Repercussions from Air Force Nuclear Weapons Incident Continue

Repercussions from Air Force Nuclear Weapons Incident Continue

For approximately 36 hours last month, the U.S. Air Force lost track of half a dozen nuclear weapons. Although Air Force leaders characterize the event as a unique occurrence, the incident will likely encourage opposition to the Bush administration's Prompt Global Strike plan, which aims give the United States the option of using nuclear and non-nuclear weapons on the same delivery systems.

On Aug. 30, the crew of an Air Force B-52H Stratofortress unknowingly carried six nuclear-tipped AGM-129 cruise missiles while flying from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Throughout the three-and-a-half-hour flight, neither the plane's crew nor their air traffic controllers were aware that the aircraft was carrying nuclear munitions. The error was only discovered some nine hours after the plane had landed.

The immediate source of the problem was that, the previous morning, the ground crew had accidentally loaded six nuclear-armed AGM-129s onto a pylon that they then attached to the underside of one of the B-52's wings. The six missiles under the other wing were appropriately unarmed. From the 9 a.m. loading on Aug. 29 through the afternoon of Aug. 30, the six nuclear missiles remained under U.S. military custody, but without the special protection usually required of nuclear munitions.

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