We sometimes wonder, are we still living in the Cold War Years? Does the US government and military still rely on nuclear warheads for military deterrent? Who keeps the assets secure? What’s the special clearance that truck drivers need to transport some of the most dangerous of all weapons? It can’t just be a regular HazMat CDL right? Well…
Nuclear warheads are still on the road. Drones be damned, nukes still pack the defensive punch that they always did. Have you ever spotted a transportation train of these high-class weapons while driving on our nation’s highways? You may have, but might never know it.
As you weave through interstate traffic, you’re unlikely to notice another plain-looking Peterbilt tractor-trailer rolling along in the right-hand lane. The government plates and array of antennas jutting from the cab’s roof would hardly register. You’d have no idea that inside the cab an armed federal agent operates a host of electronic countermeasures to keep outsiders from accessing his heavily armored cargo: a nuclear warhead with enough destructive power to level downtown San Francisco.
As sophisticated as the vehicles apparently are, problems have also cropped up with planning and equipment. A 2007 DOE safety report found that the trucks’ emergency checklists in many cases recommended smaller-than-advisable quarantine areas around an accident site, potentially putting bystanders and first responders at risk. In 2002, the DOE approved a plan to haul plutonium parts from Rocky Flats, Colorado, to Savannah River and the Lawrence Livermore nuclear lab in California”using 45-gallon cans that had failed government crush tests. According to internal documents, several DOE engineers worried that if a truck carrying the radioactive cans were “hit by a train” or “hit from behind by a large, heavy vehicle, the crush environment may occur.” The plan was scrapped after California anti-nuclear activists obtained copies of the documents through a FOIA request.
That’s the way the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) wants it. At a cost of $250 million a year, nearly 600 couriers employed by this secretive agency within the US Department of Energy use some of the nation’s busiest roads to move America’s radioactive material wherever it needs to go”from a variety of labs, reactors and military bases, to the nation’s Pantex bomb-assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas, to the Savannah River facility. Most of the shipments are bombs or weapon components; some are radioactive metals for research or fuel for Navy ships and submarines. The shipments are on the move about once a week.
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.
What do you think, truckers? Would you haul this precious, but dangerous cargo for a high-dollar paycheck? We want to know!