USS Hampton Failed to do Daily
Safety Checks on
Ship's Nuclear Reactor for Month and Falsified Records
6 Punished for Skipped Checks
PAULINE JELINEK / AP 22oct2007
WASHINGTON — Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton failed to do daily safety checks on the ship's nuclear reactor for a month and falsified records to cover up the omission, a Navy investigation shows.
The revelation is sure to raise new questions about the military's handling of the nation's nuclear assets following an Air Force incident in which a B-52 bomber was accidentally loaded with nuclear-tipped missiles and flown across the country without any one realizing it for more than a day.
In the case of the Hampton, it appears from a preliminary investigation that sailors in Submarine Squadron 11 had skipped the required analysis of the chemical and radiological properties of the submarine's reactor for more than a month, even though a daily check is required.
"Some of the Hampton's operations and records fell short of high Navy standards," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.
"There never was any danger to the crew or the public," he said.
Other members of the squadron discovered the lapse during a routine examination required as part of the redundancy built into the system so that problems are caught, he said. The examination was done as the submarine was nearing the end of a West Pacific deployment, which was completed Sept. 17.
Officials also discovered that logs had been filled out to make it appear that the daily checks of the reactor water had actually been done.
Six nuclear personnel have received an undisclosed nonjudicial punishment after a preliminary investigation, but the probe is continuing, Perry said.
A nuclear powered fast attack submarine, Hampton is the most advanced nuclear attack submarine in the world, carrying a torpedo, cruise missile, and mine-laying arsenal, according to information on its Web site.
The investigation was first reported in Monday editions of Navy Times newspaper, which quoted an unidentified source as saying that failing to measure and maintain the correct water chemistry in the reactor over the long-term could cause corrosion in the propulsion system.
"We measure also for general radioactivity levels in the water to make sure the reactor (fuel elements are) intact," said the source, whom the newspaper said had knowledge of the investigation.
The reported problems with procedures and record keeping in the Navy squadron comes just after the Air Force disciplined some 70 airmen in the B-52 incident.
The plane was loaded with nuclear warheads on Aug. 29 at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown the next day to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The mission was to ferry cruise missiles that had been slated for decommissioning but the warheads were supposed to have been removed beforehand.
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne blamed the incident on "a breakdown in munitions-handling procedures" and called it "an unacceptable mistake and a clear deviation from our exacting standards."
"There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base," Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, told a Pentagon news conference Friday after a six-week investigation.
Newton acknowledged that the Air Force needs to "restore the confidence" lost among the American people after the August incident, which raised questions about the safety of the country's nuclear arsenal.
"We are making all appropriate changes to ensure this has a minimal chance of ever happening again," Wynne said.
The ferrying mission has been suspended.
Submarine’s Commanding Officer
Is Relieved of His Duties
The commanding officer of the nuclear-powered submarine Hampton was relieved of his duty because of a loss of confidence in his leadership, the Navy said. The officer, Cmdr. Michael B. Portland, was relieved of duty after an investigation found the ship had failed to do daily safety checks on its nuclear reactor for a month and falsified records to cover up the omission. Commander Portland will be reassigned, said Lt. Alli Myrick, a public affairs officer.
Pentagon Reels From Second Major
Nuclear Arms Blunder in a Month
Daily Mail (UK) 26oct2007
The Pentagon was reeling last night from the American military's second major nuclear weapons blunder in a month.
Congress is demanding a full scale investigation and serious questions are being asked about the competence of the officers in charge of the world's mightiest arsenal.
The latest outrage came as Commander Michael Portland, the officer in charge of the USS Hampton, the most advanced nuclear attack submarine in the world, was fired after it was discovered that he had neglected to make basic daily safety checks.
Last month 70 US airmen were demoted after they lost track of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles and allowed them to be flown halfway across America by a bomber crew that didn't even know they were there.
The Pentagon said that it had lost confidence in Commander Portland's leadership after checks showed that he had failed to analyse the chemical and radiological properties of the submarine's nuclear reactor for a month.
It is considered vital that the reactor's condition be fully examined every day so that any malfunction can be caught early.
If something went wrong with the reactor it could lead to a devastating nuclear accident.
The USS Hampton, currently docked in San Diego, is armed with nuclear torpedoes, nuclear cruise missiles and a massive mine-laying arsenal.
US Navy officials said that it had also been discovered that logs on the USS Hampton had been filled out to make it appear the daily checks of the reactor water had actually been done.
Members of Congress are furious about the latest scandal especially as it follows so closely after the nuclear missile debacle.
In that incident a large US Air Force team failed to remove the nuclear warheads from six cruise missiles being flown by a B-52 bomber from North Dakota to Louisiana.
It was described as one of the worst known breaches of nuclear weapons procedures ever.
The incident sparked a so-called "Bent Spear" nuclear alert, one step down in military terms from a "Broken Arrow".
A "Broken Arrow" is triggered if a nuclear missile has been lost or detonated in a way that does not create the risk of nuclear war. If the B-52 had crashed there would not have been a nuclear explosion but there could have been major plutonium leakage causing thousands of deaths.
Independent inquires are being launched into both the nuclear missile and the nuclear submarine incidents and Congress is planning hearings into the Pentagon's nuclear safety procedures.
An investigation is also underway into how the US Army came to accidentally fire a ground to air Patriot missile from a base in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar earlier this month.
The missile landed harmlessly in the desert but it could have brought down any aircraft in the vicinity and it has renewed charges in the Middle East that American soldiers can be trigger-happy and careless.
Ship's Complement: 15 Officers, 16 Chief Petty Officers, 105 Enlisted
Length: 360 feet Beam: 33 feet Draft: 32 feet
Maximum Depth: In Excess Of 800 Feet
Maximum Speed: In Excess Of 25 Knots
Surface Displacement: 6,200 Tons
Submerged Displacement: 6,900 Tons
Armament: Four 21 Inch Torpedo Tubes / Twelve Tomahawk Vertical Launch Tubes
Built By: Newport News Shipbuilding And Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia
Keel Laid: 02 March 1990
Launched: 03 April 1992
Commissioned: 06 November 1993
Sponsored By: Mrs. Laura Y. Bateman