explode for years after Rickover’s decision. “There were lots and lots of ideas floating around, and they essentially lost when light water came to dominate,” University of Strasbourg professor Robin Cowan told the Boston Globe in an excellent article on “technological lock-in" in the nuclear industry.
As it turned out, there were real political and corporate imperatives to commercialize nuclear power with whatever designs were already to hand. It was geopolitically useful for the United States to show they could offer civilian nuclear facilities to its allies and the companies who built the plants (mainly GE and Westinghouse) did not want to lose the competitive advantage they’d gained as the contractors on the Manhattan Project. Those companies stood to make much more money on nuclear plants than traditional fossil fuel-based plants, and they had less competitors. The invention and use of the atomic bomb weighed heavily on the minds of nuclear scientists. Widespread nuclear power was about the only thing that could redeem their role in the creation of the first weapon with which it was possible to destroy life on earth. In other words, the most powerful interest groups surrounding the nuclear question all wanted to settle on a power plant design and start building.
Read more at The Atlantic