Greenham Common

Fun facts

Star Wars - Part of Star Wars VII was filmed using the Greenham common bunkers.

Flying over the common

Rumours - On 28 February 1958, a B-47E of the 310th Bomb Wing developed problems shortly after takeoff and jettisoned its two 1,700 gallon external fuel tanks. They missed their designated safe impact area, and one hit a hangar whilst the other struck the ground 65 feet (20 m) behind a parked B-47E. The parked plane, which was fuelled, had a pilot on board, and was carrying a 1.1 megaton (4.6 PJ) B28 nuclear bomb, was engulfed by flames. The conflagration took sixteen hours and over a million gallons of water to extinguish, partly because of the magnesium alloys used in the aircraft. Although two men were killed and eight injured, the US and UK governments kept the accident secret: as late as 1985, the British government claimed that a taxiing aircraft had struck a parked one and that no fire was involved.

Two scientists, F. H. Cripps and A. Stimson, who both worked for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, alleged in a secret 1961 report, released by the CND in 1996, that the fire detonated the high explosives in the nuclear weapon, that plutonium and uranium oxides were spread over a wide area (foliage up to 8 mi (13 km) away was contaminated with uranium-235) and that they had discovered high concentrations of radioactive contamination around the air base.

However, a radiological survey commissioned in 1997 by Newbury District Council and Basingstoke and Deane found no evidence of a nuclear accident at Greenham Common, suggesting that Cripps and Stimson's claims were false. The seven-month long survey was carried out by the Geosciences Advisory Unit of Southampton University and combined a helicopter-mounted gamma ray detector survey with a ground-based survey. The team analysed nearly 600 samples taken from soil, lake sediment, borehole water, house dust, runway tarmac and concrete, looking for uranium and plutonium isotopes. No evidence of an accident involving nuclear weapons damage was found at the former air force base although the ground survey detected some low-level uranium contamination around the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston thought to be derived from that facility, and the helicopter survey found some anomalies around Harwell Laboratory.

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