Sunday, February 12, 2006

Broken Arrows and Bent Spears

In an earlier post, I wrote about the US military's procedure for reporting incidents involving or potentially involving, nuclear weapons. This procedure is known as OPREP-3, and basically it spells out how nuke incidents are categorized, described, reported, and priortized. Here's some more on that topic.

The highest priority incidentsare identified by the codeword "Pinnacle." Electronic messages starting with the Pinnacle flagword means what follows is hot stuff indeed. If the next word after Pinnacle is "Nucflash", look out, because World War III has started -- somebody used a nuke, on purpose, and the world has immediately and irrevocably changed.

Of course, there are OPREP-3 reports of lower priority and that's what this post is about. (A full description of OPREP-3 can be found here. It's kinda interesting, but be advised it's a pretty tough slog through a lot of detailed procedural documentation)

Here's a summary of non-Nucflash OPREP-3's situational definitions:
“FRONT BURNER” reports go out when something happens that has the potential of escalating into a situation such as armed attack on or harassment of US forces, but don’t currently involve the use of a nuke.

“BROKEN ARROW” code designation signals that an accident involving nuclear weapons or nuclear components occurred, but this accident doesn’t create the immediate risk of nuclear war. Still, Broken Arrow could mean something as unpleasant as an accidental nuclear weapon detonation, the non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon, or as in the John Travolta movie of the same name (which I thought was a pretty good movie, despite what a lot of critics said,) jettisoning of a nuclear weapon from a damaged aircraft.

"EMPTY QUIVER" is a reporting term to identify and report the seizure, theft, or loss of a U.S. nuclear weapon.

“BENT SPEAR” and “FADED GIANT” events are incidents involving nuclear weapons or radiological contamination that are of significant interest but are not quite serious enough to qualify as a NUCFLASHes or Broken Arrows.

In general, all of these situations from NUCFLASH to FADED GIANT are cloaked in secrecy and details normally do not circulate outside military channels. So, a logical question to ask is: how often are Pinnacle and other, lower priority alerts made?

Unfortunately, the government does not report on this.

Below, Slim Pickens in the film Dr. Strangelove, which is basically a movie about the consequences of a falsified Pinnacle Nucflash report.

The Brookings Institute (one of the oldest and best known think tanks in the United States) provides a bunch of related nuke information, especially about on the quantity and distribution of domestic nukes on their website. Although the numbers are getting a bit dated, I find them quite interesting. Given the size of some of these numbers I have little doubt that they must happen with some amount of regularity. Here's an excerpt of the Brookings Report:

The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940. The Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project. (More info here))

Total cost of the Manhattan project: (through August 1945) $20 billion dollars

Total number of U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs built between 1945 and 1990:
More than 70,000 of 65 types

Number remaining in U.S. stockpile as of 1997:
12,500 (8,750 active, 2,500 contingency stockpile, 1,250 awaiting disassembly)

Number of nuclear warheads requested by the U.S. Army in 1956 and 1957:

Amount of plutonium remaining in U.S. nuclear weapons:
43 Metric tons

Number of dismantled plutonium "pits" stored at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas:
12,067 (as of May 6, 1999)

States with the largest number of nuclear weapons:
New Mexico (2,450), Georgia (2,000), Washington (1,685), Nevada (1,350), and North Dakota (1,140) (I wonder why Georgia? -ed)

First and last U.S. nuclear weapons tests:
July 16, 1945 ("Trinity") and September 23, 1992 ("Divider")

Number of U.S. nuclear tests in Nevada:

Number of U.S. nuclear bombs lost in accidents and never recovered:


Anonymous said...

Why Georgia? Simple answer: Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base/Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic. The Atlantic fleet formerly having the majority of the "boomers" (nuclear armed submarines that go out on deterrence patrol). Most of these things were MIRV'ed, 10 warheads, made illegal under START, so that's a LOT of extra warheads.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" is right. My brother was stationed there for the ICBM facility they have there. He wouldnt really tell me much, im guessing i didn't ask right. But that is still to this date the main strategic naval base from what i hear.