Big rigs with bombs are secretly cruising America's interstates. But how safe are they from terrorists or accidents?
| Wed Feb. 15, 2012 3:00 AM PST
These Are the Routes for All US Military Nuclear Weapons Trucks
The OST's operations are an open secret, and much about them can be gleaned from unclassified sources in the public domain. Yet hiding nukes in plain sight, and rolling them through major metropolises like Atlanta, Denver, and LA, raises a slew of security and environmental concerns, from theft to terrorist attack to radioactive spills. "Any time you put nuclear weapons and materials on the highway, you create security risks," says Tom Clements, a nuclear security watchdog for the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth. "The shipments are part of the threat to all of us by the nuclear complex." To highlight those risks, his and another group, the Georgia-based Nuclear Watch South, have made a pastime of pursuing and photographing OST convoys.
"Is that it?" My wife leans forward in the passenger seat of our sensible hatchback and points ahead to an 18-wheeler that's hauling ass toward us on a low-country stretch of South Carolina's Highway 125. We've been heading west from I-95 toward the Savannah River Site nuclear facility on the Georgia-South Carolina border, in search of nuke truckers. At first the mysterious big rig resembles a commercial gas tanker, but the cab is pristine-looking and there's a simple blue-on-white license plate: US GOVERNMENT. It blows by too quickly to determine whether it's part of the little-known US fleet tasked with transporting some of the most sensitive cargo in existence.
The Department of Energy has been using tractor trailers to transport fissile and other nuclear materials for years, from what I have been told each vehicle carries armed guards, the driver, who also has access to a weapon and a “chase vehicle” which also carries armed employees of the DOE.
The idea of nuclear weapons being carted around in our highways, cities and neighborhoods doesn’t really put one’s mind at ease. However, the government has been transporting seriously dangerous stuff like enriched uranium and plutonium secretly without public warning. Through the Freedom of Information Act has forced the Department Of Energy to release color photos of the trucks used to transport weapons. According to FOE, these are the first of such pictures that have been released in many years.
Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator with Friends of the Earth in Columbia, South Carolina made the following statement about the importance of the release of the photos.
“The trucks carrying nuclear weapons and dangerous materials such as plutonium pass through cities and neighborhoods all the time and the public should be aware of what they look like. Release of these photos will help inform the public about secretive shipments of dangerous nuclear material that are taking place in plain view.”
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