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Radioactive Snails Crawl Up From Beneath 397

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-the-powers-of-a-man-sized-snail dept.
slidersv writes "Reuters is reporting discovery of radioactive snails in the area where three hydrogen bombs were lost by US in the 1966. The radioactive creatures crawl up from underground, where authorities suspect deposits of uranium and plutonium may be located."
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Radioactive Snails Crawl Up From Beneath

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  • Re:Holy --deleted-- (Score:5, Informative)

    by robbak (775424) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:49AM (#16404871) Homepage
    Sigh. From the article:
    three U.S. hydrogen bombs fell by accident 40 years ago may trigger a new joint U.S.-Spanish clean-up operation, officials said on Wednesday.

    The hydrogen bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares in 1966 after a mid-air collision between a bomber and a refuelling craft, in which seven of 11 crewmen died.
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:54AM (#16404897)
    They didn't lose them.

    Details -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palomares [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:4, Informative)

    by ricardo_nz (917753) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:55AM (#16404905) Journal
    Not so much 'lost' as misplaced: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palomares [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:4, Informative)

    by the.Ceph (863988) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:58AM (#16404925)
    It ends up they basically found them after and detonated them which spread uranium and plutonium in the soil hence radioactive snails. But the summary definetly made it sound like the snails were the least of our problems.
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:07AM (#16404965)
    "How the fuck do you lose a goddamn hydrogen bomb?"

    Uh, you crash a plane containing hydrogen bombs.

    Technically, none of the bombs were "lost". The B-52 that crashed (due to a collision with a mid-air refueling tanker) carried 4 B28 1.1 megaton thermonuclear bombs. One of the bombs landed intact in the ocean, another landed intact on land, both were recovered. The parachutes on the other two bombs failed to deploy and their conventional high explosive charges went off when they hit the ground. Thankfully, the safety systems of the bombs prevented a nuclear explosion, but the conventional explosions nevertheless distributed a large quantity of radioactive bomb guts over a wide area (thus the contamination problems mentioned).

    P.S. RTFA. UTFI (Use The F'ing Internet).
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:4, Informative)

    by melchoir55 (218842) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:28AM (#16405073)
    This situation is the result of what is now popularly known as a "broken arrow". A nuclear weapons accident that does not produce the risk of nuclear war. The weapon (a missing weapon on the nuclear scale)would actually be known as an "empty quiver".

    As reported by wikipedia, there are currently 11 such weapons known to be missing from the United States arsenal. It should be noted that these weapons are not the pitiful 1-5 kiloton weapons that Korea is detonating. It is likely they are 10+ megaton city-killers.

    All that being said, I wouldn't worry too much about the situation. Anyone (or anything) with the capability to decipher how to actually set one of these missing weapons off is most likely nothing short of a country. Countries with nuclear weapons aren't something terribly dangerous, due to nuclear deterrance (MAD).
    Add to that the fact that the US is unable to find these weapons (Some are presumed destroyed or at least damaged beyond repair)and I find it much less likely these will be a threat than, say, the car that passes by me when I walk to school.
  • by RsG (809189) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:37AM (#16405109)
    It seems to me that if you could damage and capture one of these planes, you could lay your hands on 4 nuclear bombs. Something that would be a bit of a security risk.
    Who'd want to? In 1966 the bad guys were the USSR, and they didn't need another piddling 4 nukes when they already had thousands. Plus downing a nuclear-armed bomber without anyone noticing or retaliating would have been difficult.

    As for why it was there, the US had plenty of nukes in western Europe, with the idea that if a war broke out, those bombs would be headed into Russia. Where this particular plane was going I do not know, but it wasn't alone or out of place over Spain.
  • by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @03:45AM (#16405139)
    ICBM is one thing, but both sides also had some nuclear bombers waiting near the ennemy borders 24*7 to either back up a first strike ICBM launch or retaliate if the homeland was destroyed. I don't have the details, but I think Spain was just on their route from an US base to the waiting point when they had that accident.

    Have you ever seen Dr Strangelove? Of course, it is a comedy, but it is based on a real situation: during cold war, there were constantly dozens of nuclear warheads flying around with the risk of something going wrong. That accident was fortunately in the lower range of possible consequences.
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by jginspace (678908) <jginspace@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:04AM (#16405211) Homepage Journal

    "How the fuck do you lose a goddamn hydrogen bomb?"
    "Uh, you crash a plane containing hydrogen bombs."

    More here: http://www.milnet.com/cdiart.htm [milnet.com]

    The B-52 was returning to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base at Goldsboro, North Carolina, after flying the southern route of the SAC air alert missions (code named "Chrome Dome"). It was attempting its third refueling of the mission with a KC-135 tanker from the American base at Moron, southwestern Spain, near Sevilla. Although the official report of the cause of the accident was not released to the public, it is believed that while attempting to dock at 30,000 ft above the Spanish coast, the nozzle of the tanker's boom, which was supposed to hook up with the B-52's orifice, struck the bomber, ripping open the B-52 along its spine and causing aerodynamic stress which snapped the bomber into pieces. Flames spurted through both planes and the KC-135s 40,000 gallons of jet fuel ignited, killing its four crew members almost immediately. Four of the seven crew members of the B-52 managed to eject and parachute to safety.

    From the above source: "[the second most serious nuclear weapons accident on record - MILNET]" (it also goes on to describe a similar accident at Thule).

  • by Barnoid (263111) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:04AM (#16405213)
    Why should Spain pay for part of the clean-up? It was our mess. We should be cleaning it up. Either the military goes in and fixes it, or we taxpayers foot it.


    From TFA: The governments have yet to agree on who would pay for a clean up, according to a U.S. embassy spokesman in Spain.
    ...

    Since 1966, the United States has helped pay for Palomares residents to be checked for signs of radiation poisoning.


    Well, at least they are still talking about it. Even though I generally disagree with US foreign policy, in this case, it seems that there's not (yet) much to complain about.
  • by bananaendian (928499) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:09AM (#16405237) Homepage Journal
    I'm not really good at history, so I'm wondering if someone could explain why in 1966 the Americans had B-52 bombers flying over Spain carrying 4 nuclear bombs.

    The B-52s were performing Airborne Nuclear Alert duty under the code-name "Chrome Dome" where bombers would loiter near points outside of the Soviet Union (see Dr. Strangelove).

    During this program a mid-air collision between a B-52 [wikipedia.org] and a KC-135 [wikipedia.org] tanker aircraft occurred during aerial refueling [wikipedia.org] over Palomares [wikipedia.org], Spain on the 17th of January, 1966.

    Four megaton-range hydrogen bombs [wikipedia.org] were lost. Two were recovered eventually fairly intact while the other two underwent a minor detonation of the conventional explosives that were an integral part of them. The safety fuses in them prevented a disastrous nuclear detonation. However dispersion of both plutonium and uranium material over several hundred hectares resulted in thousands of tons of contaminated radioactive soil having to be sent back to the USA. The USAF decided this was too expensive to risk again, and it ended that part of the airborne alert program.

    There have been several reports of contamination remaining in the area in recent years and currently U.S and Spanish governments have agreed to investigate the need for further clean up, this time sharing the costs.

    Interestingly the search efford for the missing bomb out at sea was performed using the Bayesian search theory [wikipedia.org]. Eventually the bomb was recoved with the help of a local fisherman, who then claimed salvage rights from it under the high seas (usually a reward of a few percent of the actual value). But not before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had publicly stated a value of no less than two billion U.S. dollars for it. The Air Force settled out of court.

  • by maetenloch (181291) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:38AM (#16405347)
    Don't forget about the Tybee hydrogen bomb [wikipedia.org], lost in 1958 during a collision between two planes. The Air Force has never located it, and it's presumed to still be buried in mud just off the coast of Savannah, GA. Supposedly it didn't have the plutonium core installed, but did have enriched uranium and high explosives.
  • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@NospAm.hotmail.com> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:49AM (#16405387) Journal
    The miracle of life?

    The physics of microwaves.

    The wavelength of your average microwave oven is about 1.2mm, so anything smaller than that can stay cool. Microwaves area also unevenly spread throughout the oven so there are areas where your gnat could have flown and not been affected.

  • by konekoniku (793686) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @04:49AM (#16405391)
    It was a NATO operation, flown by the US in protection of its NATO allies in Western Europe. In that sense, the US was performing a service on behalf of Spain (among others). Due to this fact, Spain is also footing part of the bill, in recognition that the known risks of such an accident were borne by the US in part on behalf of Spain.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @05:05AM (#16405465)
    USA NUCLEAR WEAPONS LOST or MISSING

    March 10, 1956, Over the Mediterranean Sea
    July 28, 1957, Over the Atlantic Ocean
    February 5, 1958, Savannah River, Georgia
    February 12, 1958 Savannah, Georgia
    September 25, 1959, Off Whidbey Island, Washington
    January 24, 1961, Goldsboro, North Carolina
    December 5, 1965, Aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) in the Pacific Ocean
    Spring 1968, Aboard the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) in the Atlantic Ocean

    List does not include the much larger list of fully recovered and contained accidental weapons drops.

    Some diverted material (noit in weapons) was CIA swapped to israel some think.

    Enough weapons grade plutonium was mysteriously stolen from the US gov over the decades, according to accurate reports, to build over 20 H bombs.
  • by cocotoni (594328) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @05:10AM (#16405489)
    Bzzzzzt!

    Spain was not member of NATO in '66. Spain only joined NATO after democratization in '82.

    It's like people that think that Hawaii was part of US in time of Pearl Harbor.
  • by M1FCJ (586251) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @05:36AM (#16405583)
    Typical microwave oven wavelength is about 12.2cm. You are two orders of magnitudes wrong. A typical microwave owen operates around 2.45GHz. Handy calculator for such stuff [1728.com] and more info at wikipedia. Last time I looked at my microwaveable pop-corn, the corns were definitely smaller than 12cm.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @06:25AM (#16405773)
    I have always wondered what sort of chance there was of a nuclear detonation when it impacted the ocean bottom



    Pretty slim, I'd say. The fission reaction will only be started correctly if everything is working right inside the bomb, i.e. it is armed and detonated intentionally. Otherwise, you'll just wind up with an imprompty dirty bomb.



    and what effect it would have had... a tsunami perhaps?



    Not likely. The energy required to power this event dwarfs even the most powerful nuclear weapon. Maybe if you stick the bomb inside a fault line. But that's a big maybe.

  • by technos (73414) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @06:29AM (#16405787) Homepage Journal
    I have always wondered what sort of chance there was of a nuclear detonation when it impacted the ocean bottom and what effect it would have had...

    Almost no chance of nuclear explosion. There simply isn't enough fissionable in a bomb to go up unless you set it off in one specific way, requiring timers to set off a series of chain detonators at exactly the right time, sensors to tell the timers when that time is, an altimiter to determine the bomb is at target height and charged batteries to power the whole rig.

    Sure, they'll blow up. But we're talking 300lbs of TNT boom, spraying radioactive all over the place.

    But say a warhead did go off. We're talking something on the order of a megaton. Odds are there would have been a small surface swell, the wreckage at the bottom would have been blown to pieces, but I doubt that the ship at the surface would have even been damaged by the event. The US did undersea tests to figure out how to use nukes against boats and subs; The effective range wasn't all that great.
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hawkxor (693408) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @07:07AM (#16405943)
    the term bayes just means that conditional probabilities are being used..
  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2006 @07:14AM (#16405985)
    Who would have thought nuclear weaponry and anti-spam technology would be somehow related? :)



        Bayesian theory is just the good old probability theory used "right", as Laplace intended. Anti-spam is just a simple application.

  • Re:Holy fucking shit (Score:3, Informative)

    by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @08:52AM (#16406739) Homepage
    It should be noted that these weapons are not the pitiful 1-5 kiloton weapons that Korea is detonating. It is likely they are 10+ megaton city-killers.

    It should also be noted that the thing that separates a 1-5 kiloton weapon from a 10+ megaton city killer is tritium which has a relatively short half-life of ~12 yrs thus after 40 yrs approx. 12.5% of the original tritium is around to create that megaton nuclear event. Thus these bombs are no longer "city-killers". Though the uranium and plutonium primaries should still be usable.
  • by EQ (28372) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:31AM (#16408101) Homepage Journal
    Answer to you question: Nothing.

    DU isnt regular uranium, learn the science, not the hype. There has been a study done on the effects of DU ammunition. The UNEP report concluded in 2001 and found that the hazards are minimal. The most significant hazard seems to be that someone will pick up a round and keep it in close proximity of their person for an extended period of time.

    The interesting thing about the DU 'debate' is that most of the people who have done scientific studies on the DU will say 'it's not particularly dangerous, but there are so many factors involved, we can't be 100% sure' while the anti-DU activists always seem to have absolute certainty about their data despite it being based on shoddy papers by undergrads in unralted fields (geology instead of physics, for instance).

    Bottom line is that DU is DEPLETED, and is about as radioactive as common dirt and as hazardous as any other heavy metal, like lead. You wouldn't want to make pipes or plates or silverware out of it, but other than that its simply not as "radioactive" as you make it out to be.
  • by RsG (809189) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:32AM (#16408133)
    Eh, I wouldn't worry about DU's radioactivity. I'd worry about its toxicity.

    After all, the stuff barely gives off radiation, and what it does emit is alpha particles, so what you really have to worry about is getting it into your system (it can't irradiate you through your skin). And if you do ingest/inhale it, you've got far worse things to worry about than radiation damage - heavy metal poisoning is far more likely.

    What I don't get is why DU gets all the bad press, and white phosphorous, lead and napalm don't. Hell, if you want to look at the really nasty stuff left over after a war ends, landmines beat all of the above. Why does it only become "nasty" when it's got the slightest hint of radioactivity? Oh right, because it's that evil nucular stuff, so it must be worse... somehow.
  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:25PM (#16411537)
    Mod the parent post as "troll" if you think cockroaches will win, possibly with radioactivity and/or cranial mounted laser beams.
  • by pluther (647209) <pluther@@@usa...net> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @02:59PM (#16411969) Homepage
    "Learn the science not the hype" is always good advice.

    But it implies learning the science, rather than just believing what you've been told by a different source that the science is.

    Depleted Uranium is certainly more radioactive than common dirt. According to the UNEP report which you referenced, and of which a summary can be found on the WHO web site [who.int] Depleted Uranium "is weakly radioactive and a radiation dose from it would be about 60% of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass." It's no use in current reactors, though we've been stockpiling it since the 50's for use in some future reactors which could make use of it. So far, none have, but it's still theoretically possible.

    According to a pamphlet the US Army published for its troops back in the early 90's, DU can be relatively safe to handle, if all proper precautions are taken.

    Unfortunately, I can't find the pamphlet right now, but, some of the interesting bits from it:

    DU radiation is almost completely Alpha, with very little Beta, and no Gamma radiation. What this means is that it's very easy to block the radiation. A good lead-based paint (such as those used over the DU tank armor) is 100% effective. If the paint gets scratched (as tanks tend to do), covering the exposed area with duct tape will be safe enough.

    It also recommends treatment for DU wounds, including making sure the wound is completely cleaned, and passing a geiger counter over the area to make sure everything was taken out.

    The radiation in this case makes it actually safer, as it makes it easier to find, including areas sprayed with microscopic bits, as it has a tendency to powder if it passes through, say, steel.

    The dusting is what makes it particularly dangerous to civilians: it passes through tanks on the battlefield, gets powdered, dissolves in rain, sinks into the ground, contaminates crops, and never goes away.

    Uranium, whether depleted or not, is also highly toxic, on the level of arsenic, so it's not good to get into the bloodstream. (Of course, being shot with DU bullets will probably kill you long before you have to worry about it's poisonous effects.)

  • Re:Beetle-mania (Score:3, Informative)

    by hey! (33014) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @06:11PM (#16414851) Homepage Journal
    Well, I wrote it, which may not be the same thing as "original".

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