"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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Drinking and Driving (NUKES) Don't Mix!


In a previous post (Nuclear 18 Wheelers; Yee Haw!!! , Sept. 6, 2009) I wrote about the government's "Safeguards Transporters", those big rigs that travel the nation's highways and byways, delivering nukes to naval and air force bases, and who knows where else.

As an Occupational and Environmental Health professional I spent a great deal of time dealing with risk assessment and risk management. Bottom line: Everything entails some level of risk, no matter how small. Of course we have to look at not only the probability that something might happen (accident), but what would be the severity of the outcome(s).

We all know that the outcomes from messing around with (let alone using) nuclear weapons are not pretty. Whether it be an accident involving the handling or a warhead, or losing track of one, we're dealing with potentially serious outcomes. Of course we should expect that the folks transporting nuclear weapons are the best of the best, right???

Think again!!! Read the beginning of the November 22, 2010 Associated Press article, Report: Nuclear weapon drivers sometimes got drunk.

Federal agents hired to transport nuclear weapons and components sometimes got drunk while on convoy missions, a government watchdog said Monday. In an incident last year, police detained two agents who went to a bar during an assignment.

The Energy Department's assistant inspector general, Sandra D. Bruce, said her office reviewed 16 alcohol-related incidents involving agents, candidate-agents and others from the government's Office of Secure Transportation between 2007 through 2009. Nearly 600 federal agents ship nuclear weapons, weapon components and special nuclear material across the U.S.

Two incidents in particular raised red flags, the report said, because they happened during secure transportation missions while agents checked into local hotels while on extended missions. In these cases, the vehicles were placed in "safe harbor," meaning they were moved to secure locations.

In one case, in 2007, an agent was arrested for public intoxication. The other occurred last year, when police handcuffed and temporarily detained two agents after an incident at a bar.

"Alcohol incidents such as these, as infrequent as they may be, indicate a potential
vulnerability in OST's critical national security mission," the report warns.

So much for the government's Office of [IN]Secure Transportation!!!
You can read the whole report yourself, but when taken along with other documented incidents in the overall care and handling of nuclear weapons - whether it be loading nuclear armed Cruise missiles on a bomber by "mistake", putting a ladder through a Trident missile nose cone or transporting nuclear weapons while drunk - it should make us ask the question, "Is all this worth the risk for weapons that can never be used unless we want to commit mass murder (or omnicide)?"

National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera responded to the report: "NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation maintains a highly trained, highly professional force that has safely and securely transported nuclear materials more than 100 million miles without a single fatal accident or any release of radiation."

That should give us all great comfort, right? Wrong. It only takes one accident, and there is no such thing as absolute safety. And in this case the stakes are too high. It's just a matter of time. And speaking of time, it is most definitely time for our government to take its disarmament responsibility seriously.



P.S. - The Office of Secure Transportation is currently accepting applications (according to their Website. I certainly hope they are tightening up their hiring practices.

Also - A related (and well researched) article in the Kitsap Sun, Navy's Trident Nuclear Warheads Hit the Highway, Bound for Texas, from November 27, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of assumptions in the source article, and worse ones here. "During a mission" does not mean "on duty" and this audience ought to have some respect for individual rights when a person is off duty. From experience in this program, I can assure you that none of these incidents involved agents on duty, actually engaged in transport of nuclear weapons. Shipments routinely are placed in secure storage overnight after continuous over-the-road runs of up to 32 hours - while the federal agent crew goes off duty overnight to decompress and catch up on their rest in a hotel. They are off duty, and while some may drink while off duty, they know they cannot drink within 10 hours of going on duty the next day, and that they will be relieved of duty (and worse) if they report for duty intoxicated.

    Also, please remember the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" - being detained by police officers in the aftermath of an unspecified bar incident is not proof of drunkenness. Were charges filed? Were convictions on alcohol related, or other criminal violations, obtained? That would be significant, and would almost certainly have resulted in termination of the employee involved. No evidence of that, in this report.