Go to Home Page
  Key Issues Nuclear Weapons Issues Accidents 1960's

Accidents: 1960's

The 1960s began with France joining the nuclear weapons "club," testing an atomic weapon on February 13. President Eisenhower left office in January 1961, warning of the threat of unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex.The Cold War continued under President Kennedy, with an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba, the "Bay of Pigs," and the East Germans constructing the Berlin Wall .

In 1962 the world stood poised on the brink of nuclear warfare during the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, described in Robert Kennedy'sinsider account, Thirteen Days, which ended in Premier Khruschev agreeing to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.

Printer Friendly

A hot line agreement between the U.S. and Soviet Union went into effect in June, 1963. In August, a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, the Partial Test Ban Treaty, was signed. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas less than six weeks later. and Lyndon Johnson became the next U.S. President.

In 1964 China became the fifth nation to possess nuclear weapons, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for opposing apartheid, and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara announced that the United States would rely upon the threat of "mutually assured destruction" to deter Soviet attack.

In 1966 two important international treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, were signed. The U.S., however did not ratify the first treaty until 1992, and has not ratified the second. In February 1967 the Treaty of Tlateloclo, creating a Latin American Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, was signed. In June the Six-Day War in the Middle East took place, and China conducted its first thermonuclear weapons test. Perhaps the most notable event of 1967 was the first full photograph of the Earth taken from outer space showing one planet without boundaries.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed in July 1968. The U.S.S.R. invaded Czechoslovakia, France tested its first thermonuclear weapon, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

Neil Armstong became the first person to walk on the moon in July 1969. In August two million persons across the United States engaged in protests in the first Moratorium Against the Vietnam War.

During the 1960s some six and a half million persons died in warfare. Civilians accounted for 56 percent of the deaths.


7 June
New Jersey, U.S.A. - A Bomarc air defense missile in ready storage condition (permitting launch in two minutes) was destroyed by an explosion and fire. The warhead was also destroyed by the fire although the high explosive did not detonate. "Contamination was restricted to an area... approximately 100 ft long." ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)


24 January
Goldsboro, North Carolina, U.S.A. - A B-52 crashed during an airborne alert mission and dropped two nuclear weapons near Goldsboro, North Carolina. "A portion of one weapon containing uranium, could not be recovered despite excavation in the waterlogged farmland to a depth of 50 feet. The Air Force subsequently purchased an easement requiring permission for anyone to dig there. There is no detectable radiation and no hazard in the area". The Department of Defence summary does not mention the fact that five of six interlocking safety triggers on the bomb failed. "Only a single switch", reported Dr Ralph Lapp, head of the nuclear physics branch of the Office of Naval Research, "prevented the 24-megaton bomb from detonating and spreading fire over a wide area". ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)

14 March
California, U.S.A. - A B-52 carrying two nuclear weapons crashed. The high explosive did not detonate. No nuclear contamination. ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)

Idaho Falls, SL1, Idaho, U.S.A.
Reported as first fatal reactor accident in the US. An explosion occurred, cause of which is still not known. One man was killed when a containment rod pinned him to the roof of the reactor container through the man's chest. Two men were killed later from radiation exposure, their bodies were so severely irradiated that their exposed hands and heads had to be severed from their bodies and buried in a dump for radioactive waste. It took years to disassemble the wrecked plant and the burial ground will have to be guarded forever. Rescuers received high radiation doses. (Sources: Idaho Falls: The Untold Story of America's First Nuclear Accident by William McKeown; Goffman - Taplin, Poisoned Power, Rodale Preen, 1971; "Accidents, near Accidents and Leaks in the Nuclear Industry" Penelope Coeling for M.A.U.M.; "Les Amis de la Terre"; Jean Geue A.A.E.C.)


7 October
McNURDO SOUND, ANTARCTICA - Flash hydrogen fire in nuclear plant containment tanks. (Source: "From under the Rug" F.O.E. La Trobe University Vic.)


Calder Hill Nuclear Reactor, U.K.
Turbine failure resulted from inability to locate a piece of steel shot which should have been visible to the naked eye in the steam lines. (Charles Wakstein, "The Myth of Nuclear Safety," The Ecologist, 7/1977).

March 26
In a "stepwise" neutron multiplication experiment four scientists at the U.S. National Livermore Laboratory create a critical reaction after moving pieces of enriched uranium progressively closer together on a mechanical assembly in a vault, while viewing it from a nearby room. As a consequence, 104 pounds of uranium explode, 22 of which melt all over the floor and 33 of which burn.
Eywitness Account

Nuclear Submarine, U.S.A. - Submarine disappeared on a deep test dive; 112 navy men and 17 civilians on board. "No-one knows what happened but the loss underlines the implications of substandard quality control in nuclear systems, both military and civil. There are an estimated 129 nuclear attack submarines and S.S.L. submarines (those capable of launching ballistic missiles). The substandard quality of these submarines is borne out by the high number of accidents and incidents related to nuclear submarines. (Since 1963 when the first mishap was reported there have been 32 accidents and incidents involving nuclear submarines up to October, 1976). The dangers of nuclear submarines are incisive with horrific consequences. There are no evacuation plans for cities whose ports are used by these ships. There only needs to be one accident or malfunction while a nuclear submarine is in port and the consequences would be disastrous. Large resources are being used by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in the development of anti-submarine warfare. When A.S.W. (Anti-Submarine Warfare) is perfected, there would be, needless to say, "an exceedingly dangerous development with respect to world security"." (S.I.P.R.I. Year Book 1977 p.6)

13 November
Texas, U.S.A. - An explosion involving 123,000 lbs of high explosive components of nuclear weapons caused minor injuries to three Atomic Energy Commission employees. There was little contamination from the nuclear components stored elsewhere in the building. The components were from obsolete weapons being disassembled. (The Defence Monitor - Vol.X No.5 1981 Washington D.C.)

Austrian Engineer Erich N. Schulz notes that during this period there were more than 1,000 accidents in the nuclear industry. (Source: Vorkomnisse and Strahlenung Falls in Kerntechnischen Anlagen" K. Thiemig ed 1966 Munich).


13 January
MARYLAND, U.S.A. - A B-52D, en route from Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, to its home base at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, crashed with two unarmed nuclear weapons on board, which were recovered "relatively intact". ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)

WINDSCALE, U.K. - Leak of radioactive waste. (Charles Wakstein "The Myth of Nuclear Safety" The Ecologist, July 1977).

Inadequately designed new steam generators were installed but the pipes to them could not carry the new load. As a result "hangers" were installed to hold the pipes. The hangers broke and fortunately a worker noticed the sagging pipes. If he had not and the reactor had started operation the worst loss of coolant (L.O.C.A.) would have occurred. (N. Thieberger, p.2; Webb, R.E. p.192).

One death from radioactivity in the uranium enrichment plant. (Sources Work Circle Environment Protection Contingency Plans).

Mrs. Mary H. Waeik, Secretary of the American Committee on Radiological Dangers, compiled a list from the official statistics of mortalities in the U.S.A. for 1962 (published 1964). She established a disquietening correlation between living in the area of nuclear installations and the increase -sometimes quite large - in deaths by various causes (The percentage shows the increase as compared to the national average)

Garfield, Montana 600%
Scaia, North Dakota 290%
Mohave, Arizona 270%

Norten, North Dakota 215%
Garfield, Montana 230%
Shorren, Oregon 162%
Nassac, Illinois 240%

Malformed Babies:
Shorman, Oregon 310%
Carroll, Missouri 273%
Nassac, Illinois 240%

5 December
SOUTH DAKOTA, U.S.A. - The LGM 30B Minuteman 1 missile was on strategic alert when a "retrorocket" accidentally fired during repairs. There was considerable damage but "no detonation or radioactive contamination". ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981) 1964.

8 December
BUNKER HILL AFB., INDIANA, U.S.A. - A B-58 crashed while preparing for take-off on an icy runway at Bunker Hill Air Force Base, Indiana. "Portions of the nuclear weapon burnt; contamination was limited to the immediate area of the crash and was subsequently removed." ("National Times" -15/3/1981)


Humboldt Bay Station, California, U.S.A. - High radioactivity. Fuel elements failed. Plant shut down to replace rods. Continued high radioactivity forced the company to run at 40% capacity. ("Les Amis de la Terre").

Indian Point, U.S.A.
According to J. Laurent, a Swiss researcher, infant mortality within 15 kms of the reactor complex rose from 1961 to 1965 while it dropped nationally (Source: Energia Nucleare, No5)

U.S Public Health Department
P.H.D. evidence suggests excessive leukemia deaths amongst Utah residents. Report shelved.

From 1950 to 1964, 28 leukemia deaths in the South West counties of the State of Utah. Only 19 cases would have been expected to occur among the 20,000 residents of the area.

1959 and 1960 - 7 people with acute leukemia, 5 of them children and teenagers. (Source: "The West Australian" - 10th January, 1979).

Venus Mol, Belgium
Ferdinand Janeaens, a Belgian physicist was irradiated and treated at the Curie Hospital in Paris. Reactor underwent a criticality incident which affected critical assembly. (Sources Jean Geue A.A.E.C.; Work Circle Environment Protection Contingency Plans. "Accidents, near Accidents and Leaks in the Nuclear Industry" Penelope Coeling for M.A.U.M.).

Rocky Flats, Colorado, U.S.A.
Fire exposed 400 workers to high levels of plutonium released in the atmosphere. 25 people got 17 times the permissible radiation dosage; 325 workers contaminated since 1953, 56 developed cancer, 14 have since died. The plant makes plutonium triggers for h-bombs and missiles. (Nucleus - 25th July 1979).

Holy Loch, Scotland

12 October
Ohio, U.S.A. - A fire during aircraft refueling on ground burnt the "components of nuclear weapons and a dummy training unit... The resultant radiation hazard was minimal." ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)

18 November
U.S.A. - During the 1940's and 1950's when the US was developing and testing the atomic and hydrogen bombs, almost a quarter of a million US citizens, a few hundred Canadians and 236 Marshall Islanders were exposed to nuclear radiation in potentially damaging amounts. Government policy is to deny both radiation damage and service connection. ("The Age" 19/11/85, "Daily News" 21/11/85)

5 December
Pacific Ocean, U.S.A. - An A-4 aircraft loaded with one nuclear weapon rolled off the elevator of a U.S. aircraft carrier and fell into the sea. The pilot, aircraft and weapon were lost. (The Defence Monitor - Vol.X No.5 1981 Washington D.C.)


17 January
Spain, (U.S. Air Force) - A B-52 and KC-135 collided during midair refueling and both aircraft crashed near Palomares, Spain. The B-52 was carrying four nuclear weapons. One was recovered on the ground and one was finally found in the sea after an intensive four month search. "Two of the weapons, high explosive materials exploded on impact with the ground, releasing some radioactive materials. Approximately 1,400 tons of slightly contaminated soil and weapons were removed to the United States for storage at an approved site." The Department of Defence has reported that the cleanup operation has cost $50 million and that the Palomares area is still being monitored for radiation today. ("The National Times" - 15th March 1981)

7th May
Kelekess, U.S.S.R. - Power excursion in the 62-mw prototype BWR at Kelekess. A health physicist and a shift supervisor are irradiated. The chain reaction stops when two sacks of boric acid are thrown on the reactor. ("Nucleonics Week" (31/5/90); WISE-334 22/6/90).

5 October
Lagoona Beach, Enrico Fermi (Fast Breeder) Reactor, Michigan, U.S.A. - Partial meltdown. Reactor successfully shut down. It took 1-1/2 years to work out the cause of the accident. Several pieces of sheet metal had broken off the bottom of the reactor vessel and were swept up in the coolant flow, causing a blockage. The reactor had been operating at 15% of full power and was afterwards de-commissioned. Four million people lived within a mile of the site. ("Les Amis de la Terre"; Penelope Coleing for M.A.U.M., Jean Geue A.A.E.C.)

Nugget File, U.S.A.
The Nugget File, containing excerpts from the U.S. Government's special internal file on nuclear power plant accidents, was obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act. The file lists 3 accidents in nuclear power plants in the U.S. for 1966.


Windscale, U.K. - Leak of radioactive waste at Windscale after tank overflowed and contaminated beach. (Wakstein, May 1977; Nucleus - 25th July 1979, p.11)

Nugget File, U.S.A.
The Nugget File lists 2 accidents in U.S. nuclear plant for that year.

7 November
Grenoble, France - Leak of 55,000 curies (Iodine 131, caesium 138) into the reactor pool and 2,000 curies into the atmosphere via the chimney. (La Guele Ouverte - April 1974)


21st January
Greenland (U.S. Air Force) - A B-52 from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, crashed and burnt some seven miles south-west of the runway at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. "The Bomber carried four nuclear weapons, all of which were destroyed by fire... Some 237,000 cubic feet of contaminated ice, snow and water, with crash debris, were removed to an approved storage cite in the United States over the course of a four-month operation." (The National Times - 15/3/1981). Click here for a short video on the aftermath of this accident from the BBC. Click here for a short video of two former US Air Force pilots involved in the crash.

Atlantic Ocean (U.S. Navy) - Although this incident remains classified, the Centre for Defense Information suggests it probably refers to the nuclear powered attack submarine U.S.S. Scorpion. The Scorpion was last heard from on May 21, 1968. It sank 400-450 miles south-west of the Azores. Initial suspicion that the Soviets were somehow involved was allayed when the research ship Mizar photographed the wreckage lying at 10,000 feet on the sea floor. Ninety-nine men were lost. The nuclear weapons aboard may have been either SUBROC or ASTOR, or both. (The Defence Monitor - Vol.X No.5 1981 Washington D.C.)

Elk River, U.S.A.
Emission of high levels of radioactivity from leak in primary circuit. Reactor had to be closed down. ("Contingency Plan")

La Crosse, U.S.A.
Failure to control system. Reactor had to be closed down. (Source: "Contingency Plan")

San Clemente, California, U.S.A. - Major cable fire. Failure to shutdown equipment at Edison's San Onofre Plant - (a Westinghouse operation). (Penelope Coleing for M.A.U.M.)

San Clemente, California, U.S.A. - Another major cable fire. Shutdown equipment at Edison's San Onofre Plant failed. (n. Thieberger)

Atlantic USS Scorpion, U.S.A. - The nuclear submarine "U.S.S. Scorpion" mysteriously sunk in the Atlantic near the Azores. (WISE NC 262 31/10/86)

2/3 October
The Hague (on the Channel), France - Leak of 18 curies per second Iodine 131 from UP 2 reprocessing plant. ("Les Amis de la Terre")

8 October
U.S.S. SWORDFISH, Japan - High readings of radiation near U.S. nuclear submarine "Swordfish" indicated a discharge of reactor coolant near Sasobe, Japan.("The Sun" 8/10/76 p.23).

Ten workers died as a result of over-exposure to radiation from experimental reactors or in laboratory work connected with the development of nuclear power. (Source: D. Mignon and D.W. Crancher, Atomic Energy October 1976 p.3)

Nugget File, U.S.A.
The Nugget File lists 5 accidents at US nuclear power plants for 1968.


Irish Sea
Leak of plutonium. Unknown origin (C. Wakstein)

21 January
Switzerland - Partial meltdown of reactor core. Release of radioactivity, reactor destroyed. Reactor was in a rock cavern and has been converted into storage area for waste disposal. (Penelope Coleing for M.A.U.M.; Webb, R.E. p.201)

U.S.A. - Three uranium hexaflouoride shipments lost in transit in U.S. (Nucleus 25/7/79)

10 April
U.S.A. - An 8,500 lb. shipment of enriched uranium in transit from Goodyear Atomic Corp. to New York turned up in Cleveland, Ohio. (Nucleus -25/7/1979)

Windscale, U.K. - Leak of plutonium at Windscale reprocessing plant. Beaches contaminated. Not made public until 1974. (Nucleus - 25th July, 1979)

Gundremmlingen, Germany
Repeated ruptures in the vanes of the turbines became worse due to radioactivity and eventually broke. (Bulletin A.T.E.N.)

17 October
Saint Laurent-des-Eaux, France - Fuel meltdown in reactor core. Repairs took three months. (Bulletin Info. C.E.A. No.157 -March 1971)

Lingen, Germany
Leak in the primary circuit. Effluent was discharged into the River Ems resulting in a radioactivity level 13 times over and above the permitted ANNUAL Quantity. (Contingency Plan)

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, Hinkley Point

Dune Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, U.K.

Sizewell Nuclear Power Station, U.K.

Oldsbury Nuclear Power Station, U.K.

Trawsfyndd Nuclear Power Station, U.K.
Cracks occurred in the main cooling conduits of all above reactors. (Contingency Plan)

11 May
Rocky Flats, Colorado, U.S.A. - Plutonium spontaneously ignited in a container of nearly 600 tons of combustible material. The fire burned 2,000 kgs of plutonium giving off plutonium oxide, causing approx. $45 million worth of damage. Soil samples from around the plant were contaminated with plutonium. (Private investigation by Dr. Edward Martell was necessary because the Atomic Energy Commission, which owned the plant and Dow Chemicals, which operated it under contract, refused to do the sampling in the area.) (N. Thieberger, P.3; Simpson, J.W. "Nuclear Accidents: A Look at the Record")

Genoma Plant, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
Employees at the plant became concerned at the high level of radioactivity in their drinking water fountains. Investigations uncovered a hose connecting the drinking water system to a tank of radioactive waste. The ARC concluded The coupling of a contaminated system with a portable water system is considered poor practice in general. ("Rolling Stone" (Aunt) - 28th July, 1977)