by John Hawkins | June 26, 2008 10:28 am
As I was perusing Lucianne, this story jumped out at me like a kangaroo trying to get off of a bonfire,
Nuclear missiles could blow up ‘like popcorn’
A design flaw in Britain’s nuclear arsenal means that warheads could set off a chain reaction “like popcorn” if they were accidentally dropped, according to Ministry of Defence documents.
More than 1,700 warheads are affected by the problem which would cause them to explode one after another, an effect known as “popcorning.”
A typical Trident nuclear missile contains three to six warheads, and some submarines carry up to 24 missiles, meaning the potential for disaster could be huge.
…The typical scenario would see the weapon being dropped from a crane while being loaded on or off a submarine.
However, a nuclear-weapons safety manual drawn up by the MoD’s internal nuclear-weapons regulator, and declassified last month, argues that this standard single-point design might not be enough to prevent “popcorning”.
…According to the manual, in the worst-case scenario people a kilometre away would receive a radiation dose of 100 sieverts – 16 times the lethal dose – although the seriousness of the accident would depend on the pattern of warhead explosions.
…A spokesman for the MoD said popcorning was only “a theoretical possibility” and in fact it was “a scenario that is not credible”.
Any risk is mitigated by the way in which missiles are handled, transported and stored, she added.
Nuclear-weapons experts say an accident could still happen.
Philip Coyle from the Center for Defense Information, an independent think tank in Washington, said there was always a risk that safety procedures are ignored and pointed to the accidental loading of nuclear weapons onto a flight last year from North Dakota to Louisiana.
Combine the habitual incompetence of any government-run operation with a critical design flaw and the potential for multiple nuclear missiles to explode like popcorn and you’ve got one hell of a scary situation.
Bonus Question: Should we be letting the Brits bring their ships with nuclear payloads into our ports before this design flaw is corrected? It’s hard to say without getting more information, but that seems like something that the Defense Department should be exploring.
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