AEC Bulletin on Atomic Weapon Accidents

AEC Bulletin on Atomic Weapon Accidents

The United States Atomic Energy Commission has issued a “Technical Information Bulletin On Atomic Weapon Accident Hazards, Precautions and Procedures.” The purpose of the publication is to present unclassified information on safety precautions, potential health hazards and procedures applicable at the scene of an accident involving atomic weapons.

Emergency Procedures

Section I of the bulletin describes the possible hazards of the high explosives and plutonium contained in the weapons and the precautions to be observed if fire occurs. High explosives comprise the major hazard associated with such accidents. Some weapons may contain many hundreds of pounds and must be treated in the same manner as would accidents or fires involving conventional explosives. The detonation hazard is always present.

Plutonium is not a hazard if it remains outside the body, because it is an alpha emitter. Alpha particles have a very short range and lack the ability to pierce the skin. The principal source of intake into the body may be by inhalation during passage of the cloud resulting from detonation of the explosive or a fire. Due to safety restrictions on shipment it is felt this would not result in serious harm.

To avoid contamination, personnel should remain upwind and uphill from the accident. Conventional breathing apparatus and protective clothing will reduce contamination for those who must enter the smoke. The non-availability of these items should not hold up rescue operations. The potential danger from the plutonium to rescue personnel is no more serious than the danger of other products of combustion.

Section II of the bulletin lists the emergency procedures to be taken in case of accident and states that specially trained assistance teams are available from the nearest military or AEC installation. Section III describes the responsibilities of the AEC and the Defense Department in relation to the weapons and security.


Section IV summarizes the bulletin and lists the following instructions for personnel:

  1. Attempt to save lives where possible; otherwise keep away from the accident area.
  2. Notify fire and police departments and the nearest military or AEC installation.
  3. Secure the area. Keep all non-essential personnel at least 1,500 feet distant.
  4. Refrain from touching, removing or examining any items in the vicinity of an explosion.

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