From Lost Nuclear Devices To Wars: Humanity Cannot Afford Nuclear Complacency
What if one day while sea-diving deep into the Atlantic Ocean, you unearth something exciting — something like a treasure of ancient times or perhaps the remain of an unscathed sunken toy-sized-plane. And then what you thought of as treasure turns out a bomb – yes, a nuclear bomb! Sounds scary, right? The even scarier part is that it is not any fantasy but very much a possibility, and exactly what almost happened when news made rounds that a lost nuke missing since the Cold War era off the Canadian coast may have been found by a commercial diver near British Columbia, in November 2016.
Sean Smyrichinsk, the diver, found a big flying-saucer-looking metal device while diving for sea cucumbers – which the Canadian Department of Defence at first thought of as a lost nuke that in an unfortunate crash of a US B-36 Bomber in 1950 was dropped into the ocean unrecovered. The royal Canadian Navy immediately was sent to the site to carry out an operation to verify it.
It did not turn out bomb.
However, consider the possibilities: what if a terrorist group gets their hands on it? Or at the very least if it starts releasing radioactive material in the surroundings, contaminating everything? The lost bomb in question continues to threaten the planet’s well-being and remains an enduring threat to humanity, still to this date.
With around 13, 475 nuclear weapons stocked, the planet is faced with immeasurable danger at all time. It is not simply in the numbers that the planet’s potential destruction lies, as much as in the immense destructive power of nuclear material that can be contained in even a single warhead.
While these 13,475 nuclear weapons are well-known and well-documented, very few have taken cognizance of the 50 undocumented devices that went missing in several incidents during the Cold War period. Not to mention those that may have remained unreported and are resting somewhere on the seabed, amongst mountains or far-flung valleys. And it is not just that these “broken arrows” – a term to refer accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft or loss of a nuclear weapon – are a matter of serious concern for the world’s leaders, who have kept it secret from people for long. They cannot even be certain that these nukes are absolutely lost and free from posing any danger.
Disappearance is just one of the many terrifying realities of nuclear weapons. Already, instances of nuclear accidents, especially power plant accidents involving radioactive contamination threatened to do much harm to humanity: Chernobyl (Ukraine), Fukushima Daiichi (Japan), Three Mile Island (US) and Windscale (UK) to name some.
Within just five years of the advent of nuclear weapons, the world already experienced its first nuclear weapon loss. On February 14, 1950, the greatest bomber jet of the time (US Convair B-36), took off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska to fly to Carswell Air Force Base, Texas. It was carrying a Mark 4 nuclear bomb (the same that flattened the city of Hiroshima completely) on a mission to simulate nuclear attack in San Francisco – an exercise typical of the Cold War period. As the plane flew in the skies near Canada’s west coast, just midway through the journey, three of its engines caught fire, leaving the plane handicapped. The pilot was left with no option but to put the plane on auto-pilot and abandon the mission, dropping the bomb into Pacific.
Extensive search operations were carried out to recover the bomb but all went in vain. The bomb never got recovered and still stays in ocean.
In the same year, some months later then, a B-50 aircraft of the US jettisoned another Mark 4 nuclear bomb yet again into the St. Lawrence River near Quebec, Canada. In 1956, another B-47 bomber carrying two nuclear cores (most likely Mark 15 with 3.4 megatons yield) went missing in the Mediterranean Sea along with nuclear bombs. In 1957, a US C-124 aircraft plunged two nuclear bombs in the Atlantic Ocean. And the list just goes on — most of which are yet to be found.
All of them combined take the tally to fifty. And when talking about nuclear weapons, fifty is a great number. It seems as if these nukes are almost everywhere.
Since late in the last century, conventional wisdom has it that nukes are there to stymie wars, ergo contributing to a more peaceful world. However, the reality is different. The cost that comes with nuclear weapons is so great that even if nuclear war is not a possibility, nuclear accidents very much are.
With all that nuclear weaponry in existence, the world could experience two worst-case-scenarios. First, an all-out nuclear war that would make the world cease to exist from the very next moment. And second, a slow-destruction of human civilization if radioactive waste spreads as a result of leakage (causing cancer and other deadly diseases). These scenarios might look fictional at present, but the fact that dangerous moments have occurred in the past should be enough to make us wary of future prospects.
Given the considerable margin of error in human beings, the nuclear threat hangs as a sword of Damocles.
Nuclear war, in fact, is not that much a fantasy either, because there are more nuclear weapons today than when Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened. We are speaking also of those countries which have hardcore security issues and would not risk their state security for anything. Above all, as Yuval Noah Hariri says, “It just takes one fool to start a war.”