October 4, 2002
5:39 AM   Subscribe

I recently bought a cheap DVD of Broken Arrow, the late 90's John Woo thriller that portrays an attempt to steal nuclear weapons. A earlier MeFI thread briefly brought up NEST, or the Nuclear Emergency Search Team who are supposed to find these things if smuggled into the United States.

I googled on it, and while I wasn't surprised to learn there have been a large number of hoaxes I was surprised find out there have been some thirty incidents not classified as a hoax. A large part of the Woo film deals with the idea of The Feds searching for nuclear weapons from oribit.

Well I might just be a country boy but even I know there is Physics and then there is Movie Physics so I was curious - can these nuclear weapons be spotted by satellites? Maybe we're getting all bothered over pretty much nuthin, if The Feds already know where they are. Rense has a interesting post about NEST in NYC.
posted by Mutant (15 comments total)
'Do not shoot at the nuclear warheads...'
posted by feelinglistless at 6:06 AM on October 4, 2002

that "thirty incidents" link sounds quite interesting. Perhaps you could post the right link to it?
posted by whatzit at 6:07 AM on October 4, 2002

Haven't seen the movie, but no, there's no way I can think of to detect a nuclear weapon from orbit. There's a huge column of atmosphere between the weapon and the satellite. The air will absorb any traces of the weapon (which aren't terribly strong to begin with.)

Once the weapon explodes, however, there's lots of ways to detect it even if it's underground. Too late for NEST, though.
posted by ptermit at 6:17 AM on October 4, 2002

IMHO: You know, Mutant, this is kind of an impressive post. Apart from some grammar, which I won't go anal about, and the para-breaks, which will bother some people... You didn't link to a really obvious news story (the bane of MeFi of late), you thought creatively, you brought up a potentially interesting issue that most of us haven't thought about... fix that "30 incidents" link in a new comment and it's "Good on ya!" IMHO...
posted by Shane at 6:18 AM on October 4, 2002

Its the correct link, ninth paragraph into the article (not counting title, credits etc.) but I'll excerpt here :

"They train all the time and, as of last December, had responded to about 125 actual call-ups. All but 30 were classified as hoaxes or unsubstantiated. No one, not even former NEST members, would discuss any of the 30, other than to say that several dealt with extortion attempts by employees in various areas of the nuclear industry. "

Thanks Shane!
posted by Mutant at 6:21 AM on October 4, 2002

Surely metafilter.com/<a isn't really what you meant to link.
posted by robself at 6:25 AM on October 4, 2002

I still read Rense occasionally, but I read/listened to him a lot more often years ago. Now he's too much of a racist anti-semite to be taken seriously by anyone not living in a bunker surrounded by a five year supply of chicken soup.

Conspiratologists can rescue fascinating tidbits of information from the past, things that could otherwise be forgotten entirely. It's a shame to see when they lose all sense of objectivity and start regurgitating whatever bull some nutjob like David Icke feeds them.
posted by bunnytricks at 6:26 AM on October 4, 2002

Mute: Not sure what's up, but I get the ol' "The page cannot be found..." for dat link.
posted by Shane at 6:29 AM on October 4, 2002

Ah, zee 30 incidents link is ici, i think.
posted by robself at 6:33 AM on October 4, 2002

Well I might just be a country boy but even I know there is Physics and then there is Movie Physics so I was curious - can these nuclear weapons be spotted by satellites?

posted by delmoi at 6:34 AM on October 4, 2002

But they can spot Fiesta Ware dinner plates. Only the orange ones, though.
posted by ook at 6:54 AM on October 4, 2002

So Frank Whaley really IS flying around, trying to keep us safe from evil?

Let's hope there really is a big brain on Bret...
posted by El_Gray at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2002

Can nuclear weapons be spotted by satellites?

Here's a recent USENET thread (which I found via Google Groups) that might help.
posted by alumshubby at 9:37 AM on October 4, 2002

An excellent novelistic treatment of the NEST is in the long out-of-print (strangely, considering current events) The Fifth Horseman, by the authors of Is Paris Burning? and other "non-fiction novels". (Not to be confused with a 2001 bio-terror book of the same name.) In their book, the terror mastermind is Muammar Qaddafi (obligatory link to Straight Dope article on spelling), and he is demanding certain familiar concessions regarding the US role in the Middle East, with a nuclear device hidden somewhere in New York City and a firm deadline.

Here's a recent article about nuclear incident response in the US. NEST (officially, the S apparently now stands for Support rather than Search) will be moved partly under the Department of Homeland Security, and testimony from Los Alamos officials addressed that on June 26.

Incongruously, NEST has a glossy brochure {PDF}. Maybe they distribute them at dentist and MRI offices.

See also TIME's the Secret Bomb Squad, a short sidebar which includes the interesting datum that NEST randomly visits selected major cities every week, just sort of "sniffing" around. Also, Asia Times reported that the recent ship search off New Jersey was for good reason although they weren't forthcoming themselves.
posted by dhartung at 9:49 AM on October 4, 2002

Yes, satellites have their shortcomings. Remember that Simpsons episode about the stolen trillion dollar bill:

Agent Johnson: We believe Burns still has that bill hidden somewhere in his house. But all we've ascertained from satellite photos is that it's not on the roof.
posted by Triplanetary at 5:25 PM on October 4, 2002

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