Workers at the decommissioned nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi have reported finding an unexploded bomb at a parking lot undergoing maintenance. The bomb (or bomb-like object) is reportedly 33 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. It is not clear if those dimensions refer to the entirety of the object, or just a segment of it. There’s reference to what may be a stabilizer on the tail, but this could also mean that the tail, alone, matches the metrics listed above. If the whole object in question is that size, it’s unlikely to be a WW2-era aerial bomb; most of these were 1,000 pounds and of substantially larger diameter. The M47, for example, had a diameter of roughly 79 inches.
The above might make the maintenance workers seem overly cautious. That said, finding unexploded WW2 munitions is practically a pastime in certain parts of the world. In 2010, construction workers building a road expansion project found a whopping 902 bombs underneath a single restaurant in Okinawa. Workers are required to use metal detectors before working in an area to make certain it’s free of explosives. In 2005, a one-ton bomb some two feet in diameter (and therefore closer to the 6 inches reported above) forced the evacuation of 7,000 people from Tokyo. There were also much smaller bombs weighing 4-6 pounds that were used as incendiary devices and dropped in clusters. Reports suggest that between 1,400 to 3,000 munitions were found per year in Japan as of 2005, and that this had been the case for decades.
That this latest discovery happened at Fukushima, specifically, makes the situation that much richer. After being destroyed by the one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi plant would seem to have suffered enough. Nonetheless, if workers may have found unexploded munitions in the area, it raises the question of what, exactly, sets off munitions in the first place, if earthquakes don’t.
One possible factor is age, which can make unexploded ordnance more dangerous, not less. If the explosive device remains intact, it may explode if jarred or disturbed. Compounds like Picratol, which was used in some US-built WW2 aerial bombs, was considered more sensitive than TNT to certain kinds of disturbance. It’s also slightly less stable, though information on which compound was less stable over decades is difficult to come by.
Some of you may recall the death of Dr. Arzt on Lost as an example of how unstable dynamite can be after decades in a humid environment. While this is a TV show dramatization rather than an actual event, it’s not far off the mark in how dangerous old explosives can be. The universal recommendation, in all cases, is to call for bomb experts and retreat to a safe distance if you even think you’ve found a bomb.
Lest you believe this isn’t a problem in places like the United States, live munitions dating to the Civil War era were found as recently as July 20. The Boston Globereports that two live Civil War-era shells were found in the Carlisle Library, having apparently been donated (!) as part of a collection in 1916. Over time, the shells were simply forgotten until being redisdcovered. They were detonated by bomb experts.
The fact that all this is happening at Fukushima adds a whimsical bit of insult to injury, but the risk is no laughing matter. Remember kids, live munitions aren’t funny, unless you manage to blow up a clown.
Feature image is of the IAEA investigating the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.