Air base protects nukes from snowmeltU.S. Air Force airmen have placed sandbags and built earthen dikes to prevent snowmelt from flooding underground nuclear missile silos in western North Dakota.
By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — U.S. Air Force airmen have placed sandbags and built earthen dikes to prevent snowmelt from flooding underground nuclear missile silos in western North Dakota.
Minot Air Force Base spokeswoman Capt. Genieve David said 29 intercontinental ballistic missile sites were shored up beginning last week to protect them from runoff. The precautions were taken following one of the snowiest years on record in western North Dakota.
The National Weather Service was forecasting rain and a chance of snow on Friday in the Minot area.
“Across North Dakota there are elevated water levels and we aren’t exempt from that,” David said. “The bottom line, with the flooding, we did everything we could do.”
In 2009, a nuclear missile was removed from an underground silo in western North Dakota because runoff from melting snow leaked into the facility. The missile was disassembled and brought to the base for inspection. The Air Force said at the time that there was no danger to the public and that the silos are designed to handle some water and are equipped with sump pumps.
The Minot base is the command center for 150 Minuteman III missiles buried in hardened silos across 8,500 square miles of northwest and north central North Dakota. Water has not leaked into any of the sites this year and has not hampered the base’s nuclear mission, David said.
Overland flooding did cause some problems with access to the sites, David said.
“Some of the access roads are covered with water but we always have alternate routes,” she said.
David said most of the missile sites that were shored up this year are in Ward County, in western North Dakota.
The United States has a force of about 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles, controlled by Air Force bases in Minot, Wyoming and Montana. Each of the missiles carry up to three warheads, capable of reaching a target 6,000 miles away in about 20 minutes.