Quotable

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ladders and Missiles Don't Mix!

Well Blow me down Mateys. It appears that the U.S. Navy has scuttled another command at Sub Base Bangor, more politely known these days as Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. According to the Navy, Captain Timothy J. Block, the commanding officer of Bangor’s nuclear weapons facility was given the heave-ho because of a loss of confidence in his ability to continue to lead, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

The Pentagon also said that there was no “specific issue or incident” that led to Block’s removal and that public safety was not jeopardized at the facility, which assembles, stores and places nuclear weapons on submarines. Phew - We can all breathe easy now. But then again, this IS the second time in just six years that a Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) commander has been relieved of his command for "a loss of confidence", and this is the facility where the U.S. stores roughly a quarter of its nuclear weapons!

In case you aren't familiar with the previous (serious) incident that ultimately caused heads to roll, here is the one minute version. November 7, 2003. Missile handling crew preparing to remove a Trident C4 missile from missile tube number 16 (on the USS Georgia) opens tube hatch, lowers access ladder into tube (ladder used to attach hoist to lift missile out of the tube), crew member attaches hoist, and they all take a break. Now comes the fun part. They come back from their break, start hoisting the missile (not a good idea since they had not yet removed the ladder), and the missile's nose cone is impaled by the ladder, slicing a 9-inch hole in the nose cone. And by the way, the ladder came within inches (quite literally) of one of the nuclear warheads before the crew stopped hoisting!!!


The Bangor explosives handling wharf

Just a few more inches, and the 2003 accident could have resulted in non-nuclear explosions, dispersal of plutonium into the air and water, and even fire involving missile propellant. SWFPAC failed a week long nuclear weapons inspection conducted in December 2003, resulting in multiple reassignments and courts-marshal.

Although we have heard nothing specific as to the recent dismissal of Captain Black, the 2003 incident only became public knowledge when the Kitsap County Sheriff heard about it from a reporter. One can only wonder why the Navy has relieved another commander of one of the largest nuclear weapons depots anywhere. If the December, 2003 Seattle PI article is an indicator, we should all be watching. Rear Admiral C.B. Young, director of the Navy's strategic weapons systems programs in Washington, D.C., cited only "a lack of confidence" as the reason for sacking Bangor's commanding officer after the most serious (known) nuclear weapons-related accident in recent years. Isn't that the exact phrase used by the Pentagon to describe the most recent dismissal???

Peace,

Leonard

Navy Fires Top Officer at Bangor Nuclear Weapons Facility, Kitsap Sun, Friday, August 21, 2009
Nuclear missile allegedly damaged, about the 2003 accident, Seattle PI, Thursday, March 11, 2004
Bangor officer in charge of key missile systems loses his command, Seattle PI, Thursday, December 25, 2003

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