December 2006


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Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>
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Sun, 17 Dec 2006 17:56:41 +1200
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By Tom Brown     Seattle Times
December 11, 2006

Nearly one-quarter of America's 9,962 nuclear weapons are now 
assigned to the Bangor submarine base on Hood Canal, 20 air miles 
northwest of downtown Seattle.

This makes Bangor the largest nuclear weapons storehouse in the 
United States, and possibly the world.

The share of the nation's nuclear armaments at Bangor is higher than 
it has ever been for two reasons:

* The warheads assigned to the ballistic missile submarines stationed 
at Bangor and at Kings Bay, Ga., now constitute more than half of the 
U.S. strategic weapons force.

* Other storage sites have been closed or consolidated as the country 
has cut the size of its arsenal from a Cold War peak of some 24,000 

The status and disposition of the nation's nuclear arsenal is 
detailed in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic 
Scientists.  Bulletin authors Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen 
say the U.S. arsenal is now the smallest it has been since 1958. 
U.S. nuclear arms are maintained at 18 facilities in 12 states and 
six foreign countries, according to the report.

The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by scientists who participated in 
the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb and is considered an 
authoritative source of nuclear weapons information for the United 
States and other countries.

Norris and Kristensen write:

"Pinpointing the whereabouts of all U.S. nuclear weapons, and 
especially the numbers stored at specific locations, is fraught with 
many uncertainties due to the highly classified nature of nuclear 
weapons information. Declassified documents, leaks, official 
statements, news reports, and conversations with current and former 
officials provide many clues, as do high-resolution satellite images 
of many of these facilities.

"Such images are available to anyone with a computer and internet 
access, thanks to Google Earth and commercial satellite imaging 
companies such as DigitalGlobe.  This development introduces 
important new tools for research and advances citizen verification. 
The statistics contained in this article represent our best 
estimates, based on many years of closely following nuclear issues."

Thus, the estimate of what is stored at Bangor can't be verified but 
probably is quite close.

Unsurprisingly, the 2,364 weapons reportedly assigned to Bangor are 
warheads for the Trident and cruise missiles carried by the 
submarines based there:

* 1,100 W76 warheadsfor Trident II D5 missiles. The W76, the mainstay 
of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, has a yield, or explosive force, of 
about 100 kilotons. That's more than six times the power of the 
atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Each of 
the nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines at Bangor can carry 
up to 24 Trident II missiles. Those missiles in turn can be armed 
with up to eight W76 warheads apiece, or as many as 192 warheads per 

* 850 W76 warheads for Trident I C4 missiles. These warheads are 
inactive, as Bangor's subs have been upgraded to carry Trident II D5 

* 264 W88 warheads for Trident II D5 missiles.  The W88 has a yield 
of about 475 kilotons and is considered the most sophisticated 
thermonuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile.  Each of the 24 missiles 
on an Ohio-class nuclear submarine can carry eight W88 warheads.

* 150 W80-0 warheads for sea-launched cruise missiles (four Trident 
subs have been converted to carry cruise missiles rather than 
ballistic missiles and two of those subs are stationed at Bangor).

The mix of warheads carried by each of the Bangor submarines is 
classified and most likely varies depending on its patrol mission and 
international circumstances. About half of Bangor's active weapons 
are at sea at any given time, the Bulletin estimates.

At Bangor, weapons not deployed aboard subs are stored in bunkers 
that are visible in commercial satellite photos readily available on 
the Web. The Federation of American Scientists blog Strategic 
Security has an interactive map and satellite images of the country's 
various weapons sites. The map requires Google Earth software, which 
is available free from Google.

No nuclear weapons have been used since August 1945, when the U.S. 
bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II, though there have 
been a number of close calls since. There also have been scores of 
military accidents or incidents involving nuclear weapons over the 
last 60 years, including four at Bangor, the last of which occurred 
in late 2003. In the Bangor incident, a Trident missile was damaged, 
but none of its warheads were and no radiation was released.

Commonly, not much information is released about these accidents, and 
their relative seriousness is often difficult to gauge.  There is no 
evidence that an unintended nuclear explosion has ever occurred, 
though radiation has been released numerous times as a result of 
aircraft crashes or fires.

The Center for Defense Information notes in this lengthy appraisal 
that the Navy reported 563 "nuclear weapons incidents" between 1965 
and 1983, though fewer than half of those seem to have been actual 
accidents involving weapons.

One Navy accident of regional note occurred September 25, 1959, when 
a P-5M antisubmarine aircraft crashed into Puget Sound near Whidbey 
Island.  The nuclear depth charge it carried was never recovered.

Nuclear weapons in storage most likely pose little danger.  However, 
they no doubt would be high on the target list of any nuclear-armed 

A new government report concludes that deterioration of nuclear 
weapons --- long a concern because of potential effects on their 
reliability --- may be much less significant than previously 
believed.  Thus, it's likely we'll be living with a lot of them 
nearby for a long time to come.