On Thursday and Friday, I attended a workshop sponsored by AAAS and Princeton concerning advances in Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty monitoring and verification. There was considerable discussion of “venting” — when underground nuclear tests eject radioactive material into the atmosphere — as a detection method.
There were frequent, grim jokes about BANEBERRY, the worst radioactive venting incident in US testing history (pictured above). Here is a brief description from the Office of Technology Assessment (1988):
The exact cause of the 1970 Baneberry venting still remains a mystery. The original explanation postulated the existence of an undetected water table. It assumed that the high temperatures of the explosion produced steam that vented to the surface. Later analysis, however, discredited this explanation and proposed an alternative scenario based on three geologic features of the Baneberry site: water-saturated clay, a buried scarp of hard rock, and a nearby fault. It is thought that the weak, water-saturated clay was unable to support the containment structure: the hard scarp strongly reflected back the energy of the explosion increasing its force; and the nearby fault provided a pathway that gases could travel along. All three of these features seem to have contributed to the venting.
In this context, some participants mentioned a fantastic report, Caging the Dragon: The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions (1995). My crack staff managed to track down a copy. To my delight, I discovered that some wag, presumably reflecting on BANEBERRY, included this cartoon in the front-matter:
It’s on page iii in the front matter. The piece is signed with an interlocking D and L. None of the authors or those interviewed for the book have the initials DL (or LD for that matter). The author of the book, however, was the late James Carothers who served as Division Leader of L Division at Livermore around the time of the BANEBARRY venting.
As circumstantial evidence and conjecture goes, that’s at least as good as Reed and Stillman’s id of Perseus.