Eric Schlosser’s chilling Guardian Journal article on our precarious planetary existence under the shadow of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) ought to concentrate the minds of our high-level decision makers in Whitehall .(“Armageddon waiting to happen,” 28 November,
They have been warned before! Ten years ago a blood curdling exhibition was hosted at the National Archives at Kew in London, called ‘Secret State,’ unveiling some of the most terrifying secrets of the Cold War.
One stunning revelation in original official documents from the 1950s and 1960s listed the 20 major cities in a Top Secret report ‘Probable Nuclear targets in the United Kingdom: Assumptions for Planning’- prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee. (Annex A, File TNA: DEFE 4/224, dated 2nd November 1967).
One document –the ‘Strath Report’- prepared in 1955, so secret it was not publicly released until 2003, was the best estimate of the atomic boffins of what would have happened if Britain was attacked by the Soviet Union with just 10 Hydrogen (H-) bombs. Its conclusions, made available only to ministers in strictest confidence, detailed in graphic terms the disaster that would have befallen Britain.
The combined explosive power of these 10 H-bombs would, the ‘Strath Report’ stated, be the “equivalent of 100million tonnes of TNT explosive,” going on to reveal “This would be 45 times as great as the total tonnage of bombs delivered by all the allies on Germany, Italy and occupied France throughout the whole of the last war.”(ie World War II)
Twelve million people would be incinerated in the first few seconds with another four million seriously injured, even before the radiation clouds had made their poisonous way across the country. Atomic Armageddon indeed!
Thankfully, amidst the horror stories, there were some instances of black humour: scientists working on an atomic land mine - meant for deployment underground in Germany’s northern plains - realised that it could fail in winter if vital components become too cold, so they explored ways of keeping the inner workings warm.
One proposal put forward consisted of filling the casing of the mine with live chickens, which would give off sufficient heat - prior to suffocating or starving to death - to keep the delicate explosive mechanism from freezing. Odd times still continue
(Document reference: INF 13/281/7