The Bouvet Island Nuclear Test (The Vela Incident )

Bouvet Island

Bouvet Island

Midway between the bottom of Africa and the Princess Astrid Coast of Antarctica, it’s arguably the most solitary piece of real estate on Earth, a lonely pimple jutting out of the gray, heaving seas of the South Atlantic. You could journey to the most remote inhabited spot on Earth, Tristan da Cunha, and you’d still have another 1,000 miles to go to reach Bouvet Island.

Ninety-three percent of it is covered in glacial ice, the rest in penguin guano. It’s an overseas possession of Norway. Other than dispatching a small crew every decade or so to service an automated weather station, Oslo pretty much ignores its forlorn outpost. It would be the perfect spot to test a nuclear bomb from a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Which, apparently, is what someone did on September 22, 1979. Someone – possibly South Africa or Israel, possibly Taiwan – set off a 2-to-3 kiloton thermonuclear device in the waters off Bouvet Island. It might have gone unnoticed, but the telltale double flash was spotted by the unblinking eye of an American spy satellite and the radiation was detected by Australian scientists in Antarctica. The official position of the U.S. State Department is that it never happened, but the scientific community believes this is a political cover-up.


One thought on “The Bouvet Island Nuclear Test (The Vela Incident )

  1. Interesting article in The Guardian about Israel’s nuclear program that includes additional details on “The Vela Incident”…


    An excerpt is below:

    A few years later, on 22 September 1979, a US satellite, Vela 6911, detected the double-flash typical of a nuclear weapon test off the coast of South Africa. Leonard Weiss, a mathematician and an expert on nuclear proliferation, was working as a Senate advisor at the time and after being briefed on the incident by US intelligence agencies and the country’s nuclear weapons laboratories, he became convinced a nuclear test, in contravention to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, had taken place.

    It was only after both the Carter and then the Reagan administrations attempted to gag him on the incident and tried to whitewash it with an unconvincing panel of enquiry, that it dawned on Weiss that it was the Israelis, rather than the South Africans, who had carried out the detonation.

    “I was told it would create a very serious foreign policy issue for the US, if I said it was a test. Someone had let something off that US didn’t want anyone to know about,” says Weiss.

    Israeli sources told Hersh the flash picked up by the Vela satellite was actually the third of a series of Indian Ocean nuclear tests that Israel conducted in cooperation with South Africa.

    “It was a fuck-up,” one source told him. “There was a storm and we figured it would block Vela, but there was a gap in the weather – a window – and Vela got blinded by the flash.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s