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  Story last updated at 8:26 a.m. Saturday, August 7, 2004

Air Force takes new interest in lost bomb

Nuclear weapon lost in 1958 accident

Of The Post and Courier Staff

Experts from the Air Force and other federal agencies are studying information gathered by nuclear bomb hunters in Georgia who think they may have found a hydrogen bomb the Air Force accidentally dropped off the coast near Savannah 46 years ago.

Last month, a group led by retired Col. Derek Duke of Statesboro, Ga., said it had identified a large underwater object off Tybee Beach that was emitting radioactivity. The object was in the same area that the plane's navigator said the bomb had been dropped, Duke told The Post and Courier in an earlier interview.


In the wake of Duke's report, the Air Force "thinks it's time to take a harder look at this issue," said Lt. Col. Frank Smolinksy, an Air Force spokesman.

He stressed that the Air Force remains convinced that the missing bomb is incapable of generating a nuclear explosion.

In previous interviews, Air Force officials have said the bomb did not contain a capsule of plutonium required for such a detonation.

Still, officials have acknowledged that the bomb contains highly enriched uranium and more than 400 pounds of high explosives.

Duke and others who have been studying the so-called "Tybee Bomb" for years also fear that the bomb may, in fact, contain the plutonium capsule. Duke declined to comment about the Air Force's new interest.

An Air Force B-47 dropped the 7,000-pound bomb in 1958 after it collided with a fighter.

Smolinsky said a "multidisciplinary team" is working on the case, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Laboratory and several other agencies.

The team will evaluate the Georgia group's data "to verify the presence of the bomb. If the bomb is located, the Air Force will then assess whether or not there is a need to remove it."

A similar team studied the issue in 2000 and 2001. At that time, officials determined that the bomb probably was still intact and that it was buried somewhere off the coast in 5 to 15 feet of mud. In those studies, officials determined the bomb was "irretrievably lost."

Smolinksy said, "we're not sure how long it will take" to assess Duke's information. "But it will be with due diligence."

If the team discovers that the Georgia bomb hunters' findings are wrong, "then we'll stand by our original position that the bomb is safest left alone."


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