Honey, there’s a nuclear bomb in the yard: Decades of close calls show our luck will run out eventually, experts say via The Japan Times

When a nuclear bomb landed in the Gregg yard in South Carolina in 1958, it left a big crater, killed a few chickens, caused the family minor injuries and wrecked their Chevrolet.

Luckily, the device — which had fallen out of a B-47 bomber after Capt. Bruce Kulka accidentally grabbed a lever opening the bomb bay, almost falling out himself — was not fully armed with a fissile core.

But other U.S. aircraft routinely flew carrying fully primed nuclear weapons, and the incident — highlighted in this week’s international conference on nuclear weapons in Vienna — was far from isolated.

“We were lucky to get out of the Cold War without a nuclear detonation,” U.S. author Eric Schlosser, who recounts this episode and many others in his recent book “Command and Control,” told the gathering.

“The problem with luck is that eventually it runs out,” said Schlosser, who spent six years researching his book, sifting through thousands of pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information act and interviewing a range of senior figures.

In another case in 1961, a B-52 bomber broke up in the air and went into a spin. The centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard that released a fully operational hydrogen bomb over North Carolina.

“There was one switch in that weapon that prevented the full-scale detonation of a hydrogen bomb hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb,” Schlosser said.

And in 1968, a B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed near the Thule air base in Greenland.

The conventional explosives surrounding the nuclear core exploded, but a full nuclear explosion was averted, although radioactive plutonium was dispersed in the area and part of one of the bombs was never recovered.

In 1980 Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security adviser, was woken up at 2:30 a.m. to be told of 220 — then corrected to 2,200 — incoming Russian nuclear missiles.

Brzezinski was about to phone President Jimmy Carter, and U.S. bomber crews had already started their engines, when the all-clear came through. The false alarm was triggered by a faulty microchip costing less than 50 cents.

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