Report: US came close to nuclear disaster in 1961
LONDON (AP) -- A newly published book says that a U.S. hydrogen bomb nearly detonated on the nation's east coast, with a single switch averting a blast which would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that flattened Hiroshima.
In fact, had that bomb detonated, that explosion would have been released more nuclear material than all the previous nuclear detonations up to that time.
On January 24, 1961, a B-52 bomber on a training mission broke up in flight over east central North Carolina, The result was two hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina.
The Guardian newspaper said Saturday that a recently declassified document, reported in a new book by Eric Schlosser, shows how close the U.S. came to a major catastrophe.
The first bomb disintegrated as it plowed into the ground, but the second bomb deployed a parachute to slow its descent to prime detonation height. During descent, 3 of the 4 switches clicked to the armed position, but a fourth did not - and that prevented disaster.
The document says just "one simple, low-voltage switch" -- which could easily have been shorted during the B-52’s breakup in midair -- prevented "bad news --in spades."
The Guardian says Schlosser discovered the document through the Freedom of Information Act.
In 1975 a similar strength bomb detonated over mainland China in a planned atomic test by the Chinese. More than 190,000 deaths that followed months later covering thousands of square miles have been blamed on radiation poisoning from that explosion.
The 1961 nuclear bomb over east central North Carolina was of comparable strength as the Chinese 1975 nuclear bomb. A similar area of coverage would have encompassed much of the US east coast.