November 15, 2018

The Canadian Forces may be ignoring a nuclear waste problem they may have in Goose Bay.

The United States Strategic Air Command stored multiple offensive nuclear weapon assemblies in the woods near Goose Air Base from 1950 to at least 1954, per John Clearwater, who wrote the book on nuclear weapons in Canada. Several even, including U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Canada, and Canadian Nuclear Weapons. In 1954 the United States military completed construction on the proper double-barbed wire fenced Weapons Storage Area in the Southeast part of the base, giving any "Special Weapons" a concrete hardened new home. They used the same design you can still see at multiple bases in Span and Morocco; same earth covered magazines, separate storage for the fissile "pits" (the part that sits as the core of the nuclear weapon), same administration buildings, same warehouses for parts, etc - the design was repeated worldwide. (I've written about this before here, and compiled a lot of information with the help of people local to the base - thank you all!)

Fissile pit storage buildings were unique in US military architecture. US Strategic Air Command "Special Weapon" design (until the early 1960s) had removable fissile pits, and once sealed pit weapons were fielded, the maintenance intensive "open pit" weapons were withdrawn, stockpiled, and decommissioned. A sealed pit is maintenance-free and allows the weapon to sit idle, without routine maintenance (polishing) while deployed at an Operational Storage Site.

Vintage site plans of Goose Air Base show the pre-1954 weapons storage site in the woods at the Northwest end of the base, and it is labelled "USAF Special Storage Area". You may recall nuclear weapons of the time were referred to as "Special Weapons". There are the ruins of a dog kennel, guard buildings, and laboratories for the maintenance of the bomb by technicians on loan from Sandia National Labs, and double barbed wire fences.The fences have been kept up, since the base still uses the area, and are lately using it for a firing range.

If no maintenance was ever going to be done at the 1950-1954 labs in the woods, there would be no reason to build a "lab" right beside the Operational Storage Site. It's also possible that they built the lab in case they had to perform maintenance, but never did.

In the process of doing maintenance on a fissile pit, which is like a shiny heavy metal grapefruit, small amounts of low yield waste are produced - dust. Fissile pit maintenance has to do with polishing any oxidation off. After the procedure, Kimwipes, smocks, paper masks, gloves, etc. would all be put into metal canisters, and buried down a bore hole in the back yard. Literally. Any dust that rubbed off the pit onto the floor would be painted into the floor with a heavy paint that would keep the dust trapped. Painting radioactive dust into the floor instead of sweeping it up isn't a bad idea, it's just short lived - if the paint starts to chip, you have a problem, which was exactly what happened in Fort Bliss. An old timer pointed out to the officials at Fort Bliss that before re-purposing the old Snake Pit buildings, maybe they should check for radiation in the floor. (!)

This slide deck should show you how seriously the US Military takes this threat; they went all out trying to find the contamination at Fort Bliss (Deck dated 2016)

All activities involving nuclear weapons were, and are still, highly classified matters of national security. Unlike common knowledge about where the local drive-in theater was in the 1950s, very few people knew anything about nuclear weapons maintenance / operations who lived nearby, unless they had a need to know. From reviewing hundreds of pages of documentation from 5 Wing Goose Bay, and Parks Canada, regarding the former Strategic Air Command Weapons Storage Area at CFB Goose Bay, nobody has any institutional knowledge about the 1954 and 1958 Weapons Storage Areas built specifically to store nuclear weapons, or what came before them.

What will satisfy me that the Canadian Forces have taken this seriously and done all they can do to prove there is absolutely no nuclear waste buried near where the United States stored "The Bomb" between 1950 and 1954?

I'd like a survey for Alpha ( α ), Beta ( β ) and Gamma ( γ radiation to be performed with the aid of the United States Corps of Engineers, who have dealt with these sites many times before, and considering it's their mess, I think its appropriate to drag them back to Goose Bay to take a closer look at what they left behind - IF they left anything behind. The low-yield waste that would have been left behind would emit Alpha and Beta radiation; the risk to the local community would be slight. All the same, I would like the Government of Canada to be 100% confident that when the Americans pulled out of Goose Bay they only left a nightmare of hydrocarbon contamination, and not radiological contamination too.

The United States keeps quite good account of where their nuclear weapons are, and where they have been. All nuclear weapons and weapons assemblies have serial numbers and can be traced through their life cycle. Canadians do not know when and how many nuclear weapons were in Canada, and for how long. Ultimately I would like a complete account of every single nuclear (and non-nuclear) weapon that has been transported in Canada, including US-leased bases, with their serial numbers. If there were no fissile pits from 1950-1971 (with a focus on 1950-1954) in Goose Bay, then there is no way there could have been low yield nuclear waste there, and it would save everyone a lot of time knowing that up-front.

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