April 11, 2016

Военный аэродром Ростов-на-Дону - Центральный | Military Airfield Rostov-on-Don - Central (XRRO)

Flag of the Soviet Air Force -Wikipedia
The military airport to the Northwest end of Rostov-on-Don caught my eye a while back, and I wanted to figure out what it had been used for in the Cold War.

Looking at open-source satellite imagery it was obvious that the airport was, or had been, military from the alert aprons with hard stands surrounded by berms at the end of the runway.  But did they have nuclear weapons?  Did this base house some of the Soviet Long Range Aviation force?  No to both.  This was a fighter-interceptor base during the Cold War with MIG-31 (МиГ-31) and MIG-25 (МиГ-25) aircraft, part of the 83rd Fighter Aviation Regiment, not part of Long Range Aviation; therefore no nuclear weapons would have been in storage.

The airfield is still very much in use; I believe by the 535th Mixed Aviation Regiment and 546th Army Aviation Air Base.  Photos are readily available on PlaneSpotters.net showing the variety of aircraft that operate from the airport.  According to Jane's, the 535th flies the An-26, An-72, An-26, and L 410UVP while the 546th flies a variety of attack, assault and transport helicopters such as the Mi-35M, Mi-24P, Mi-28N, Mi-8, Mi-26 and Ka-52 (shown in below embedded video).

If you are not familiar withe Russian geography, here is where Rostov-on-Don is located

Victory Day Day Parade / Air Show over Rostov on Don May 9th 2015


April 03, 2016

Are all Cold War Nuclear Weapons Storage Areas Contaminated?

Coat of arms of the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
from 1958 to 1991
As I've mentioned before, from the 1950s to the 1960s the American nuclear arsenal of nuclear bombs were of a design where the fissile pit (the nuclear part of the nuke) could be removed.  When the grapefruit-sized pit was removed, and in storage near the rest of the small-car-sized "non-nucular" bomb weighing thousands of pounds, it needed to be cleaned occasionally.  When cleaned, the fissile pit shed some of it's radioactive self on the Kimwipes used to clean it, and on the gloves, aprons, etc.  The area where the cleaning took place was left with radioactive particles on the floor, which were painted over to seal them safely in the paint, and the contaminated gear used to perform the cleaning was put in a container and buried in the back yard.  Yes, that was the proper procedure for handling nuclear waste at the time.  It was another era.
Knowing this, I suspect every location where open pit nuclear bombs were stored with their fissile pits (like the Mark 4, Mark 6, etc..) were contaminated with particles emitting Alpha and Beta radiation.  The pickle is, the Americans are rather touchy about saying where their Special Weapons were stored, as they stored them worldwide, and sometimes without the knowledge of the host nation.  Tracing where the Strategic Air Command stationed its long range and medium range bombers should give an approximate number of bases where nuclear weapons were stored, since that was of course what the bombers were going to carry.

Goose Air Base was an American (and joint Canadian) air base in Labrador, and it has the same style of Weapons STorage Area as many other SAC bases that are known to have stored open-pit nuclear bombs of the time.  I've requested radiological surveys from the Canadian Department of National Defence that have been done at 5 Wing (CFB Goose Bay) in the past ten years, and hopefully that ATIP request will be completed and delivered back to me within the next couple of weeks.  They should show contamination of at least two buildings, if not four, at CFB Goose Bay (formerly Goose Air Base) if there were (as I strongly suspect) open-pit nuclear weapons stored there.  If the surveys show radiological contamination, that will be the "smoking gun" that I've been looking for to prove nuclear bombs were stored at Goose Bay, which has not been the narrative provided by the Canadian or American government.

The Americans were not just leaving a trail of radioactive waste buried in the back yards of friendly nations, they had their own Operational Storage Sites with nuclear bombs on American soil, and contamination from the same open-pit maintenance described above existed there too.  Fort Bliss for example; the Air Force report about the contamination can be found here.

Nuclear contamination discovered at Fort Bliss by cbsnews

But what about the Soviets?

If the American open-pit nuclear weapons produced residue that contaminated their Weapons Storage Areas, what about the Soviets?  It stands to reason that all Soviet long range aviation bases would have stored nuclear bombs, and I am guessing they also needed to be maintained in a similar fashion.  I suspect nuclear waste and safety weren't well understood by anyone at the time, and the Soviets might have left their own stain in their Weapons Storage Areas... but how can I prove that?  Better still, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of their former bases have fallen into disrepair and are crumbling away, and others have been repurposed by their new independent governments.  I am doubtful that many (any?) of the governments which have the remains of Soviet Long Range Aviation bases have any idea the weapons storage areas could be contaminated.

Here is an incomplete list of air bases (Soviet, Russian, American and Canadian) including a partial list of the long range Soviet bases. (click the square shape at the top right to make the map bigger and easier to read)