That one time we almost accidentally nuked the East Coast

Sep 24, 2013

According to a recently declassified document recovered by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, in 1961 the east coast of the United States came perilously close to being annihilated by a hydrogen bomb 260 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

It occurred after a B-52 bomber, on a routine trip along the east coast, went into a tail-spin mid-flight, causing two Mark 39 Hydrogen bombs to drop to the earth. The parachute on one of the bombs opened, its trigger mechanisms activated, and it floated towards North Carolina, crashing in a field. Three of its four safety mechanisms failed to operate, and a firing signal shot towards the nuclear core of the bomb. Uh oh.

The only thing that saved the east coast? According to one senior engineer at the Sandia national laboratories, “a simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch.”

If it had exploded, the 4 megaton bomb (4 million tons of TNT) would have annihilated everything in the immediate area, and lethal fallout would have spread as far north as New York City.

If you’re thankful this was only a fluke, it’s worth noting that this was one incident of at least 700 “significant” accidents between 1950 and 1968 according to Schlosser, who just published a book about the nuclear arms race. Says Schlosser, “The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy.”

The uncovered document offers insight into how much more serious this event actually was compared to the official story provided at the time.

On the upside, our government today is totally competent and trustworthy and this kind of thing couldn’t possibly happen again, right? Right?!

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