Meditations

Please Do Not Smoke Next to the H-bomb

by Alex Wellerstein, published July 9th, 2012

Some sage advice, plucked from the archive, to brighten your Monday morning.

I was poking around DOE's OpenNet site last week, as I am wont to do, and I stumbled across a fair number of documents from 1959 labeled as a "Special Weapons Retrofit Orders."

These are basically instructions on how to make some sort of mechanical changes. So on this one, for example, the part that needs alteration is a caster — that is, a wheel:

Pretty run of the mill... until you see that the caster is mounted to a 10 megaton H-bomb. (That's what the "special" is meant to tell you.)

...all of which makes it a bit more surreal. (That's a Mark 21/Mark 36 casing there, for those who are keeping track at home.) I can see the importance of fixing these things — imagine if you were the one stuck with the H-bomb that had a squeaky wheel, or one that was always pulling to the right. That kind of thing gets sooo annoying.

But also, check out the "safety precautions":

Be sure that no open flame, lighted cigarette, or other spark potential is present when the bomb is uncovered and opened or when cleaning and/or stenciling operations are being performed.

Don't smoke near the H-bomb, please... it's bad for your health. Also, always remember to wear rubber gloves.

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4 Responses to “Please Do Not Smoke Next to the H-bomb”

  1. Mike Lehman says:

    Zero defects. The two-man rule. Extensive documentation and training, supplemented by work orders to update the casters on those pesky, swervy H-bombs we’re keeping out in the igloos.

    All meant to inspire confidence that things will go boom when the president says so and not a second sooner.. The thing is, if you can’t get the caster wheel right, what about other yet to be discovered flaws and deficiencies. Of course, as far as the public was concerned, those things were safe, except for a few plane crashes, because it was all secret back then.

    Somehow, as a guy who sometimes works on stuff, not getting that caster right the first time around is not going to inspire confidence in me about more sophisticated aspects of bomb design.

    As for smoking and the bomb, those thing can kill you. Realistically, considering the number of Americans who smoked during that era and the relatively few restrictions on where they could do it, it made a lot of sense to say No Smoking with the bomb. Tobacco smoke is hard on electronic circuits, so cautions against smoking involved performance issues as much as concern about employee health. Otherwise, technicians would’ve been clamoring for bombs with built-in ashtrays so they could get their work done more efficiently.

    Yes, the perceptions of risk have certainly shifted since then.

  2. […] the nuclear projectile onto the front. (Please don’t drop the nuke. And I think it may be redundant at this point to note that you are instructed not to smoke around the nuke. If you need assistance, please call […]

  3. gerard says:

    this blog is fantastic. thanks very much for the lively commentary and the quirky historical stories. I’m thoroughly enjoying them all

    Dr Gerard Hammond
    Garvan instiutue medical research,
    Sydney

    An ex-theoretical physcial chemist