Monday, April 26, 2021 will mark the 36th Anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, which remains the worst disaster of its kind. Its impacts are still unfolding, and damages are far too great to comprehend. With the anniversary quickly approaching, the public reflects on Chernobyl. The events of Chernobyl were brought up in a 1988 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, but he wasn’t talking about the significance of the 1986 disaster—he was comparing it to a near-miss that occurred at Grand Forks Air force Base in 1980.
September 15, 1980
Grand Forks Air
Four or five B-52 crews, along with their fuel tanker crews, were in a building positioned at the end of the runway, the alert quarters. The 50 airmen were pulling an alert, which meant they were prepared to run the short distance to their B-52 planes on the alert pad (which were loaded with nuclear weapons), run through their checklists and get off the ground in the event they needed to respond to a Soviet nuclear attack. Strategic Air Command (SAC) Air Force bases had personnel on constant alert during the Cold War, ready to respond to or initiate a nuclear strike.
For the crews on ground alert to maintain efficiency, Air Force bases like the one at Grand Forks would conduct emergency drills once every week. During the drill, the Klaxon would sound, crews on alert would run to their planes and receive messages from SAC headquarters, go through their checklists, do engine starts and sometimes taxi to the end of the runway before turning around and coming back to the alert pad. One of those drills happened around 9 p.m. on September 15, 1980, at Grand Forks AFB.
As the klaxon sounded, the B-52 and tanker crews on alert ran to their planes and began their operations. SAC headquarters would dictate coded “orders” for the B-52’s crew to interpret, and the plane’s engines would be started up one at a time. Inside the aircraft, unbeknownst to the crew, a fuel strainer was missing a nut about the size of a penny—someone had forgotten to screw it on when reassembling it. Though it was a small piece of machinery, it capable of causing really big problems.
Read the full story in your Thursday, April 22nd Times-Record. Purchase your paper copy of today’s paper at the TR office (146 3rd St NE, Valley City), local gas stations and grocery stores or an electronic copy by clicking subscribe in the top left corner of the www.times-online.com home page.