"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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Nuclear 18 Wheelers; Yee Haw!!!


Photos of 18 wheelers don't usually get me all excited, but last week Friends of the Earth announced that it has used the Freedom of Information Act to force the U.S. Department of Energy to release color photos of the special trucks that transport nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons components and “special nuclear material” such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Well doggone it - I've seen the photos, and those are some of the nicest big rigs I've seen on the road in a loooong time. We're talkin long haul truckin folks; check out that bulletproof sleeper cab. And they are coming soon to a military installation near you (and definitely near me).

Photo "courtesy" of the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA). Thanks to Friends of the Earth for getting us such nice photos of those nuclear big rigs.

About 20 miles as the gull flies from Seattle, Washington is Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, home port of some really BIG Trident nuclear submarines, and storage depot for much of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile; the 2,364 weapons reportedly assigned to Bangor are warheads for the Trident and cruise missiles carried by the submarines based there (according to The Seattle Times in 2006).

The government used to bring nuclear weapons to Bangor on the infamous White Trains, which were greeted by many nuclear resisters during the 1980s, and finally gave up on this mode of transport. Now with trucks moving nuclear materials, it's much harder to know where they are. It was much easier in the good old days when you had trains (they might as well have had a bulls eye painted on them) that were limited to a set of tracks where people could watch them along the way and pass word ahead.
Well, for all you nuke spotters out there, we at least have some photos of the "Safeguards Transporters" courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). They are mighty pretty looking rigs, and I'm sure they are built for the job. One sure fire way to spot one is to look for the really clean rig (that doesn't say "My Other Woman" on the door - I once knew a truck driver with that written on his truck) that doesn't have the pedal to the metal doing 70 (or more) mph. According to the government's guidelines, the convoys are supposed to keep it below 65 mph, which is pretty rare on our stretch of Interstate. Time is money for truckers!

3 safeguards transporters and their escorts leaving the Charleston (SC) Naval Weapons Station with plutonium fuel (MOX) that had been shipped over from France. Photo by T. Clements, 2005.

I know that some folks are already getting worried that those pesky terrorists lurking at every truck stop and highway rest area are salivating at these newly released photos. Well, these "safeguards transporters" are pretty generic on the outside, and there were a couple of previous photos posted on the internet of earlier generation safeguards transporters (google "safeguards transporters"). So there is nothing all that new here, and with all the passive and active features to hamper any would-be thieves coupled with some pretty heavily armed escorts, I'm sure there isn't much to worry about. What we should be worried about is the U.S. government coming up with nifty new ways to extend the life of weapons that we should be looking to retire in the not-so-distant future.

With the Stockpile Stewardship and Life Extension Programs on track once again (maybe yes, maybe no) refurbishing W76 warheads (they finally remembered how to make them), residents of Washington State might be seeing these warhead delivery vehicles, aka safeguards transporters, making their way to Bangor with refurbished W76 warheads some time soon. Watch for them (accompanied by some pretty gnarly security convoys) coming up from the Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas on an interstate near you.



P.S. - Check out the "Quick Poll" at the Huffington Post: Do the release of nuclear bomb truck photos make you feel safer?

Read the fact sheet from the Office of Secure Transportation, NNSA.

Read Navy Never Received Refurbished W-76 Warhead, Global Security Newswire, Friday, May 29, 2009.

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