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The Case of the Missing H-Bomb: The Pentagon Has Lost the Mother of All Weapons

60 years have passed since a damaged jet dropped a hydrogen bomb near Savanah, Ga. -- and the Pentagon still can't find it.

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These recovery efforts don't inspire much confidence. But the Tybee Island bomb presents an even touchier situation. The presence of the unstable lithium deuteride and the deteriorating high explosives make retrieval of the bomb a very dangerous proposition--so dangerous, in fact, that even some environmentalists and anti-nuke activists argue that it might present less of a risk to leave the bomb wherever it is.

In short, there aren't any easy answers. The problem is exacerbated by the Pentagon's failure to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the situation and reluctance to fully disclose what it knows. "I believe the plutonium capsule is in the bomb, but that a nuclear detonation is improbable because the neutron generators used back then were polonium-beryllium, which has a very short half-life," said Don Moniak, a nuclear weapons expert with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League in Aiken, South Carolina. "Without neutrons, weapons grade plutonium won't blow.  However, there could be a fission or criticality event if the plutonium was somehow put in an incorrect configuration. There could be a major inferno if the high explosives went off and the lithium deuteride reacted as expected. Or there could just be an explosion that scattered uranium and plutonium all over hell."

This essay is featured in the forthcoming book, Loose Nukes published by Count Zero Press.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon . His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky , is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net

 
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