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Re-examining the Port Chicago Disaster 451

GoneGaryT writes "Say chaps, this might be old hat, but there's a fab site for conspiracy theory aficionados at portchicago.org ; it's a pdf book expounding the theory of Peter Vogel's that the Port Chicago magazine explosion (1944) was a nuclear weapons test. It's actually pretty thorough, like 20 years of research thorough. Would the US really blow up their own people for the sake of global military supremacy? Naaaah..." Chapter 9 of the book has a factual account of the disaster (which I'd never heard of before); if you're not interested in the rest of the theory, at least reading the historical account is informative and will give you an appreciation of the explosive power of several million pounds of military ordnance.
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Re-examining the Port Chicago Disaster

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  • Residual Radiation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonkeyBoyo ( 630427 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:53AM (#4980123)
    where is the residual radiation?
    • by js7a ( 579872 ) <james&bovik,org> on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:16AM (#4980179) Homepage Journal
      where is the residual radiation?

      Good question. There isn't any. Case closed.

      The main supporting inference requires considerable suspension of disbelief, and is presented as nothing more than conjecture. From Chapter 10 [portchicago.org], page 19:

      Deliberate detonation of the carload of Mk-47 bombs spotted at the No. 2 cargo hold of the E.A. Bryan with the purpose to effect the detonation the Mark II fission bomb and to conceal the detonation of that bomb within the larger explosion the E.A. Bryan's massive cargo of TNT and torpex munitions was not sabotage. But that is the means I impute as the origin of the Port Chicago explosion. The Mark II weapon was concealed among the cargo of crated aerial bomb tail vanes loaded 16 July 1944 into the No. 3 hold of the E.A. Bryan and was set with aerial depth bomb or depth charge hydrostatic pressure-activated fuses to detonate the Mark II at a pressure of 3-4 atmospheres in excess of sea level ambient atmospheric pressure; that necessary pressure above the ambient was propagated by the detonation of the carload of Mk-47 bombs.

      The author thinks the thing was loaded concealed and armed with a 4 atm pressure depth charge fuse? Please.

    • by Zemran ( 3101 )
      You mean like in Hiroshima? Hiroshima is a city again with lots of people living there and little radiation. You get more radiation on holiday in Cornwall. A nuclear bomb is the conversion of matter to energy and unlike an accident at a nuclear power plant, does not lead to lots of long term residual radiation. Einstins theory E=mc2 was about matter being energy and the bomb was the proof of that. Unlike a conventional chemical explosion the matter (uranium, plutonium or whatever) is converted into energy rather than converted into another matter in a process that produces energy.
      • Zemran:
        You mean like in Hiroshima? Hiroshima is a city again with lots of people living there and little radiation. You get more radiation on holiday in Cornwall. A nuclear bomb is the conversion of matter to energy and unlike an accident at a nuclear power plant, does not lead to lots of long term residual radiation. Einstins theory E=mc2...

        Only one gram of matter was converted to energy when the Hiroshima A-bomb exploded. Its charge was was about the critical mass of uranium (about 50-odd kilograms)

        That's not to say the A-bomb had a yeild of only 0.002% of its mass, though.

        I'm no expert on atomic physics, but I'd say the mass lost is somewhat like teensy bit of mass lost when two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom combine to form a H2O molecule plus some extra heat energy, except that for a fission reaction, some thingymajig is happening with nuclear particles rather than with 'bond energy'.

      • If you read the pdf files where they discuss the efficiency, the efficiency of the two types of devices was 1.5% and 0.5%.

        100% or near that efficiency would have increased the force into the megatons.

      • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:04PM (#4982460) Homepage Journal
        Others have pointed out the problem in your physics exposition.

        Let me point out that the large amount of "residual radiation" (fallout) produced by the Hiroshima bomb did not fall near Hiroshima, so there was no residual radiation in Hiroshima itself. The bomb was exploded at altitude and the radioactive components (other than the tiny amount converted to energy) was turned into extremely hot gas. That gas rose into the stratosphere and was distributed, more or less evenly, throughout the northern hemisphere.

        In general, air bursts of nuclear weapons do not produce local fallout.

        The Port of Chicago explosion, had it been nuclear, would have resulted in the lifting of large amounts of dust and other terrestrial material. This would have formed condensation nuclei for the radioactive material, which would have then fallen back to the ground at and within a few hundred miles of the blast. This is classic nuclear fallout for a ground burst. This would have led to significant injury and death, and the residual radiation would still be detectable (although at low levels today).
    • Good point. This is about as asinine as a conspiracy theory could possibly get.

      As it happens, we know where the Army did their nuclear weapons tests: at Los Alamos.

      -jcr
    • by arivanov ( 12034 )
      1. If this really was the case then it is in the lake.

      2. From a NUKE you do not get a lot of residual radiation. The neutrons are under 14KEv so they cause minimal side reactions. So you get radiation from the blast and some from the fallout. But not a lot. An H bomb is an entirely different matter. It will generate a considerable quantity of radioactive isotopes in aything that happens to be close to the epicenter.

      3. So 50 years later it will take you using some very serious gear to actually find if a small nuke was blown up.
      • Some serious gear, like, say, an el-cheapo geiger detector? Go to the Trinity test site during the brief period of time its open to the public every year. The ground is still radioactive. You *do* get residual radiation, from a fission bomb, and it lasts and lasts. No Energizer bunny needed.
        • I still think that you need serious gear. Here is why:

          Original site does not exist. It all went into the lake. That is besides the fact that the closest you can get to it is quite far away anyway.

          So you are not going to get anywhere with a Geiger counter. Mass spectrometer and looking into oddities in isotop distribution - yes. Geiger counter - not really.

          That is if it was a nuke of course. I personally doubt it but when dealing with the military you can expect anything.
    • Surely the survivors of the blast should have a cancer rate much higher than the normal population!

      Where are those statistics???

  • Given the callousness of letting people die in St. George Utah from fallout-related illnesses, I have no doubt they would have during the cold war. That being said, if it had been a test, I would think there would have been major epidemialogical effects (like Leukemia). So if it was a test, it was a miserable failure ;-)
    • Funny, isn't it, that the U.S. blowing up "its own people" is considered orders of magnitude worse than it blowing up other people? We do the latter from time to time, sometimes with regret.

      We do apply a similar rule to other leaders; it is also thought reprehensible that Saddam Hussein used poison gas on "his own people," although I seriously doubt he consider the Kurds his people, or vice versa.

      I don't think the U.S. would kill its own people deliberately, as least not often and outside of certain wars, but have noted a willingness to allow some to die by neglect. There's another odd distinction.

      It's kind of like the moral repugnancy of someone killing their own family, though many of us are aware family might be the most tempting to kill. Not our families, mind you -- other people killing their own families.
  • by Adar ( 33202 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:00AM (#4980136)
    You'd think some of that twenty years of research would be dedicated to getting the name right.
  • Interesting Story... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vudufixit ( 581911 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:01AM (#4980138)

    I always like to read about incidents I've never heard of. This is one of them.
    It may not be especially relevant to Slashdot's ostensible mission, but it does make for an interesting read.
    • It may not be especially relevant to Slashdot's ostensible mission,

      Sure it does. Slashdot can't resist a conspiracy theory. If you've never been around a conspiracy nerd, it's quite a sight. They make us computer / scifi / anime / trek nerds look like a bunch of social gadflys. These guys are just sad. Whether it be Kennedy or the moon landing, they can't possibly believe that any event could go by without a Vast Conspiracy behind it and they're quite glad to bend your ear. For hours. Repeatedly.
  • by ball-lightning ( 594495 ) <spi131313@yahoo.com> on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:02AM (#4980142)
    Since there were places that the US could (and did) test nuclear bombs, there is no reason for them to test it there. In addition, there was no radiation, and the survivors showed no signs of radiation poisoning. It was just a normal explosion, albeit a very big one.
  • Must sleep (Score:5, Funny)

    by MeanMF ( 631837 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:05AM (#4980152) Homepage
    Wow, that was the most interesting 354-page article I've ever seen posted here. I think it said something about some stuff blowing up, but I'm not really sure. I'm going to go to sleep now.
    • Re:Must sleep (Score:3, Interesting)

      by interiot ( 50685 )
      Ha. The first couple chapters of the book read like the start to 2001: A Space Odyssey, eg. all the events leading up the Port Chicago explosion, starting with the big bang. And then he has the gall to say things like this [portchicago.org]:
      • Most of the comprehensive data and analyses of those data that are available in Government Port Chicago explosion records are extraneous to the purpose of this book and will not be considered. Sections of available Port Chicago explosion records, for example, that precisely detail and mathematically dissect the "Percentage of plaster damage to total houses damaged" and the "Frequency distribution of number of structural members broken by buildings, area" would be neither instructive nor interesting to a general readership.
      Maybe he should have had such a clue for the rest of the book.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:06AM (#4980161)
    Now THERE's a government conspiracy! Making ships/people disappear AND travel through time!
  • Once again, uh-huh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:07AM (#4980162) Homepage
    I know it's consider incorrect around here to comment on spelling, but the author begins to lose credibility when he misspells "Manhattan Project" on his front page [portchicago.org].

    One observation is that many people are slow to draw the connection between nuclear and ordinary explosives because today's nuclear yields are so high. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki each had raw explosive power of around 10 kilotons each (the Nagasaki plutonium bomb was a good deal more powerful than the U-235 Hiroshima bomb, but because of inaccurate placement inflicted about half the damage). Nuclear explosions are worse for human life by heat and gamma radiation, but otherwise this tonnage could realistically be delivered by aircraft by conventional explosives or, in equivalent destructive terms, by firebomb bombardment such as had leveled most of Tokyo and Dresden.

    So there was some resistance at the time to focusing on the nuclear program when waves of 1,000 B-29's delivering 10 tons each could do the same task with proven technology. In another parallel, some estimates are that the "$3 Billion Dollar Gamble" B-29 may have cost more to develop and build than the bomb!

    Also, all large explosions assume the familiar mushroom cloud appearance.

    I don't address at all the propriety of dropping "the bomb," just the reasons a conventional explosion might be mistaken for one.
    • by The Tyro ( 247333 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @05:16AM (#4980582)

      When the USAF was dropping Daisy Cutters during the Gulf war, a group of Brits thought the conflict had gone nuclear... easy mistake to make if you're close enough. The size of the explosion is pretty much unmatched among conventional ordinance.

      15000 lbs of blasting slurry in a big metal barrel... I can see where that might mimic a small nuclear explosion quite nicely.
      • Nope, we're still orders of magnitude off, even for the piddling little Hiroshima bomb. 15,000 lbs is just 7.5 tons, almost 3 orders of magnitude off of the 10 kiloton estimate in the parent post. Even if blasting slurry is more powerful than TNT, I suspect we're still 2 or more orders of magnitude between a Daisy Cutter and a nuke.

        IMHO the Nuke is kind of like Space... It's BIG, so BIG that the ordinary human mind just doesn't take it in. Unfortunately the world seems to be losing its fear of nuclear weapons - I guess the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fading. I suspect someone is going to have to lose another city to re-vaccinate the human race with proper fear of nuclear weapons.

        Also IMHO, as bad as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, in the larger view of history, it may be a good thing that nuclear weapons were used in war when only one side had them, and there was no chance of an escalation. No head of state could have left such a potent weapon unused for so long had it not be demonstrated to be that terrible.

  • by Spyffe ( 32976 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:10AM (#4980165) Homepage
    Actually, what was going on in 1944 and prompted the US nuclear program's development was not the US trying to gain global military supremacy.

    Instead, we were trying to develop a weapon which would obviate the need to land troops in Japan, which would have led to one of the bloodiest invasions ever. (Read about the Japanese preparations for the invasion - the villagers with pikes training to "stave" off armed infantry.)

    Even given hindsight, nuclear weapons didn't give us global supremacy. If anything, they allowed third world countries (China, the Soviets, Pakistan) to play hardball politics with the "big boy" Western powers.

    Second, as to your (sarcastic) reference to the US killing our own citizens to test a nuke: If we were to do that, we'd pick an uninhabited place, surely! Somewhere we could hush it up better than, say, a couple miles from San Francisco!

    • by FearUncertaintyDoubt ( 578295 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @04:02AM (#4980409)
      Instead, we were trying to develop a weapon which would obviate the need to land troops in Japan, which would have led to one of the bloodiest invasions ever. (Read about the Japanese preparations for the invasion - the villagers with pikes training to "stave" off armed infantry.)

      According to John Kenneth Galbraith, who worked on an independent civilian commission appointed by President Roosevelt to study what really happened in the aftermath of WWII, Japan was ready to surrender before the A-Bomb was dropped.:

      Didn't the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki shorten the Pacific war?

      The bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefully studied by our bombing survey. Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly and bias in this matter. It's ironic that he has since become fascinated with the whole culture of destruction. The conclusion of the monograph called Japan's Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.

      The Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic. The decision took some time to translate into action. There was also a fear that some of the army units might go in for a kind of Kamikaze resistance. The decision was not known in Washington. While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end.

      Would not millions have been lost, American and Japanese, in the projected attack on the mainland, had it not been for the bomb?

      That is not true. There would have been negotiations for surrender within days or a few weeks under any circumstances. Before the A-bombs were dropped, Japan was a defeated nation. This was realized.

      Taken from "The Good War," [barnesandnoble.com] by Studs Terkel

      I think the "we had to drop the A-bomb becauase the invasion would have been worse" story is a remarkably well done piece of propaganda which has endured to the point of becoming accepted fact. As Mr. Galbraith points out, the US did not know that Japan was ready to surrender at the time. However, it is wrong to keep using that story now, given that it is probably false. I would rather the US say, OK, we didn't know that Japan was going to surrender, but we wished we did because we wish we didn't drop the bomb on them.

      As far as villagers training with pikes, that's probably on the same level as the bomb drills in US schools where everyone hid under their desk -- something to give ordinary citizens some feeling of security, nothing more.

      • >
        Taken from "The Good War," by Studs Terkel

        From the same book there is the first-hand account by a black navy worker that simply discredits the whole contention that Port Chicago saw a nuclear explosion. There were huge amounts of explosives there, and they were handled carelessly. Also no radiation after effects.

        >
        the "we had to drop the A-bomb becauase the invasion would have been worse" story is a remarkably well done piece of propaganda

        No. As Galbraith himself points, that the Bomb in itself did not end the War was learned afterwards. This was sure the feeling at the time, even if it was based on flawed evidence.

        So if there is any propaganda, it lays on saying the invasion would have been worse instead of we thought the invasion would have been worse. It is a distinction that should be done, but we are at the soundbite era.

        >
        As far as villagers training with pikes, that's probably on the same level as the bomb drills in US schools where everyone hid under their desk -- something to give ordinary citizens some feeling of security, nothing more.

        Not. These civilians were instructed to first resist with spikes, then to commit suicide if failing.

        And they really meant it, as the Okinawa suicides during the invasion proved.

      • Thanks for an interesting reference. The full memo of the US Strategic Bombing Survey is available online at the Truman Library [trumanlibrary.org].
        The language used in the memo seems to me more equivocal then Galbraith's statments in the interview with Terkel.
        Consider:
        The war minister and the two chiefs of staff opposed unconditional surrender. The impact of the Hiroshima attack was to bring further urgency and lubrication to the machinery of achieving peace, primarily by contributing to a situation which permitted the prime minister to bring the Emperor overtly and directly into a position where his decision for immediate acceptance of the Potsdam declaration could be used to override the remaining objectors. Thus, although the atomic bombs changed no votes of the Supreme War Direction Council oncerning the Potsdam terms, they did foreshorten the war and expedite the peace.
        and
        Indubitably the Hiroshima bomb and the rumor derived from interrogation of an American prisoner (B-29 pilot) who stated that an atom bomb attack on Tokyo was scheduled for 12 August introduced urgency in the minds of the government and magnified the pressure behind its moves to end the war.
        and
        There is little point in attempting more precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster.
        The memo does conclude that surrender was inevitable even without an invasion, and without the use of the atomic bomb. However, it does seem to assume the continued conventional bombing of the Japanese mainland, something Galbraith fails to mention in his comments to Terkel. "Bomber" Harris in the UK and LeMay in the US had long been making optimistic claims about the power of conventional bombing to end the war. Could this memo be part of the the same school?
    • I believe that is incorrect.

      Japan was who eventually got the shaft, but the original intent of the US nuclear weapons program was the Germans. Unfortunately, the development of a working bomb and the production of enough weapons-grade uranium took too long, and Germany had fallen before the bomb was ready to be employed..

      Also, modern historians tend to doubt that Hiroshima and Nagasaki did much to end the war with Japan. Japan was already starting to break up and looking for an exit. The Soviets announcing war would have pretty much clinched it.

      The most significant benefit that the demonstration of nuclear power likely bought the United States was a trump card for use in post-war negotiations with the USSR.
  • Say chap (Score:2, Funny)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 )
    I have some black helicopters and a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, if you want them.
  • Port Chicago (Score:5, Informative)

    by ericdano ( 113424 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:19AM (#4980188) Homepage
    I live near it. You can't go on some of the trails around there because of the security. Most all of the stuff is underground. There are a lot of rail road tracks that go down into the ground into bunkers. It is a real creepy place.

    Whether or not there was a nuclear explosion, I don't think so. However, that area has always played a very important part of the military in the Bay Area.

  • Sounds like BS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:21AM (#4980191)
    I skimmed some of the PDFs.

    What I didn't see were comparisons to larger known conventional maritime explosions like in Texas or Halifax.

    Just because it was a big blast doesn't mean it was a nuke. As for Teller, it was obvious from the interviews in the Atomic Bomb Movie that Teller is off his rocker.

    http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/maritime-2b .h tml

    "British Ministry of War Transport steamship (7,142 tons) loaded with 1,400 tons of munitions and a cargo of 9,000 cotton bales, was berthed in Bombay docks when a fire broke out with such ferocity that it soon reached the ammunition stored in the forward section of the ship. The resulting explosion was almost as great as the blowing up of the ammunition ship Mount Blanc in Halifax Harbour during the First World War. Fires on shore blazed for two days and nights as the flaming bales of cotton were hurled into the air only to drop onto the wooden shacks and shanties of Bombay's slums. In the harbour itself, eighteen merchant ships were either sunk or severely damaged. A total of 336 people died and over 1,000 injured."

    "A gigantic explosion occurred at the West Lock Munitions Facility, Pearl Harbor, the cause of which has never been explained. The ammo-loaded ships were spaced in line apart from each other when the first explosion occurred at the dock setting off a series of explosions on the other ships. Some vessels managed to take evasive action thus terminating the domino like chain of explosions. Destroyed were the Landing Ship (Tank) LST-43, LST...69, LST-179, LST-353 and LST-480. Also destroyed were the Landing Craft (Tank) LCT(6)-961, LCT(6)-963 and LCT(6)-983. Bodies were being dragged from the water days after the event. Casualties were said to be over 1,000 killed or wounded."

    So the Navy Pier accident isn't unique in violent destructive power.

    There are two other explosions I've read about with similarities to the one that is pdf'ed to hell and back.

    http://www.region.halifax.ns.ca/community/explod e. html

    Stored in the holds, or simply stacked on deck,of the Mont Blanc were 35 tons of benzol, 300 rounds of ammunition, 10 tons of gun cotton, 2,300 tons of picric acid (used in explosives), and 400,000 pounds of TNT.

    "The Mont Blanc drifted by a Halifax pier, brushing it and setting it ablaze. Members of the Halifax Fire Department responded quickly, and were positioning their engine up to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc disintegrated in a blinding white flash, creating the biggest man-made explosion before the nuclear age. It was 9:05am.

    Over 1,900 people were killed immediately; within a year the figure had climbed well over 2,000. Around 9,000 more were injured, many permanently; 325 acres, almost all of north-end Halifax, were destroyed.

    Much of what was not immediately levelled burned to the ground, aided by winter stockpiles of coal in cellars. As for the Mont Blanc, all 3,000 tons of her were shattered into little pieces that were blasted far and wide. The barrel of one of her cannons landed three and a half miles away; part of her anchor shank, weighing over half a ton, flew two miles in the opposite direction. Windows shattered 50 miles away, and the shock wave was even felt in Sydney, Cape Breton, 270 miles to the north-east."

    http://sdsd.essortment.com/texascityexplo_rkvi.h tm
    http://www.texasoutside.com/galveston/texascity. ht m
    • Stored in the holds, or simply stacked on deck,of the Mont Blanc were 35 tons of benzol, 300 rounds of ammunition, 10 tons of gun cotton, 2,300 tons of picric acid (used in explosives), and 400,000 pounds of TNT.

      Is that a typo, or did they think 300 rounds was worth mentioning? Did they also list the packet of matches in the captain's shirt pocket?

      Or is it like big-ole-country ammunition like for a howitzer or some such?
      • Re:Sounds like BS (Score:3, Informative)

        by Cyberdyne ( 104305 )
        Stored in the holds, or simply stacked on deck,of the Mont Blanc were 35 tons of benzol, 300 rounds of ammunition, 10 tons of gun cotton, 2,300 tons of picric acid (used in explosives), and 400,000 pounds of TNT.

        Is that a typo, or did they think 300 rounds was worth mentioning? Did they also list the packet of matches in the captain's shirt pocket?

        Or is it like big-ole-country ammunition like for a howitzer or some such?

        The latter, I imagine, since these are ships they are talking about. In which case, those 'rounds' are each a couple of inches across, very heavy, and packed with enough explosive to kick it through a warship's armored hull a couple of miles away. Not something you want to drop on your foot...
    • Small correction. Picric acid IS an explosive, used in bombs and artillery shells mixed with parraffin to produce a stable effective mixture. picric acid by itself is very reactive and explosive. From a source:

      Picric acid is a yellow crystalline, high explosive bursting charge. It is initiated by lead azide or mercury fulminate. Picric acid has the same effectiveness as TNT. ... Picric acid in contact with lead produces lead picrate, a sensitive and violent explosive.

      The idea of 2300 tons of this stuff on any one ship give me the willies. If it all went up at once, which by the descriptions it did, it would be the equivalent of a modern day medium sized tactical nuke.

      Good examples BTW. Looks like just another crackpot theory filtering through the memepool. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

      EnkiduEOT

      • The idea of 2300 tons of this stuff on any one ship give me the willies. If it all went up at once, which by the descriptions it did, it would be the equivalent of a modern day medium sized tactical nuke.

        That is not what should give you willies about this incident.

        What should give you willies is that someone's miltary (british to be exact) has had no doubts about bring a ship with this cargo manifest into the middle of a city instead of unloading it offshore.

        And methinks that there is a mistake in the reference. It was not benzol. It was nitrobenzol if I recall correctly. Which is also an explosive. All 35 tons of it. In barrels on the deck. They are actually what caught fire after the other ship (forgot the name) collided with the MonBlan. In other words there was not a single item of cargo on the manifest that was not explosive.

        And the most interesting of it all. The cretinous idiot in the military who OKed the manifest for loading as well as the cretinous idiot who OKed bringing the ship into harbour were not ever considered at fault. The criminal procedings concentrated on the captain of the ship (who survived the incident by running like hell the moment it went on fire).

        Back on the topic. It is possible that it was not a nuke in Chicago. Actually most likely that it was not. But knowing the military it might as well have been. They would have liked it to be. Good test. And good riddance to some pesky loading workers and privates ya know...

        • by enkidu ( 13673 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @08:01AM (#4980861) Homepage Journal
          And methinks that there is a mistake in the reference. It was not benzol. It was nitrobenzol if I recall correctly. Which is also an explosive. All 35 tons of it. In barrels on the deck. They are actually what caught fire after the other ship (forgot the name) collided with the MonBlan. In other words there was not a single item of cargo on the manifest that was not explosive.

          And the most interesting of it all. The cretinous idiot in the military who OKed the manifest for loading as well as the cretinous idiot who OKed bringing the ship into harbour were not ever considered at fault. The criminal procedings concentrated on the captain of the ship (who survived the incident by running like hell the moment it went on fire).

          I kinda doubt if it was nitrobenzol (german for nitrobenzene) rather than benzene. (mono) nitrobenzene is volatile and VERY poisonous and can kill by being absorbed through the skin. It's sometimes used as a component of some explosives, but usually as a raw material of the preparation of other organic compounds. There would be practically no point in shipping it across the ocean. It may have been trinitrobenzene (or TNB) but then it would have been called TNB. Anyway, 35 tons of TNB is peanuts compared to 2300 tons of picric acid. In one ship. [shudder] On fire. [cringe] If the captain had had any idea of the explosive force on that ship, he would have steered her out of port under full power and then abandoned ship. He probably just thought that the ship and ajacent ships would get blown up, not the whole f'ing city.

          Your points regarding the criminal incompetence of the persons in charge of shipping are spot on. They should have been taken out, had 2 pounds each of picric acid wrapped around various points of their bodies and had them detonated at suitably random amounts of time.

          EnkiduEOT

    • While I agree that the thesis is BS, they do infact cover both of these (in Ch7). I'm actually reading through them just for the summaries of other explosions, which are pretty interesting.

      I do have to say one thing, though -- they have a *lot* of filler material and quoted crap.
  • Conspiracy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:24AM (#4980203)
    Was it a nuke test? Naaah. ...But it might have been aliens.
  • by Dr_Marvin_Monroe ( 550052 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:24AM (#4980204)
    ....First it was the RFID chips in my tires monitoring my position in front of Taco-Bell for the government and now it Nuclear blasts in a densely packed city!......

    Does Oliver Stone know about this?.....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:29AM (#4980217)
    I'm going to respond to the article logically, resisting the impulse to immediately smack the conspiracy theorists upside the head.

    Being European, I was not familiar with the incident. Running a very quick search [google.com] shows that there was an accident at a port (Port Chicago), when it was used for loading and transporting ammunition during WW2.

    Sources say that there was an explosion of approximately 5 thousand tons [portchicagomutiny.com] of conventional explosives, started accidentally. Undoubtedly it was a massive chain reaction and there had apparently been some (certainly understandable) concern over the safety of the facility.

    The article source claims it was a nuclear weapon.

    The documentary "Trinity and Beyond - The Atomic Bomb Movie" [imdb.com] (good footage, narrated by William Shatner) contains recently de-classified footage. It shows the US military staging a conventional explosion of the order of a kiloton, designed to help figure out what to expect from a real nuclear explosion. And guess what... it behaved very much like you would expect a nuclear explosion.

    The facts are as follows:

    (1) There was a big explosion.

    (2) A 5-kiloton conventional explosion could at first glance be mistaken for a nuclear explosion. Big explosions look similar, it doesn't matter how they're triggered.

    The critical problem with their argument is as follows: The test site of the very first atomic weapon, Trinity, is still noticably radioactive [ed-thelen.org] today, possibly dangerous. Indeed, the fallout effects are still noticable from other sites [google.com] exposed to nuclear weapons - in the environmental and survivor's radiation poisoning.

    To those who assert that the Port Chicago explosion was the result of a nuclear explosion - how do you explain a nuclear weapon with no fallout and radioactivity? I vouch that you are trying to manipulate the facts to justify a theory - rather than basing your opinions from facts.

    You would have thought that during a "20 year investigation" they would have gone out there with a geiger counter and check out the background radiation. Which would have discounted nuclear weapons very quickly.
    • how do you explain a nuclear weapon with no fallout and radioactivity?

      I do not advocate or support this theory about port chicago being a nuclear explosion at all but what about a Neutron Bomb? [nuclearfiles.org]. Granted they weren't even thought of till 1958 but... Shrug.
      • I do not advocate or support this theory about port chicago being a nuclear explosion at all but what about a Neutron Bomb? [nuclearfiles.org]. Granted they weren't even thought of till 1958 but...

        This is still a nuclear weapon, thus will still spread fission products, nuclear fuel and irradiated bomb components around as fallout.
  • by stwrtpj ( 518864 ) <p,stewart&comcast,net> on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:30AM (#4980219) Journal

    ... is what anyone should take this theory with.

    I will openly admit that I did not RTFA, simply because the FA is too F long. I did go to the site and tried to skim the salient points, and I read the historical account (of an event I had never heard of, and I tend to consider myself something of a WW II history buff).

    At first glance, this is shaping up to be a case of someone starting from a false premise and building an argument to support it. Several times people have attempted the old "wow this was way too powerful to have been a conventional explosion it must be nuclear" gambit.

    I can easily cite an example of another historical event that resulted in a very large conventional explosion that mimicked atomic bomb effects. On December 6, 1917, a French cargo ship carrying a large amount of picric acid, TNT, benzole, and guncotton caught fire and exploded in Halifax harbor. The force of the explosion is estimated to have been in the neighborhood of 3 kilotons. It had all the effects of a atomic blast: fireball, mushroom cloud, shock wave, even a small tidal wave since the explosion was over water, and so on, all but the radiation. However, no one by any conceivable stretch of the imagination can claim that this was an atomic explosion.

    In addition, it is my understanding that it took a great deal of time and expense to build first the test device that was exploded in the desert and then the two that were dropped over Japan. That represented the sum total of America's nuclear arsenal at the time. A great deal of care was taken with these devices. It seems very odd to me that there would be some sort of "accident" with a heretofore unknown weapon that America possessed at the time. Atomic weapons just do not simply "go off" unless the bomb were specifically armed, and there would be no reason to keep an armed atomic weapon in the hold of a ship.

    As for purposely detonating a device to test its effects on a populated area? Please. I can only stretch my incredulity so far. Yes, the US government has done some terrible things in the past, but it would take a great deal of very compelling evidence to make me believe they would do something that blatant.

    Anyone who has read the entire book from beginning to end, feel free to poke holes in my argument. My research into this theory was hampered by the fact that the site did not contain a concise summary of the theory itself. For someone with the time, perhaps this would be a good candidate for applying the Carl Sagan Baloney Detection Kit.

    • There have been instances of nukes getting dropped [google.com] (odd, Sandia Labs deleted the link, hrrm thank you Google) and blown out of silos without ever detonating. They are quite hardy devices.

      Read This Link [nuclearfiles.org] for more hair-raising stories.

      For a good laugh, search Google for "nuclear bomb silo explosion wrench" and see the helpful ads on the side of the page.
      • For a good laugh, search Google for "nuclear bomb silo explosion wrench" and see the helpful ads on the side of the page.

        Not to mention, provoking an exciting visit to your home by some very concerned feds...


    • > It had all the effects of a atomic blast: fireball, mushroom cloud, shock wave

      When I was a kid, a chemical plant just outside my home town was mixing chemicals in a tank car and it popped. I didn't see the fireball because I was home playing in my yard, but the shock wave made all the neighborhood screen doors open and close, and you could easily see the mushroom cloud over the rooftops.

      This kind of stuff really doesn't take all that big an explosion.

  • The reports in chapter nine CLEARLY state that there were TWO explosions, not just one. A small quick one at first, then a bigger indistinct one. So, did the US bomb its own people? No. It was an accident. Something blew up, caused everything else to blow up. Created a huge mushroom cloud because that's what happens when that much stuff blows up.

    The reason they describe the 10,000 ton gadget (first nuke detonated at Los Alamos) mushroom cloud having happened in "typical Port Chicago fashion"? Because Port Chicago was (then) recent and big. Move along people, nothing to see here.

  • by kilonad ( 157396 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:35AM (#4980230)
    Someone set up Port Chicago the (non-nuclear) bomb!
  • by SuperDuG ( 134989 ) <{kt.celce} {ta} {eb}> on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:37AM (#4980235) Homepage Journal
    Would the US really blow up their own people for the sake of global military supremacy? Naaaah...

    It is very American to stand up and say that you're patriotic especially after September 11th, and then go on and on about how "they" the government are trying to control you "the sheep", or how "they" want to go to war.

    Here's a little lesson in how things work for Americans, because obviously some of you just don't get it. American Government is ran by AMERICANS. "they" are "us" and no different except the titles beside their names.

    So would "they" set off a nuke on "their" own people?

    HELL NO

    This was an accident that was covered up because the Armed forces (that ensure our freedom and lifestyles as Americans) made a mistake and like ANY human they didn't want to fess up to it. It's a whole lot easier to pretend something didn't happen or "bend the truth" then to come right out with it. That's the one thing that just doesn't register with me, since when is "the government" some new breed of people in America?

    Sometimes it sickens me to see people so proud to be Americans to just turn around and bitch about what they take for granted.

    In Soviet Russia, you wouldn't see a book like this.

    "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to my death for your right to say it" - Voltaire

    • Americans (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hackwrench ( 573697 )
      Waaiit... You're not an American are you? Because if you were, you'd know that Americans come in all varieties: those who think that "one world government" is generally a good thing and those who think it is the most horrible thing you could think of, those who think the government should get involved in the lives of its citizens for any number of reasons, and those who feel that the government should have a very hands off approach, and those who have no clue what the government should be doing. (and all those can be further subdivided, and there are sure to be plenty of other sub-divisions both having to do with government and without.) However it seems to me that the people running the government are pretty much a self-selecting bunch, narrowing down the people they deem worthy to join their ranks to one or two per position before the general populace has a chance to have a say in things.
    • In Soviet Russia, you wouldn't see a book like this...

      No, the Russians could probably handle a book a little bit longer.
    • by miu ( 626917 )
      Sometimes it sickens me to see people so proud to be Americans to just turn around and bitch about what they take for granted.

      1026 changed everything.

      I don't believe that Port Chicago was a nuke test, but the vicious stupidity displayed by the passage of the patriot act makes me very afraid of what the US will become.


    • > Here's a little lesson in how things work for Americans, because obviously some of you just don't get it. American Government is ran by AMERICANS. "they" are "us" and no different except the titles beside their names.

      > So would "they" set off a nuke on "their" own people?

      > HELL NO

      Just like they wouldn't secretly give their soldiers LSD and watch what happened?

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:43AM (#4980249) Homepage
    The Port Chicago disaster is well-known. Some people make a big deal out of it for racial reasons (most of the people killed were black). But a nuclear explosion? No way.

    The San Francisco area has a number of nuclear embarassments. There are leaky barrels of radioactive material off the Farralones, and ground contamination at Hunter's Point. Ships used near nuclear tests were decontaminated or scrapped there. Mare Island used to be a nuclear weapons storage area. But the SF area's anti-nuclear activists have never brought up Port Chicago, and if there was any evidence of contamination, it would have been noticed by now.

    The author's online chapter sections don't even seem to have much relevance to his conspiracy theory.

  • Blast Statistics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Captain Chad ( 102831 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:45AM (#4980252) Homepage

    From chapter 9:

    • The buildings of the Naval Magazine were damaged extensively; sporadic damage to structural members of buildings was proven up to 13 miles - Suval [railroad] Station, California; plate glass was broken up to 35.5 miles - Petaluma, California; and a legitimate claim for plaster damage was reported at 48 miles - Calistoga, California.
    Death count: 320 dead, 81 bodies recovered, of which 30 were positively identified.

    A pilot flying at 9000 feet saw pieces of white-hot metal rise above his altitude.

    I'm impressed...

  • by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:45AM (#4980255) Homepage
    I was sure the incident sounded familiar, but not for the reason stated.

    Port Chicago is known as a tragedy and milestone in race relations in the U.S. military, which was segregated throughout WWII. Here [navy.mil] is the Navy account, not bad in its honesty.

    "The explosion at Port Chicago accounted for fifteen percent of all African-American casualties of World War II." Some 320 people were killed instantly, nearly all of them black. The ordnance loaders were a black unit. Hundreds of the survivors refused to return to work after the accident without safety changes. A couple hundred were summarily court-martialed, and 50 more were tried for mutiny [historychannel.com]with a possible death sentence.

    The incident drew a great deal of attention, again not for allegedly being nuclear, and mau have factored into President Truman's historic integration of the military.

    This may not be a technological angle, but it does emphasize that poor safety practice with conventional explosives caused the disaster, as I suggested in an earlier post.
  • Mushroom Cloud blast (Score:2, Informative)

    by michaelrn ( 574197 )
    My former boss worked for a decade at a New Mexico university (not sure which one) doing highspeed photography work. He had compiled a tape of much of the non-classified footage he had accumulated over the years. He lent it to me and I found it some very cool footage. It contained several conventional weapons detonations including one 20,000 ton TNT blast. It created a mushroom cloud exactly like what I have seen off nuclear weapon blasts. Mushroom cloud != Conspiracy Residual radition = Conspiracy (for me) But I've seen no evidence for any. Case closed.
  • Well, I must say that I've never heard of this at all. You learn something new every day.
    it doesn't sound like a nuclear device to me. But aren't there bombs that cause damage, but don't leave radioactivity? Neutron bombs? or something?
    Forgive me if I'm wrong - the body clock hasn't got used to waking up early after the Xmas holidays/parties/late nights.
  • . . . if the U.S. sucessfully tested a U-235 bomb in 1944, why did it test another U-235 bomb at White Sands in 1945? The U.S. could have had three bombs read for use in 1945 then, or at the very least, the U.S. could have tested the plutonium bomb at White Sands and had two bombs of known-good design to drop on Japan.
  • Oh, give me a break. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday December 30, 2002 @04:05AM (#4980415) Homepage Journal
    On a clear day, I could probably see Port Chicago from the top of some nearby hills. I can also see the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory from said hills. The wind blows toward Port Chicago in the daytime, from it at night. Lots of radiation monitoring goes on around here. Nobody is finding residual fallout. Instead, they went nuts about a local tritium lab that might have leaked enough material to make a few watches glow. No, sorry, I don't buy it.

    Bruce

  • Well, if the US wanted to take out Chicago (and the REST of Illinois) all they would have to do us blow up Fermilab. It would take out a sizeable chunk of the state. Good thing I live no more than 25 miles from it! :)
    • That certainly explains why the security at fermilab walks around unarmed. I mean if they had explosives that large to protect that's exactly what I'd do, make sure my security team would be unable to fend off attackers!

      Nothing at fermi is classified, the closest they come is putting warning stickers up for areas that produce radiation.. which is simply a side effect of high energy physics.
  • The prose in this book would bore even the most strung-up of conspiracy theorists. I quit reading after a page and a half, because I thought I was proofreading my nephew's term paper.

    - A.P.
  • Insulting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tuxlove ( 316502 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @04:15AM (#4980441)
    I think this article is insulting to those who were there. They complained about the unsafe conditions, and were severely reprimanded when they walked off the job. Those that did walk off the job lived. Those that didn't stand up to the man died. And a lot died. To claim that the accident was a planned test is an absurdity of the highest order. To say it was not an accident is tantamount to saying that the survivors were liars, and that their (admittedly incompetent) supervisors were suicidal/homicidal.

    Also, the belief that the US had the fissionable material to waste in an uncontrolled (and murderous) test is even more absurd. Especially so close to a highly populated area such as San Francisco. Port Chicago is VERY close to SF, especially in terms of a nuclear explosion. It's only something like 30 miles as the crow flies.

    This is one of the stupidest and most insulting conspiracy theories I've ever come across. It insults not only the survivors, but our intelligence as well. Right up there with the moonshot conspiracy "theory".
  • er... I didn't RTFA either... but it just makes me wonder. Why suppose that it was a nuke - We have no shortage of desert, with nobody around, right? So why would we detonate a nuke in a populated area? A secret test, after all. Much more interesting to me is the theory that the chicago fire (and a disastrous fire hundreds of miles away that happened simultaneously) are the result of a glancing comet impact. THATs interesting.
  • Ah... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonvmous Coward ( 589068 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @04:33AM (#4980483)
    When a disaster like this happens, I hope I'm able to say "What the hell was that?!"
  • While reading in the slashdot postings below about Raelean leader Rael, I hit a link to www.skepdic.com on rael, when i cycled through and found this page charles tart [skepdic.com]. It describes an anecdote by an apparently famous crackpot about a psycic experience about an explosion a woman had the night before Port Chicago blew up.

    I had never heard of Port Chicago before, and here I find it connected like Kevin Bacon to Slashdot.
  • by interiot ( 50685 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @05:28AM (#4980605) Homepage
    Since no one has posted this, I'll do so. This [k12.ca.us] is a teacher's aide to the Port Chciago explosion, and is a much more succinct introduction to the explosion that happened there. This is from that site:
    • Just before 10:20 p.m. on July 17th, 1944, the worst home front disaster of WWII, occurred at a Naval pier in the San Francisco Bay Area.
    • Five thousand tons of ammunition in ships being loaded by black sailors exploded, sending a blast more than 12,000 feet into the sky.

      The explosion destroyed the pier, a train, and both ships, instantly killing everyone aboard (some 320 men).

    That same site also lists several nuclear-conspiracy pages [k12.ca.us] about Port Chicago, and almost all of them are more succinct than the one listed in the story. :)

    This page [sonic.net] in particular is short, and has a quick list of bullet points that try to show that Port Chicago was nuclear. They may all be obviously BS (to someone more versed in its history...?), but they're not simply "the explosion was so big, it HAD to be nuclear!" as others has suggested.

    And lastly, when visiting this Amazon.com page [amazon.com] for a Port Chicago book, am I the only one who sees "Customers who wear clothes also shop for: Clean Underwear"?? Maybe I'm delerious from being up in the middle of the night.

  • by cruachan ( 113813 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @05:52AM (#4980653)
    Wasn't in Port Chicago at all. Large explosions are quite common during war time, but don't get publicity at the time for obvious reasons. I'd never heard of the Port Chicago one before this post but it seems nothing unusual.

    In fact the biggest single conventional explosion of the second world war happened less than 10 miles from where I grew up in Burton-on-Trent, England. Only the Hirmoshima, Nagasaki and New Mexico tests were larger. It was 'common knowlege' at the time locally, and cracks in ceilings were regularly pointed out to me as a kid as having been caused by 'the dump blowing up', but few people outside the area have ever heard of it.

    The Fauld dump exploded in November 1944 taking 4,000 tons of bombs with it. There's good pages here (http://www.carolyn.topmum.net/tutbury/fauld/fauld crater.htm) and here (http://www.healeyhero.fsnet.co.uk/rescue/blew_up1 .htm). I remember seeing the crater being used as a motor cycling scrambling route in the late 1970's. The size was impressive to say the least.

    Theres's also a couple of earlier large naval explosion that may be of interest as similar forgotten tragedies. Bothe happened in Sheerness harbour in WWI - the HMS Bulwark and later the Princess Irene. The BBC did an program on these recently - http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/beyond/factsheets/m akhist/makhist6_prog8b.shtml
  • by phkamp ( 524380 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @06:10AM (#4980678) Homepage
    A nuclear explosion would have emitted significant amounts of radioactivity, in particular if it were a surface blast as alleged here.

    In 1994/95 I lived in Pleasant Hill which is about 10-20 miles from port chicago, and I have personally looked for such evidence when I first heard this silly claim. There is no trace of any such radioactivity in the local geology, land or seabased.

    There is an hell of a lot of functional nukes stored out there today, but that is a different issue.

  • nuclear bomb in 1944 (Score:2, Informative)

    by schrottie ( 637365 )
    By 1944, all labs in the world together had produced less than one percent of enriched fissile material needed to build one single bomb. For this reason alone there can not have been a nuclear exposion before, say, may '45
  • Would the US really blow up their own people for the sake of global military supremacy? Naaaah...

    I hate to contaminate your anti-Americanism with some reality, Michael, but in 1944 the people who were desiring global military supremacy were German and Japanese.


    • yes, of course. it's always those other guys that are evil. we, here in america, are all saints, and are incapable of such mass murder.

  • by mumblestheclown ( 569987 ) on Monday December 30, 2002 @07:50AM (#4980840)
    I have a more logical answer. Blame Canada. Could this all be coincidence?

    Consider the four major disasters:

    • SS Fort Stikine, the ship that blew up in Bombay, was Canadian built.
    • USS Maine - Maine borders Canada. Was it a message to the US from our northern "friends?"
    • Port Chicago - easy access by Canadian saboteurs with limpets, also sends that same "message"
    • Halifax - need I say more?
    Those dastardly canadians like to blow up ships. Please stay tuned for my 352 page pdf.
  • Well, I didn't RTFA, but one thing struck me with this scenario: One of the reasons why the Hiroshima bomb was 12-kilotons is that that was the easiest to build. With that kind of explosion, you can make a simple uranium cannon, you get to the critical mass quite easily, but on the other hand, you keep the amount of weapon-grade uranium to the minimum. A 12-kiloton bomb is about the easiest you can make.

    5-kiloton or smaller bombs are a lot harder to build. In fact, they are talking about it now, because a bunch of rather moronic US politicians want to use nukes as regular battlefield weapons. They are referred to as mini-nukes [fas.org].

    If this explosion was about 2-5 kilotons, I find it hard to believe it was a nuke. That's simply too small.

  • Just wait until Hollywood get their hands on this. You should know better, Slashdot!!

    Can't wait to see the monacled German doctor who secretly heads-up the nuclear program.

    "I vudent vurry about ze people in Chicago...de test is all dat matterz!"

    (yes, that isn't how Germans pronounce English, however Hollywood has convinced itself that Germans do pronounce English exactly like the Dutch)

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