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ARGOMENTO: Us nuclear weapons in Europa

Us nuclear weapons in Europa 10 Anni, 4 Mesi fa #1461

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Re:Us nuclear weapons in Europa 10 Anni, 4 Mesi fa #1462

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USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapon Sites In Europe Do Not Meet US Security Requirements

By Hans M. Kristensen - article updated June 26

An internal U.S. Air Force investigation has determined that “most sites” currently used for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe do not meet Department of Defense security requirements.

A summary of the investigation report was released by the Pentagon in February 2008 but omitted the details. Now a partially declassified version of the full report, recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, reveals a much bigger nuclear security problem in Europe than previously known.

As a result of these security problems, according to other sources, the U.S. plans to withdraw its nuclear custodial unit from at least one base and consolidate the remaining nuclear mission in Europe at fewer bases.

European Nuclear Safety Deficiencies Detailed

The national nuclear bases in Europe, those where nuclear weapons are stored for use by the host nation’s own aircraft, are at the center of the findings of the Blue Ribbon Review (BRR), the investigation that was triggered by the notorious incident in August 2007 when the U.S. Air Force lost track of six nuclear warheads for 36 hours as they were flow across the United States without the knowledge of the military personnel in charge of safeguarding and operating the nuclear weapons.

The final report of the investigation – Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures – found that “host nation security at overseas nuclear-capable units varies from country to country in terms of personnel, facilities, and equipment.” The report describes that “inconsistencies in personnel, facilities, and equipment provided to the security mission by the host nation were evident as the team traveled from site to site….Examples of areas noted in need of repair at several of the sites include support buildings, fencing, lighting, and security systems.”

The situation is significant: “A consistently noted theme throughout the visits,” the BRR concluded, “was that most sites require significant additional resources to meet DOD security requirements.” Despite overall safety standards and close cooperation and teamwork between U.S. Air Force personnel and their host nation counterparts, the inspectors found that “each site presents unique security challenges.”

Specific examples of security issues discovered include conscripts with as little as nine months active duty experience being used protect nuclear weapons against theft.

Inspections can hypothetically detect deficiencies and inconsistencies, but the BRR team found that U.S. Air Force inspectors are hampered in performing “no notice inspections” because the host nations and NATO require advance notice before they can visit the bases. If crews know when the inspection will occur, their performance might not reflect the normal situation at the base.

Many of the safety issues discovered are precipitated by the fact that the primary mission of the squadrons and wings is not nuclear deterrence but real-world conventional operations in support of the war on terrorism and other campaigns. This dual-mission has created a situation where many nuclear positions are “one deep,” and where rotations, deployments, and illnesses can cause shortfalls.

The review recommended consolidating the bases to “minimize variances and reduce vulnerabilities at overseas locations.”

USAFE Commander Visits Nuclear Bases

In light of the findings about Air Force nuclear security, General Roger Brady, the USAFE Commander, on June 11 visited Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium and Volkel Air Base in Holland. Both bases store U.S. nuclear weapons for delivery by their national F-16 fighters.

A news story on a USAF web site notes that the weapons security issues found by the BRR investigation were “at other bases,” suggesting that Büchel Air Base in Germany or Ghedi Torre Air Base in Italy were the problem. Even so, the BRR found problems at “most sites,” visits to Kleine Brogel and Volkel were described in the context of these findings. Two commanders of the 52 Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, which controls the 701st and 703rd Munitions Support Squadrons at the national bases, were also present “to witness both units for the first time.”

Withdrawal and Consolidation

The deficiencies at host nation bases apparently have triggered a U.S. decision to withdraw the Munition Support Squadron (MUNSS) from one of the national bases.

Four MUNSS are currently deployed a four national bases in Europe: the 701st MUNSS at Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium, the 702nd MUNSS at Büchel Air Base in Germany, the 703rd MUNSS at Volkel Air Base in Holland, and the 704th MUNSS at Ghedi Torre in Italy (see top image).

It is not yet known which base it is, but sources indicate that it might involve the 704th MUNSS at Ghedi Torre in Northern Italy.

Status of Nuclear Weapons Deployment [June 26: warhead estimate updated here]

The number and location of nuclear weapons in Europe are secret. However, based in previous reports, official statements, declassified documents and leaks, a best estimate can be made that the current deployment consists of approximately 150-240 B61 nuclear bombs (see update here). The most recent public official statement was made by NATO Vice Secretary General Guy Roberts in an interview with the Italian RAINEWS in April 2007: “We do say that we’re down to a few hundred nuclear weapons.”

The U.S. weapons are stored in underground vaults, known as WS3 (Weapon Storage and Security System), at bases in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Turkey. Most of the weapons are at U.S. Air Force bases, but Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy each have nuclear weapons at one of their national air bases.

The weapons at each of the national bases are under control of a U.S. Air Force MUNSS in peacetime but would, upon receipt of proper authority from the U.S. National Command Authority, be handed over to the national Air Force at the base in a war for delivery by the host nation’s own aircraft. This highly controversial arrangement contradicts both the Non-Proliferation Treaty and NATO’s international nonproliferation policy.

Implications and Observations

The main implication of the BRR report is that the nuclear weapons deployment in Europe is, and has been for the past decade, a security risk. But why it took an investigation triggered by the embarrassing Minot incident to discover the security problems in Europe is a puzzle.

Since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, billions of dollars have been poured into the Homeland Security chest to increase security at U.S. nuclear weapons sites, and a sudden urge to improve safety and use control of nuclear weapons has become a principle justification in the administration’s proposal to build a whole new generation of Reliable Replacement Warheads.

But, apparently, the nuclear deployment in Europe has been allowed to follow a less stringent requirement.

This contradicts NATO’s frequent public assurances about the safe conditions of the widespread deployment in Europe. Coinciding with the dramatic reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe after the Cold War 15 years ago, “a new, more survivable and secure weapon storage system has been installed,” a NATO fact sheet from January 2008 states. “Today, the remaining gravity bombs associated with DCA [Dual-Capable Aircraft] are stored safely in very few storage sites under highly secure conditions.”

Apparently they are not. Yet despite the BRR findings, the NATO Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Brussels last week did not issue a statement. But at the previous meeting in June 2007 the group reaffirmed the “great value” of continuing the deployment in Europe, “which provide an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance.”

That NATO - nearly two decades after the Cold War ended - believes it needs U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to keep the alliance together is a troubling sign. NATO air forces are stretched thin to meet real-world operations in the war against terrorism and other campaigns, and tactical nuclear weapons are not a priority, no matter what nuclear bureaucrats might claim.

Even Republican presidential candidate John McCain apparently does not believe tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are essential for NATO. On May 27 he stated that, if elected, he would, “in close consultation with our allies…like to explore ways we and Russia can reduce – and hopefully eliminate – deployments of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.”

Many European governments would support such a plan - even though some of the new eastern European NATO members see Russian resurgence as a reason to continue the deployment. But their security concerns can be met by other means, and Germany and Norway have already been pushing a proposal inside NATO for a review of the alliance’s nuclear policy, the Belgium parliament has called for a withdrawal, and there is overwhelming cross-political public support in Germany to end the deployment in Europe.

Perhaps the BRR findings will help empower these countries and convince NATO and the next U.S. administration that the time has come to finally complete the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

Re:Us nuclear weapons in Europa 10 Anni, 4 Mesi fa #1463

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The Cold War's Missing Atom Bombs

Speigel Online, 11/14/2008

In a 1968 plane crash, the US military lost an atom bomb in Greenland's Arctic ice. But this was no isolated case. Up to 50 nuclear warheads are believed to have gone missing during the Cold War, and not all of them are in unpopulated areas.

It was a little early to be swimming in the Mediterranean that year. But in early March 1966, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, the Spanish information minister at the time, and Biddle Duke, the American ambassador in Madrid, together with their respective families, plunged into the chilly waters off the Costa Cálida. Journalists from around the world had gathered on the beach of the small village of Palomares to report on the two families' spring bathing outing. Their interest would have been surprising, if it hadn't been for the hydrogen bomb lying on the ocean floor only a few kilometers away, a bomb with more than 1,000 times the explosive force of the one that flattened Hiroshima.

Only a few weeks earlier, on Jan. 17, 1966, the worst nuclear weapons incident of the entire Cold War had taken place off Spain's southeastern coast. During an aerial tanking maneuver, an American B-52 bomber and a KC-135 tanking aircraft collided in mid-air at 9,000 meters (29,000 feet), and both planes exploded in a giant fireball over Palomares. There were four hydrogen bombs in the hold of the B-52. One landed, unharmed, in tomato fields near the village. The non-nuclear fuse detonated in two others causing bomb fragments and plutonium dust to rain down on the impact site. The fourth bomb fell into the water somewhere off the coast, burying itself in several meters of silt. But where exactly did it fall?

In the weeks after the accident, Palomares looked like the set for a film about the apocalypse. On land, men wearing white protective suits and blue facemasks used Geiger counters to scan the ground for radiation. The fields were sealed off, and an entire harvest of tomatoes and beans rotted on the vine. The US government had the fields dug up and 1,400 tons of earth removed. The contaminated soil was then shipped to the United States for disposal. Dozens of American warships patrolled the coastline to seal off the area where a fisherman had seen the bomb landing in the water. It took 81 days to recover the nuclear weapon from a depth of 800 meters (2,600 feet). Expressing its shock over the events in Spain, the German daily Hamburger Abendblatt wrote: "More than any sandbox scenario, the bomb incident makes it clear what it means today to be 'living with the bomb'."

Greenland's Stray Atomic Bomb

The prospect of a stray, possibly damaged atom bomb lying somewhere on the ocean floor is truly horrific. Britain's BBC is currently causing an uproar with a report on the loss of an American atom bomb in 1968. When an American B-52 bomber crashed into the ice off Greenland, the conventional explosives in the bombs exploded, causing a large area to become radioactively contaminated by the plutonium that was released in the process. But what the US government kept secret for decades was that a reconstruction of the bomb components found at the site had revealed that a nuclear warhead was missing. It had apparently drilled its way through the ice in North Star Bay. It was never found.

The loss of an atom bomb is not as rare an occurrence as one would hope. "The American Defense Department has confirmed the loss of 11 atomic bombs," says Otfried Nassauer, an expert on nuclear armament and the director of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security. "It is believed that up to 50 nuclear weapons worldwide were lost during the Cold War."

Most of these highly dangerous weapons are still lying on the ocean floor. In April 1989, a fire on board the Komsomolez resulted in the sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine to a depth of 1,700 meters (5,500 feet) in the North Atlantic Ocean, together with two torpedoes and their nuclear warheads. On May 22, 1968, another nuclear submarine, the USS Scorpion, sank to a depth of 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) about 320 nautical miles south of the Azores. There were two nuclear warheads on board. Because of the considerable depths involved, neither the weaponry nor the nuclear reactors on both submarines have been recovered to date.

Absurd 'Broken Arrow'

A much larger number of atom bombs disappeared in plane crashes over the open ocean. "In the early days of the Cold War, the aircraft lacked sufficient range to cross the Atlantic on one tank of fuel," explains nuclear expert Nassauer. "Some bombers collided with their tanker planes, while others simply missed the tankers and, after running out of fuel, plunged into the sea."

Between the late 1950s and mid-1960s, the most explosive part of the Cold War, US bombers carrying atom bombs were in the air around the clock, 365 days a year. Their four main routes passed over Greenland, Spain and the Mediterranean, Japan and Alaska. Only when the bombers became capable of flying across the Atlantic or Pacific on one tank did the frequency of accidents diminish.

Probably the most absurd "broken arrow" (the Americans' code word for accidents involving nuclear weapons) happened on Dec. 5, 1965 on board the USS Ticonderoga. The aircraft carrier was en route from Vietnam to Yokosuka in Japan when a fighter-bomber emerging from one of the giant elevators that carry the aircraft from the ship's hold onto the deck plunged into the ocean. The pilot, the aircraft and the nuclear bomb on board sank to a depth of five kilometers (16,400 feet) and were never found.

That incident was also kept secret for many years, partly because, when it was finally made public in 1981, it proved that the Americans had stationed nuclear weapons in Vietnam, after all. It also revealed that the United States had defied a treaty with Japan, under which the Americans had agreed not to bring any nuclear weapons onto Japanese territory.

Blown Fuses

The US military's rather nonchalant handling of its most dangerous toys was not limited to foreign countries. In fact, seven of the 11 nuclear warheads that are officially missing were lost at home in the USA. On Feb. 5, 1958, bomber pilot Howard Richardson had to jettison the hydrogen bomb he was carrying after colliding with a fighter jet. The bomb then disappeared in the shallow waters of Wassaw Sound, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Savannah, Georgia, a city of 100,000 people. Richardson, an experienced pilot, barely managed to land his aircraft at nearby Hunter Army Airfield.

The crew of a B-52 that exploded on Jan. 24, 1961 as a result of a defective fuel line was less fortunate. Before the aircraft broke apart, the men managed to eject their dangerous cargo. One of the two hydrogen bombs was parachuted safely into a tree, while the other one went down in a swamp near the small city of Goldsboro, North Carolina, where it plunged an estimated 50 meters (165 feet) into the marshy ground -- and where it still lies today. The crash site remains a restricted military zone.

But what made this incident famous was the bomb that landed in a tree. Five of its six fuses designed to prevent a detonation failed, with only the last one averting a nuclear explosion. After this near-disaster, the security systems in US nuclear weapons were revised, and Washington asked the Soviet Union to do the same.

Could Terrorists Find a Bomb?

To this day, these two incidents are a hotly disputed topic among experts, military officials, conspiracy theorists and the concerned citizens of Savannah and Goldsboro. Do the two bombs still pose a danger to the residents of these cities? "Weapons that are on the ocean floor are hardly unlikely to explode," says Nassauer. Nevertheless, he cautions, "perhaps this risk is somewhat greater with the bombs that were lost on land. But virtually nothing is known about whether such bombs can explode spontaneously."

A completely different fear has taken hold since the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001. What happens if terrorists acquire one of the lost bombs? An unfounded fear, says Nassauer, noting that even the military, after using all means at its disposal, has failed to find or salvage the bombs. "Quite a few weapons are located in places that are still completely inaccessible with the means available to us today," says Nassauer. The real dangers lie in the area surrounding a crash site, and they include the possibility of explosion at the time of the accident and the effects of corrosion, which could allow radioactivity to escape over decades.

In Palomares, for example, the nightmare continues after more than four decades. The sleepy village his since become part of a thriving tourist region. But in 2004, two pits containing radioactive soil were discovered at the site of future golf courses and luxury hotels. Extensive soil studies revealed that other areas were still contaminated. The Spanish government has confiscated the affected land, and in 2009 US troops will be deployed to decontaminate the area once again. More than 40 years after the first bomb fell on Palomares, several thousand tons of contaminated earth will be shipped to America once again.


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