THE NIGHT THE YANKS A-BOMBED CANADA
With the approaching 66th. anniversary of the WWII detonation of two atomic bombs on Japan, it is timely to recall that Canada also experienced the dropping of a similar US weapon, though inadvertently. This now largely-forgotten incident happened on February 13, 1950, five years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. In 1950, a fearful world was caught in the Cold War, a tense military stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States, then the world’s most powerful rivals.
Late in the afternoon of that day, a Convair B-36 “Peacemaker” heavy bomber aircraft of the United States Strategic Air Command took off from Eileson Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska, during a bitterly cold blizzard. Its high-altitude flight-path would pass over British Columbia en route to California on a simulated combat mission to test San Francisco’s defences against possible future Soviet attack. The plane’s mission was typical of that era’s airborne practice exercises by U.S. and Canadian air forces, which closely co-operated to defend North America against possible incursions by Soviet bombers.
The six-engined giant B-36 had a wingspan of 70 metres (230 feet), making it the largest bomber ever built by the U.S. It cost $6 million and carried 17 crewmen. Also aboard was an inert atomic bomb much like the 19-kiloton weapon - dubbed “Fatman” – that had been dropped on Nagasaki in the Second World War. Though the practice bomb aboard the B-36 was a fully-functioning weapon, it contained lead for the core instead of plutonium, and so was not capable of creating a devastating thermonuclear blast. Still, it was armed lethally enough, packing several thousand pounds of conventional TNT high explosive for emergency use in vaporizing the shell of IA-grade uranium (which itself did not present any radiation danger.)