19. The U.S. accidentally crashed a nuclear weapon into anti-nuclear Greenland
On January 21, 1968, a B-52 from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York crashed due to a fire erupting in the navigator’s compartment during its landing approach approximately 7 miles southwest of Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. The crash killed one of the aircraft’s seven crewmen, and destroyed all of the four hydrogen bombs carried by the B-52. These explosions scattered plutonium and other radioactive materials across a 300 yard radius, with many pieces described as being as large as “cigarette box-sized”, causing significant contamination of the local area.
The recovery and decontamination operation was hindered by Greenland’s harsh winter weather, prolonging the operation to over four months in length, during the course of which approximately 237,000 cubic feet of contaminated ice, snow, water, and debris was removed and transported for burial at nuclear dumps in the United States. The incident caused widespread protests in Denmark, which forbade the placement of nuclear weapons on its territory. In an attempt to mollify international outrage, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara subsequently ordered the removal of nuclear weapons from airborne alerts and “Operation Chrome Dome”, the aforementioned Strategic Air Command’s continuous airborne alert operation of which the bomber was participating in, was later suspended in its entirety due to the growing casualties stemming from the program.