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The Effect Of The Hydrogen Bomber Crash Over Spain

2215 words - 9 pages

Most people would expect that the United States Air Force (USAF) hasn’t had very many accidents involving nuclear weaponry, especially due to the fact that our military is very advanced and takes many safety precautions, but when it comes to these incredibly powerful weapons, the Air Force has actually had some shocking accidents in the past. Since nuclear bombs in the United States were made, there have been dozens of accidents involving these weapons. One of the accidents involving the hydrogen bomb was the B-52 bomber crash over Palomares, Spain on January 17th, 1966. That’s just 48 years ago that this crash resulted in four lost hydrogen bombs in Spain. The crash between the B-52 and a KC-135 tanker occurred during a routine refueling gone wrong. The B-52 crashed into the KC-135 because it was traveling too fast. The crash did cause an explosion and the death of eleven Airmen, but fortunately when the hydrogen bombs hit Spain (three on land and one in the Mediterranean Sea), the safetyguards on the bombs didn’t allow any hydrogen bomb explosions to occur. Although, when the bombs landed in the small town of Palomares, “seven pounds of Plutonium-239 were released when two bomb detonators did go off.” (Woolls, 2003). This radioactive element, meaning that it’s atomic nuclei is unstable, or decays over time, caused panic within the USAF as well as within Palomares. As this was the first US airplane mishap to have bombs fall in such a populated area, the USAF quickly began the process of restricting the citizens of Palomares to keep them out of harm’s way; fortunately none had died from the conventional explosions. The prevention of the thermonuclear explosion was fortunate, but since the other conventional explosives that contained radioactive plutonium went off, the town of Palomares became a danger zone. The three hydrogen bombs that fell on land were found within 24 hours of the crash, but the last one wasn’t found right away. The citizens of Palomares were alarmed when the US began to perform medical checkups with Geiger Counters, and restricted them from going out on the street, eating certain things, and even touching things. The USAF never told the citizens of Palomares exactly what happened or why it was so important that they stay away from the scenes of the explosions. For the next three months, over 5,000 USAF men searched for the hydrogen bomb lost at sea. As seen in Figure 1, Alvin, a US mini submarine, found the fourth hydrogen bomb after 80 days of it being lost at sea.
The nuclear chemistry behind the hydrogen bomb shows that the reason it is so much more powerful than other nuclear weapons is because it uses the process of fusion to create intense energy rather than fission. Fission was the process used to create the atomic bomb, in which the nuclei of heavy atoms are split in order to create a nuclear reaction. In the case of the atomic bomb, Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 were the isotopes used in order to create an explosion....

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