July 11, 2001
Air Force: No Search for Lost Nuke
Filed at 11:46 p.m. ET

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- A 7,600-pound nuclear bomb dumped off the Georgia coast 43 years ago should be left undisturbed beneath the ocean floor, the Air Force concluded in a report Wednesday.

``It is in the best interest of the public and the environment to leave the bomb in its resting place and remain categorized as irretrievably lost,'' the Air Force report said.

The report says the bomb does not have a key plutonium capsule that could cause a nuclear explosion. But the bomb's metal casing does contain some radioactive uranium and the explosive power of 400 pounds of TNT.

Derek Duke, an ex-military pilot whose questions about the bomb prompted Rep. Jack Kingston to push for the report, said he believes the weapon may still pose a threat.

Duke said an April 1966 letter to the chairman of Congress' Joint Committee on Atomic Energy from the Department of Defense classified the bomb as a ``complete weapon.''

The Air Force concluded months ago that the letter was erroneous. It cites a transfer receipt on the bomb from Feb. 4, 1958, that lists it as a ``simulated'' weapon -- meaning the nuclear capsule had been removed.

A B-47 bomber on a training flight was forced to jettison the bomb when it collided with another plane in February 1958. The weapon landed off Tybee Island, near Savannah, in Wassaw Sound.

Kingston, a Republican, said he was confident in the report's findings.

``I'm happy to hear that the people living, working and playing on Tybee Island are safe,'' he said.

Tybee Island Mayor Walter Parker, whose beach community has 4,000 residents and thousands of summer visitors, said the Air Force should look for the bomb.

``There's been so many conflicting documents that have come to light, I don't know how they can say there's not a problem,'' Parker said. ``They should at least locate it and determine whether it's safe or not.''

The report estimates the bomb is 8 to 40 feet deep and is buried beneath 5 to 15 feet of mud and sand, safely clear of boats.

``The public is not going to come into contact with this bomb,'' said Maj. Cheryl Law, an Air Force spokeswoman.

The uranium in the bomb poses a low risk of contamination, the report concluded, and the explosives have no risk of detonating unless the bomb is disturbed. However, an attempt to remove the bomb would mean a ``serious explosion hazard'' for recovery workers, the report said.

The report said there would also be a risk of breaching an aquifer that is a major source of drinking water for the region. The Air Force said searching for the bomb would take up to five years and cost up to $11.4 million.