At the height of the Cold War, the United States was deploying nuclear weapons all around the country, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. While the missiles were never used to strike a foreign target, one did explode in its New Jersey shelter.
Sixty years ago today America nearly found out just how lethal the CIM-10A BOMARC missile could potentially be.
On 7 June 1960, an explosion in a helium tank between the missile’s fuel tanks took place in Shelter 204 causing a fire in a liquid-fueled, nuclear-tipped BOMARC missile.
The fire burned uninhibited for about 30 minutes. Firefighting activities, using water as a suppressant, were conducted for 15 hours.
As a result, materials from the shelter flowed under the front shelter doors, down the asphalt apron and street between the row of shelters, and into the drainage ditch”.
“Contamination was restricted to an area immediately beneath the weapon and an adjacent elongated area approximately 100 feet long”.
A nuclear response team from Griffiss Air Force Base found “no trace of dispersed radiation” during spot checks “outside the facility’s boundaries” for 66 mi (106 km).
Approximately 300 g (11 oz) of WGP was not recovered, “A significant fraction of the radiological material contained in the weapon [was] shipped…to Medina Base, San Antonio TX” and then to Amarillo.
According to the Trenton Times, “In June 1987, traces of a radioactive substance used in nuclear warheads (americium-241 related to plutonium) were found about one-half mile from the site.”
In a 1992 report, the Air Force wrote that the missile launcher from Shelter 204 had been removed from the shelter shortly after the accident and that no records about the manner of disposal of the missile launcher existed.
They found five anomalous areas that could represent the buried launcher. From 1999-2000 the USGS sampled and tested the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer with shallow groundwater and sediment for radionuclides.
No manmade radionuclide was present in the well-bottom sediments, or unfiltered or filtered water samples.
From April 2002 through May 27, 2004, 21,998 cu yd (16,819 m3) of “contaminated debris and soils were packaged, shipped, and disposed of at Clive, Utah; the remains of the shelter were removed.
In 2005, the contaminated area was estimated as 7 acres and ~60 cu yd (46 m3) were additionally remediated by 2007.
The 1972 RW-01 perimeter fence with height 6 ft (1.8 m) topped with barbed wire was extended by 2007 to include a larger area on the south.
A 2013 study compared the characteristics of the accident’s particle release with the nuclear warhead dispersals of the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash and 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash.