[FoRK] Chickens as heating supplies for nukes

Rohit Khare rohit at ics.uci.edu
Thu Apr 1 12:46:52 PST 2004

Now, doesn't plutonium itself emit a damn creditable amount of heat??

> Cluck ... cluck ... cluck ... ...BOOM! Build a seven-ton plutonium  
> landmine, bury it on enemy soil, keep it warm with a flock of  
> chickens, and detonate it at first sign of hostilities. It sounds like  
> another one of John Poindexter "ideas," but in truth it's the work of  
> the UK's Ministry of Defense. According to a recently declassified  
> 1957 report, scientists at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research  
> Establishment -- Britain's secret nuclear lab complex, designed just  
> such a munition. Their plan was to bury it on the plains of northern  
> Germany and detonate it in the event of a retreat from invading Soviet  
> troops. But the central European winter can be awful, and the  
> scientists worried that it might cause their doomsday device to  
> malfunction. So to keep it cozy, the scientists proposed stuffing the  
> armament full of, not fiberglass, but live chickens. From the  
> document: "[To extend the armed life of the land mine, it must  
> incorporate] some form of heating independent of power supplies under  
> the weapon hull in the emplacement. Chickens, with a heat output of  
> the order of 1,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) per bird per day are a  
> possibility." "It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly  
> is not," said Professor Peter Hennessy, curator of the exhibition at  
> which the device is being shown. "The Civil Service does not do  
> jokes."

from good morning silicon valley,  

Britain: Chicken-Equipped Nuke Not a Hoax
  Thu Apr 1,10:50 AM ET

By MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer

LONDON -  A claim that Britain considered using live chickens in a  
nuclear weapon aroused skepticism Thursday, but officials insisted it  
was not an April Fool's hoax.

  "It's a genuine story," said Robert Smith, head of press and publicity  
at The National Archives.

  The archives released a secret 1957 Ministry of Defense report showing  
that scientists contemplated putting chickens in the casing of a  
plutonium land mine.

  The chickens' body heat was considered a possible means of preventing  
the mine's mechanism from freezing.

  Listing ways of extending the armed life of the land mine, the  
declassified document proposed "incorporating some form of heating  
independent of power supplies under the weapon hull in the emplacement.  
Chickens, with a heat output of the order of 1,000 BTU (British Thermal  
Units) per bird per day are a possibility."

  The seven-ton device, code named "Blue Peacock," would have been  
detonated from a distance or by timer in the event of a retreat from  
invading Soviet troops, to prevent them from occupying the area.

  Andy Oppenheimer, co-editor of Jane's World Armies, said he found the  
idea of using chickens hard to believe.

  "I have a feeling that it's an April Fool," he said in a phone  
interview. He said wrapping the device in fiberglass to keep it warm  
would have been a better option.

  Some newspapers also expressed skepticism.

  "Is today the day to reveal the chicken-powered nuke?" The Times of  
London wrote, referring to the April 1 date. Nonetheless, The Times put  
it on page one.

  Tom O'Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National  
Archives, said he had no doubt that the document was authentic.

  "None whatsoever," he said in a telephone interview with The  
Associated Press. "It's not the kind of thing the civil service does,  
to set up an April Fool's joke."

  O'Leary said the idea is mentioned briefly in a long document.

  "It's purely a suggestion in an official document that that is a  
possibility that was proposed," he said, and there was no indication  
that the feasibility was ever tested.

  The "Blue Peacock" project began in 1954 and was aimed at preventing  
enemy occupation of territory due to nuclear contamination. Designs  
were based on Britain's "Blue Danube" free-fall bomb, which consisted  
of a plutonium core surrounded by a sphere of high explosive with  
detonators spread across the surface.

  Officials decided in 1957 to acquire 10 "Blue Peacock" land mines,  
each weighing 16,000 pounds (7,250 kilograms), and to station them with  
the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. However, in 1958 the Ministry  
of Defense Weapons Policy Committee decided that work on "Blue Peacock"  
should stop, after reservations emerged about the fallout hazard.

  A prototype survives in the historical collection of the Atomic  
Weapons Establishment, a government agency which has its headquarters  
at Aldermaston west of London.

  "The whole operational scenario appeared somewhat theatrical," said an  
article in the AWE's magazine in January. It did not mention chickens,  
but did deal with the problem of maintaining the right temperature.

  "The nuclear warhead had to be kept within a specific temperature  
range, but environmental trials suggested it might not have survived  
the rigors of a mid-European winter," the article said.

  Details of the chicken proposal feature in an April 2-Oct. 30  
exhibition entitled "The Secret State" at the National Archives in Kew,  
west London.


  On the Net:

  The Secret State:  

Atomic Weapons Establishment:


AWE article on Blue Peacock,  

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