Near Misses & Close Calls with Nuclear Devices

Near Misses & Close Calls with Nuclear Devices

In 2002 we learned for the first time just how close we had been to nuclear war in during the Cuban Missile crisis. A summit meeting was held in 2002 Atomic_bomb_1 in Havana regarding the anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis with key participants from Russia, the U.S. and Cuba attending. Information was exchanged and newly declassified Russian documents disclosed. Following the meeting, The National Security Archive reported that participants had learned from the newly obtained information, that one man had prevented a nuclear war. Following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles from the United States, Russia agreed with Fidel Castro to install nuclear warheads in Cuba to "protect Cuba from further attacks." On October 16, 1962 U.S. reconnaissance photos discovered the existence of ongoing construction of missile installations in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy met with his advisors and the Cuban crisis began. The U.S. protested to Russian premier Nikita Khruschev about the installations and Kennedy imposed a quarantine area around Cuba because Russia ships were already on the way to Cuba with supplies and missiles. To make matters more tense, on the 27th a U.S. U-2 spy plane strayed into Soviet airspace causing a new crisis. Then a U-2 plane flying over Cuba was shot down. Kennedy’s military advisors recommended invading Cuba. While he was considering what to do, a U.S. Navy destroyer discovered a Soviet sub near the quarantine line and dropped "signaling" depth charges to warn the sub off. What wasn’t known until forty years later, through newly declassified Russian papers and information obtained at the Cuba summit meeting, was how close we were to having a nuclear war started because of the depth charges. It turns out the sub carried a nuclear tipped torpedo and was under orders to fire it if the submarine was hit by depth charges or surface fire. The "signaling" depth charges hit the sub like a "sledgehammer" causing havoc which triggered the order to fire the torpedo. An angry Soviet sub commander ordered it fired at the destroyer, but one man prevented it from being carried out. The sub Brigade Deputy Commander Vasily Arkhipov was on board this sub and he blocked the order. Had Arkhipov not been on board or intervened the nuclear weapon have set off a nuclear war with Russia. None of this had been previously known. The crisis ended after thirteen days when Kennedy and Nikita Khurshchev reached a compromise to remove the missile installations and the Soviet supply ships headed for Cuba ordered to return. One man had prevented a nuclear war.

Red Star Rogue, published by Simon & Schuster, is a book by Kenneth Sewell, published in 2005, which maintains that in 1968 a nuclear armed Soviet submarine, the K-129, planned to launch nuclear missiles on the naval base in Hawaii while positioned only 300 miles off shore. However, the sub sank without firing the missile when a fail safe mechanism was not correctly disarmed by the crew causing an explosion in the sub. The book maintains that hardline Soviet old guard was behind the plot to try to incriminate China in the act and inspire war between the U.S. and China. In fact, the sub had disobeyed Soviet orders, stopped required radio contact with command and was miles closer to Hawaii then authorized at the time it sank. The Soviets were unable to locate the sunken submarine since it had stopped reporting to command and was sunk where it was not authorized to be. Radioactive oil slick from the sub was discovered by a Hawaii scientific ship which in turn led to the USS Halibut discovering where the wreckage was resting on bottom. President Nixon authorized the CIA to undertake a clandestine salvage operation costing half a billion dollars and which utilized Howard Hughes vessel the Glomar Explorer. The official U.S. position is that they were not able recover anything of significance because the sub broke while being lifted. The book, however, disputes this claim and maintains valuable information was obtained and the attempted firing proven by the salvage operation, but that the administration used this evidence in its dealings with Russian leaders. If true, and the book is very well written, by pure chance we had been saved from a nuclear warhead being fired on Hawaii.

It was just past midnight on September 26, 1983 when computer alarms went off near Moscow. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty and he was in charge of the computer warning system. The alarm sounded indicating an American missile was heading to the Soviet Union. Petrov decided it was a false alarm because the U.S. wouldn’t launch just one missile and there were questions about the reliability of the computer system. But, then another alarm signaled a second missile launch and then a third, fourth and fifth. The "start" button was flashing to launch Soviet missiles. He had to make a decision and fortunately, he decided it was a false alarm, but he had no way of knowing if this were true or not. After a long, tense wait, nothing happened. He had been right. But he had disobeyed military orders and procedures. His failure to follow orders resulted in the end of a promising military career and caused him considerable trouble with military authorities. After his retirement he was honored at the United Nations and he received a special World Citizen Award. One man, trusting his intution and against orders had prevented nuclear war.

On October 5, 1960 the Greenland Early Warning System interpreted a reflection off the moon as a massive missile launch. Before a response is authorized the mistake is discovered by the radar operators. A close call and catastrophe averted.

In March of 2005 in Amarillo, workers at the Pantex nuclear weapons plan were dismantling a W-56 warhead when they came very close to setting it off. The device is a weapon 100 times more powerful then the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WW II. The plant was fined and the matter dropped. Another close call.

These are a few examples of nuclear near misses. But, China North Korea, Iran, Israel, India and other countries have nuclear weapons or nuclear capacity and there is the ever present risk of a nuclear accident or incident. In addition, there is the ever present danger of some country with nuclear devices using them and setting off an exchange that would cause nuclear disaster.

On top of that there is the danger of accidental nuclear contamination or explosion. Between 1950 and 1999 Greenpeace documents documents some twenty three nuclear accidents. And it says some 51 nuclear warheads have been lost at sea and only one recovered. In addition, seven nuclear reactors from nuclear powered submarines have been lost at sea due to accidents. Another nineteen nuclear reactors from nuclear powered vessels have been deliberately dumped at sea. There have been 380 nuclear weapons "incidents" involving the U.S. Navy, but the details are classified. Then there are all the other countries with nuclear capabilities of different natures who undoubtedly have had accidents or similar loses of nuclear devices.

We live in the nuclear age, but that involves the risk of nuclear explosion, nuclear contamination and nuclear accident.

0 thoughts on “Near Misses & Close Calls with Nuclear Devices

  1. Have you seen Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth? If not I highly recommend it. I dont know how you feel about global warming, but personally i think its a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Im frustrated that the president in his state of the union speeched only addressed it as a “global climate change” but im glad he is at least acknowledging it and proposing some action.

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