13 times the U.S. almost destroyed itself with its own nuclear weapons (13 items)

Bethan Owen

July 13, 2014

In two days, it will be the 69th anniversary of the the first ever atomic test, conducted in the deserts of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The bomb was found to have the same destructive force as 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT, according to PBS. PBS also gave an account of General Leslie Groves, who was there to witness the testing and described it as "successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of anyone."

However, the U.S.' record with nuclear weapons has not always been quite as "successful" as its first atomic test. In fact, the U.S. has had several close encounters with its own nuclear weapons that could easily have ended in disaster. Compiled here are the stories of 13 nuclear near-misses of catastrophic proportions.

1 of 13. January, 1961: Goldsboro, North Carolina

"By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted," said Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of the two nuclear bombs accidentally dropped on Goldsboro, North Carolina.

McNamara was speaking, according to CNN, about the damaged mechanism that was the sole preventer of a nuclear explosion in Goldsboro.

The two bombs were released when the Air Force bomber that was carrying the weapons broke in half midflight. The parachute for the first bomb, pictured left, activated and prevented detonation. The parachute for the second bomb failed to open, and the bomb was armed when it hit the ground.

Had it exploded, CNN calculates that it would have killed 28,000 people and injured 26,000, emitting radiation over a 15 mile radius.

Five of the eight man crew survived the bomber crash.

2 of 13. October 25, 1962: Duluth, Minnesota

A midnight intruder at the Duluth Sector Direction Center almost led to a nuclear strike, according to the Nuclear Files website.

A guard at the compound shot at the intruder, who was in the act of climbing the fence. This shot activated the "sabotage alarm," which triggered warnings at all military bases in the area including the base at Volk Field, Wisconsin.

The Volk alarm had been wired incorrectly, and instead of a simple warning the system ordered nuclear armed F-106A interceptors to go to the alarm's point of origin — Duluth. Due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the country was at DEFCON 3, a time when there were no practice drills. The pilots expected to be dropping their nuclear payload that night.

Immediate communication came from Duluth, informing Volk that something had been miscommunicated and a nuclear strike was not needed. The planes, which were already headed down the runway towards Minnesota, were called off by a car that raced from the Volk command center as soon as the communication from Duluth was received, stopping the planes' takeoff.

The intruder was later revealed to be a black bear.

3 of 13. September 19, 1980: Damascus, Arkansas

An Air Force repairman conducting maintenance on a Titan II ICBM missile silo in 1980 almost caused a nuclear explosion, according to History.com website.

The repairman accidentally dropped a wrench into the silo, and the heavy tool punctured the fuel tank of the missile. The missile leaked fuel for over eight hours before it finally exploded, killing a service member, injuring 21 others, and destroying the compound where the silo was held.

Despite the massive blast, the nuclear warhead was recovered intact.

4 of 13. November 9th, 1979: Washington, D.C.

On the morning of Nov. 9, four American command centers including the Pentagon and the Strategic Air Command’s bunker received a message that Russia had launched a massive nuclear strike, according to Listverse.

The U.S. prepared retaliation missiles and conducted an immediate threat assessment conference. After six minutes of scanning airspace and satellite data, no Russian missiles were found, and the U.S. found no need to return fire.

The cause of the alarm was later found to be a military training tape describing a fictional Soviet attack. The tape had accidentally been loaded into the early warning computers. After the scare, a new facility was created for the sole purpose of running these training tapes in isolation from other compounds.

5 of 13. March 14, 1961: Yuba City, California

When the pressurization system of a B-42 carrying two nuclear weapons began to fail at 10,000 feet, the Air Force commander on board ordered his crew to abandon ship, according to History.com.

The commander, meanwhile, stayed on board the failing aircraft in order to steer the plane away from the densely populated areas of Yuba City, California, that the plane was directly over.

The commander bailed from the plane at 4,000 feet after steering the plane away from populated areas. The plane crashed several miles from the city and the weapons were torn from the plane, although their safety mechanisms prevented them from exploding or releasing any contamination.
1. SAS
Sandy, UT,
July 14, 2014

Remind me again why nuclear weapons were/are a good idea......

2. Iron Rod
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 14, 2014

Fantastic article.

How many of you knew that we have had problems with our nuclear weapons like this?

One nuclear weapon in the Savanah River was never recovered.

If we have had problems like this, what have other nuclear powers experienced.

Example Russia, China, England, France, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea?

3. nmjim
July 14, 2014

Another goofy list with a false but attention grabbing headline. Even had ANY of these incidents resulted in a nuclear explosion, it would not have "Destroyed the U.S.".
These reports seem to me to indicate the wisdom in the design of nuclear weapons for transport, successfully preventing further catastrophe.
What always make ME wonder is the fact that a sizeable number of scientists involved in the Manhattan Project theorized the White Sands explosion MIGHT ignite the atmosphere and incinerate the earth. They set it off anyway..... go figure.

4. Mister J
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 14, 2014

Paging Dr Strangelove.

5. Kings Court
Alpine, UT,
July 14, 2014

We've also lost nuclear weapons over the ocean during the Cold War due to accidents.