Broken Arrow: Can a Nuclear Weapons Accident Happen Here? (final master)
This program is made possible in part by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We can expect to have a nuclear accident of a very severe nature. Oh certainly in the not too distant future as you know we've had a lot of nuclear accidents already it's just that most of them not happened in areas where the public was aware of them or they were not sufficiently troublesome but will have a big one. One of these days. I don't know why not mine. I don't know anybody. September 29 1980 the B-52 armed with
nuclear weapons catches fire on the runway at Grand Forks Air Force Base North Dakota. Ground crews managed to extinguish the flames when they involve the plane. State officials intercept a radio message from the base containing the words Broken Arrow. The military code for a nuclear weapons accident but the Air Force citing national security will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board the B-52. Four days later Damascus Arkansas. A worker drops a wrench which punctures a fuel tank and a Titan 2 missile armed with a nuclear warhead explodes killing one worker injuring 21 others. The three ton warhead is hurled from the missile silo. More than 1000 residents are evacuated from the immediate area. Again the Air Force will neither confirm nor deny the obvious presence of a nuclear warhead. But the Titan 2 accident was by no means unique. There are been many others. Fortunately there is never been an accidental nuclear
detonation but an 1061 in Goldsboro North Carolina. There was a very close call in the process of crashing a B-52 jettisoned at least one. Twenty four megaton thermonuclear bomb that landed in a field near Goldsboro North Carolina. At that time Daniel Ellsberg was conducting a special study for President Kennedy on command and control of nuclear weapons. It had a number of safety devices to keep. It from a full explosion. Six interlocking safety devices all of which had to fail for a thermonuclear explosion to occur. Only five. Failed. In the course of falling and hitting the ground. So one device kept it from a full explosion which would have released more explosive power than all the wars of human history. The Pentagon acknowledges that such an accidental nuclear detonation is possible but they insist it is highly unlikely. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Bill me again. It's a very low probability incident but if one ever should occur
the consequences would be enormous. Over the years since we've had nuclear weapons in our national Arsenal since the mid-1940s We've had several incidents dozens of them where nuclear weapons are formed out of airplanes been involved in plane crashes been consumed in fires and we have never had a nuclear detonation. When most people think of a nuclear weapons accident what they imagine is a nuclear explosion a mushroom cloud as the Pentagon acknowledged that is possible but not likely. However an atomic blast is not the only danger posed by a nuclear weapons accident. In every nuclear weapon there is a conventional explosive like TNT which is used to trigger the chain reaction that produces a nuclear blast that conventional explosive can be set off accidentally. This is happened several times. No nuclear detonation takes place but deadly radioactive material can be scattered over
a wide area. That is precisely what happened in Palomar of Spain when a US Air Force bomber crashed. On the morning of January 17th 1966 a B-52 aircraft carrying nuclear weapons collided with a tanker aircraft during routine refueling operations. The collision broke loose for a nuclear weapons. The high explosive into the weapons detonated upon ground impact scattering plutonium over a wide agricultural area. The cost of cleanup operations has run well over 50 million dollars and monitoring of the area's popular US soil and farm products continues to this day. The Palomar accident was both widespread and widely publicized. It was impossible for the Pentagon to conceal or deny. However most nuclear weapons accidents are kept well hidden from public scrutiny until recently the Pentagon officially acknowledged only 13 nuclear weapons accidents but the Pentagon has released an updated list.
The new total 26 broken Arrow's 13 nuclear weapons accidents than have ever been admitted publicly before. And for the first time the Pentagon conceded that the Titan 2 missile which exploded in Arkansas was armed with a nuclear warhead. In addition the Pentagon revealed to us that there have been other nuclear weapons accidents which they cannot discuss for quote political and national security reasons. It is clear even from the Pentagon report that nuclear weapons accidents occur with disturbing frequency. But what are the actual health dangers posed by these accidents. Do they really constitute a threat. For 16 years Robert Aldridge designed nuclear weapons for Lockheed. He knows what can go wrong with nuclear weapons and he is worried probably the worst thing that would be to fear is the scattering of radioactive materials with a conventional explosive in a bomb exploded and scattered
these materials. Cot on the window would be similar to fallout only be much more concentrated in fallout for the areas that are involved like DR ROLAND Stanford University. The risk is of course if. A sufficient quantity of plutonium is inhaled by a person. So it's clear that one can suffer an early death. From inhaling relatively small quantities of plutonium with lesser quantities of radioactivity there is still the very definite risk of lung cancer occurring 10 or more years following the inhalation of plutonium. It's refutable connection. Dr Karl Johnson a Colorado County health director believes that an accident involving nuclear weapons may already have cost a substantial increase in the number of cancer cases in his community. He traces the cancer increase to a fire at Rocky Flats where atomic cores for nuclear weapons are manufactured.
After a fire in 1957 the nuclear weapons plant. The two schools in the area were found to have high levels of enriched uranium and possibly plutonium. And they have carried out a series of studies in which I found in the population of the plant in excess of 20 percent of the cancer in males and 10 percent of all cancer in females. There are some 30000 nuclear weapons in the American arsenal that's 30000 potential accidents. We have discovered that California is a major nuclear storage and deployment area. California has no titan missiles but virtually every other kind of nuclear weapon is stored here. And the greatest concentration of those weapons is in the San Francisco Bay area a major urban center. We have identified the following sites in northern California as capable of handling nuclear weapons on a regular basis. The Sierra Army
Depot Castle Air Force Base may there and Travice Air Force bases Moffitt and Alameda Naval air stations and Concord Naval Weapons Station. Also in the Bay Area Lawrence Livermore Lab which designs nuclear weapons and Mare Island which services nuclear powered submarines nuclear submarine sailed into San Francisco Bay headed for Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The Navy says the nuclear missiles are offloaded before the subs arrive at the docks made their airforce base near Sacramento and Castle Air Force Base outside Moore said post B-52 bombardment wings B-52s regularly carry strategic nuclear weapons. Travis Air Force Base is mainly a transport facility. It is capable of airlifting nuclear weapons and B-52s land a travesty periodically. Navy P-3 Orion anti-submarine planes operate out of Moffitt Naval Air Station P-3
Orions are built to carry nuclear depth charges. In the densely populated San Francisco Bay area. There are two installations which store and handle nuclear weapons on a regular basis. One is the Alameda Naval Air Station. Early this man is a former air traffic controller on board the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier home ported at Alameda he witnessed nuclear weapons being offloaded there. Like most of the military sources we interviewed he insisted that we conceal his identity whenever they pull into port. They have to offload the nuclear weapons they bring up to the mystics that's where we eat. It's kind of funny sitting there eating while A. Huge missile goes right next to you but it's a special occasion so you can't miss it. We have learned from Alameda base employees including a Marine security guard that nuclear weapons are not only off loaded at the base they are stored there as well.
The presence of nuclear weapons so close to an airstrip and a major population center raises serious public safety issues. For instance there is no evacuation plan for the immediate area which includes downtown Oakland. In the event of a nuclear accident the prevailing winds would carry radioactive material toward the city. But Alameda is by no means the principal nuclear storage site in the Bay Area. This is the Concord Naval Weapons Station. It looks innocent enough. Thirteen thousand acres of brown California hills which have been designated as a wildlife preserve. But the peaceful appearance is deceptive. These munitions bunkers contain some of the deadliest weapons ever devised. Concord is the hub of nuclear weapons activity in the Bay Area and one of the largest nuclear weapons facilities in the nation. The Concord Naval Weapons Station is located about 35 miles east of San Francisco near the town of Concord on the shore of Sassoon Bay. Seven
munition ships are home ported here and the base is guarded by a detachment of 300 Marines. Seventy percent of all the weapons shipped to Vietnam went through this base. The Navy began storing and testing weapons here during World War Two. In 1944. A tremendous explosion rocked the base killing more than 300 people and shattering windows as far away as San Francisco. It was the worst home front disaster of World War Two. At that time the area was not heavily populated but now suburban communities sprawl right to the edge of the weapons station. Yeah we heard weapons bunkers are virtually in their backyard. At first the base handled only conventional weapons but with the advent of the Atomic Age Concorde began to handle nuclear arms. I was stationed there as a Marine security guard at Concord California. I was cleared for secret it was common knowledge there are conquered at the word nuclear arms stored up on the hill or a
white star. My job was to guard them so they were slender gold objects about so anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in length maybe 60 and with there was a little sign on them that said it was a radioactive material and we were given a few Someone ours by the security captain explaining what nuclear arms were etc.. This is where nuclear weapons are stored at Concord. It is code named Alpha area. This area has the characteristics of a nuclear storage facility as set forth in a 1974 Defense Department directive. We have obtained that directive specifies double fencing special lighting and 24 hour guard. We were not able to film them but this facility also has a special nuclear warning signs on the inside fence saying deadly force authorized. In other words shoot to kill. Within the alpha area is a special underground facility where the nuclear weapons are inspected
and tested by civilian employees like the late Frank Davenport. His son recalls discovering the nature of his father's work. One day in his room up in his closet I found a manual it was about four or five inches thick and the word atomic weapons was on the outside and confidential and I should have been really looking into it is just that. I was looking through it it was filled with diagrams and charts and it was a very very comprehensive. And my father walked in and grabbed the book and said I'm sorry you can't look at that and he says really should you know he was very upset that I was looking at and we talked and I again asked him about this whole array of what he's working at. They said You mean you're working with atomic weapons right here. You know in Concord and he said not to worry that he was working in an area where he was working underground at the Naval Weapons Station in Concord. And in the event of an accident or some kind of an ascent and mishap and so occurring that. It would automatically seal itself off he made a joke about that I asked him how would he. And you know this now
we really would have to worry about it. There are a number of factors which heightened the dangers of storing nuclear weapons at the Concord base. One thing to consider is that an active earthquake fault runs only a mile and a half west of the base. There is also a public airport nearby public roads crisscross the bays and aqua docks delivering drinking water to more than one million East Bay residents run right by weapons bunkers. Furthermore there is no evacuation plan for the more than 100000 residents of Concord in the event of a nuclear weapons accident. The single most disturbing thing that we have uncovered in our investigation of the Concord base is that the large number of nuclear weapons there are not handled as safely as they should be. And preparedness on the base for a nuclear accident is woefully inadequate. This man was a Navy weapons specialist at Concord while stationed at the base. He contacted us to warn that in his opinion the Concord basin poses a
threat to public safety. We had strange rules and then suiting up in airtight radiation suits and gas masks. We had leaders Alpha Beta Gamma meters to measure the particles. But they didn't work very well. They were kept properly calibrated right. And most of the people or trained properly in what they were doing or what they were supposed to do. The Navy personnel that are trained supposedly trained to do this they really don't know what you're doing these are just young guys around 18 years old. So you don't think that the safety procedures were adequate in my opinion. If an actual accident would have happened while I was there I would not have gone out and accident on the base could endanger the lives of military and civilian employees as well as residents of Concord and other nearby communities. But an accident on the base is not the only thing to worry about.
Nuclear weapons are moved in and out of Concord all the time. And the Pentagon and nuclear critics alike agree that it is here in transportation that there is the greatest chance of a nuclear accident. That means anyone living along the transportation routes to and from Concord could be in jeopardy. Nuclear weapons are routinely transported to Concord by trucks on public highways and by weapon ships crossing the bay. We were alarmed to discover from the Navy weapons specialist and others at Concord that nuclear weapons are also brought there on occasion by helicopters flying over heavily populated East Bay neighborhoods. There's always be three helicopters two green ones a red one in the center. They would fly over or around Mount Diablo land on a base off a Billy road there's a helicopter pad to land there. We were in task force will be there to meet them and they would convoy the weapons or warheads or whatever they had
into our ferry by truck. Now when those helicopters Tamia do you believe that they were flying over populated areas. I assume they would I think they would probably be coming from San Francisco or Alameda ammunition ships are the workhorses which bring most of the nuclear weapons to and from Concord. They constantly require one is the internet when you can when you. Well we're going to scatter nuclear weapons all over the harbor. That's a real danger. We traced the route the weapon shipped after a Navy weapons ship has navigated the narrow straits of Sassoon Bay.
It arrives here at the docks of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Behind me is the USS Flint. It arrived yesterday. We don't know for sure if the Flint has nuclear weapons on board now but we do know from several sources that nuclear weapons are regularly carried in and out of Concord by the flint. We've found that safety procedures for handling nuclear weapons on board ships like the flint that operate out of Concord sometimes fall short of the Navy's own regulations. This increases the chances of nuclear accidents happening on the bay. Originally when we first had nuclear weapons and when I had them in San Francisco harbor driving around with my cruiser. People were very intense and nervous about having the nuclear weapons on board so safety precautions were rigidly observed our men were well trained. But as time has gone on and I've watched it happen we've become more lax. We've come to accept nuclear weapons as conventional weapons we've become careless. We've trained a lot of people but
they don't stay with us very long. So we have a high school less than high school graduates taking care of our nuclear weapons. I think that this increases the danger of a nuclear accident and a serious one. We asked the commander of the base Captain Curtis Anderson and his public affairs chief Dan to call about nuclear safety on the Concord base. But they refused to answer when they denied us permission to film at the base. We decided to film these bunkers under construction from a public road while filming close up shots of these bunkers. We were detained by Navy guards though there were no signs or fences restricting access to the construction site. The Navy held us for six hours and the FBI confiscated our film. After viewing the film The government announced that we had committed no national security violation and they declined to press charges. Attorney were we have the film. I'm pleased to say that I
have received from the United States attorney all of the film which belongs to KQED and was taken from its reporters last Thursday. We feel that the government's handing over of the film today represents a vindication of the First Amendment rights and we're very pleased with that. The publicity surrounding our case and our ensuing news report breaking the story that nuclear weapons are stored at Concord provoked a good deal of controversy. Some people thought we were compromising national defense that the need for nuclear secrecy overrode any possible health and safety concerns. I lack any official knowledge but I stand will next. A local resident science writer and former spokesman for the Lawrence Livermore Labs. I think the DOJ and every citizen should worry about your policy of trying to determine where nuclear weapons are stored carried to a logical conclusion. This would provide the Union
with a currently updated situation map showing a location along U.S. nuclear warheads. Accepting only the. Submarines at sea nuclear weapons have been Admiral Lovelock disagrees. He says in the age of satellite reconnaissance the Soviets and the Americans already know where each other's nuclear weapons are located. The reason the military does not tell people whether or not there are nuclear weapons in a ship or whether or not nuclear weapons are stored in a certain place is they're afraid people will be unhappy about it and want those nuclear weapons moved Contra Costa County Supervisor Nancy Phadnis was particularly concerned by our report that it was the first time she realized that nuclear weapons were stored in her backyard. She worries that the base is located too close to heavily populated areas. Well I would prefer that it wasn't there. I feel that 20 or 30 years ago when it located it
there that might have been OK. At that time it was a rural area. Now we are highly urbanised we have about 600 40000 people in the county. We need national defense I know that but I think the federal government should start looking at locations that are other than urbanized areas after KQED initial report supervisor Fadden called for a meeting between Concord commander Captain Anderson and local officials to discuss emergency planning. If there were airborne contaminants it would depend again on the direction of winds and just general things. When Captain Anderson arrived at this meeting and saw our camera he left immediately refusing to make any comment. Captain Anderson Could you answer a few of our questions please sir. Captain Anderson with Captain Anderson absent from the meeting. Local officials were unable to make any progress on emergency planning. They decided to draft a letter stating their concerns about the base and send it to Washington.
This lack of communication between military and civilian officials at the local level is echoed at the state level. Jim Watkins is chief of planning in the California Office of Emergency Services. How much cooperation are you getting from the military are they giving us sufficient information to plan the answer to that isn't it. I'm not knocking with the military is doing it with the military is tempting but so far in terms of a case by case basis with individual bases we haven't made any contact with them. They haven't made any contact with us. Watkins acknowledged that planning for nuclear weapons accidents in California is just getting under way. He compared it to the lack of planning for a nuclear power plant accidents which existed before Three Mile Island. The most advance planning and preparation for a nuclear weapons accident is taking place on the national level. It is being coordinated by a little known government office in
Alexandria Virginia. This is the defense nuclear agency a specialized Pentagon agency which deals with nuclear weapons and planning for nuclear weapons accidents. How would you describe the current state of readiness for dealing with a weapons accident. Oh I think it's quite good. We have something called a joint nuclear accident coordination center or Jane act as we refer to it that they can bring it all together they can get the airplane to where the people are and where the equipment is and the people is rapidly within 12 to 14 hours to the accident site where we have a highly qualified highly trained people on the scene. In addition the defense nuclear agency has begun organizing nuclear weapons accident exercises. This what. It is. It just seems
to me it's just spin the scenario will be a nuclear weapon will be involved in an aircraft and will disintegrate and spreading your revolution. We like that little room just like you would normally have a. Real. Despite these military exercises many critics still contend that we are not yet safe from our own nuclear weapons in the wake of the Titan 2 accident. There is now talk in Congress of reopening hearings on the handling and storage of nuclear weapons while Congress decides whether to act. The debate grows among Concerned Citizens for a family of employed in these facilities should be located. I would say 40 miles or farther from population centers. Well I think ultimately their solution is going to be to negotiate some sense here.
Treaties that will reduce the number of nuclear weapons. I think the secrecy surrounding our nuclear weapons program and its accidents. Endangers the survival of the species was really the one. While the public debate continues more and more nuclear warheads are being built stored and deployed. This despite the fact that emergency planning for nuclear weapons accidents is virtually nonexistent. How much time do we have left before the next Broken Arrow the next nuclear weapons accident. I am hearing that maybe out next week. I mean you know man let me tell you let me hear you. You're. Right.
- Producing Organization
- KQED-TV (Television station : San Francisco, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- KQED (San Francisco, California)
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Broken Arrow: Can A Nuclear Weapons Accident Happen Here? Final master Film on nuclear power plants and the possibility of an accident. Footage includes nuclear power plants, nuclear planes, nuclear weapons storage facilities.
- Created Date
- Asset type
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producer: SteveTalbot, Jonathan Dann
Producing Organization: KQED-TV (Television station : San Francisco, Calif.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 36-115-3;36775 (KQED)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-55-21tdznmm (GUID)
Format: 1 inch videotape
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: 80030dct-arch (Peabody Object Identifier)
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- Chicago: “Broken Arrow: Can a Nuclear Weapons Accident Happen Here? (final master),” 1980-00-00, KQED, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 25, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-55-vm42r3pj0f.
- MLA: “Broken Arrow: Can a Nuclear Weapons Accident Happen Here? (final master).” 1980-00-00. KQED, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 25, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-55-vm42r3pj0f>.
- APA: Broken Arrow: Can a Nuclear Weapons Accident Happen Here? (final master). Boston, MA: KQED, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-55-vm42r3pj0f