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Friday 24 March 2017
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Beware The Unmarked 18-Wheeler

Beware The Unmarked 18-Wheeler

If you do a lot of highway driving, you can’t help but see a lot of 18-wheelers.  You see the big rigs with brand names splashed all over them.  Walmart, Swift, Old Dominion, UPS, and hundreds more freight companies travel millions of miles per day along America’s highways.  Have you ever noticed an 18-wheeler rolling along with no markings?  If you do, give it some space, you might be surprised what that semi is carrying.

The United States Department of Energy has a little-known department called the Office of Secure Transportation (OST), even though the Department of Energy’s website doesn’t list the OST.  So, what does this mystery arm of the government do?

The mission of the Office of Secure Transportation is to safely transport nuclear bombs, nuclear bomb components, and other nuclear materials like plutonium and uranium across America in the back of unmarked 18-wheelers.  Yes, it’s true, that non-descript big rig you see running down the road could have a nuclear bomb in the back.  That will make you think twice before cutting off one these massive trucks.

This practice started in 1947, currently has a budget of 250 million dollars.

The OST fleet is driven and staffed by Federal agents and they work hard not to transport in inclement weather.  The rigs are limited to a maximum speed of 65-miles per hour.  According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, there are 42 of these rigs running up and down the highway, and many of the staffers and drivers are former military personnel who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Drivers are required to be U.S. citizens between the age of 21 and 37 years of age, have a clean driving record, and are required to pass a comprehensive medical and psychological evaluation, as well as passing a medical exam.

Although the OST would not grant an interview to the L.A. Times, according to their story, they issued the following statement: 

“For more than 40 years — even after driving the equivalent distance of a trip to Mars and back — no cargo has ever been damaged in transit,” it said.

There have been some close calls, however.  In 1996, one of the trucks hit an unexpected ice storm in Nebraska and rolled over, jostling two nuclear bombs.  Weather is carefully monitored from OST headquarters in New Mexico.

Besides the risk of an accident, a hijacking is also a great concern for transporting the dangerous weapons.  The trucks are flanked by three other vehicles with armed personnel aboard.  The semis are monitored constantly from Albuquerque, and there are procedures for law enforcement should one of the trucks get pulled over, or in the event of an accident.

Reports say that in 2010, the Department of Energy was tipped off that there was a problem with OST drivers abusing alcohol.  A subsequent investigation showed 16 incidents of alcohol abuse from 2007 to 2009, including one that involved a driver carrying a nuclear warhead.  Police were called to a bar after the convoy stopped for the night.

I did find an employment ad for drivers and escorts at the National Nuclear Security Administrations website, that shows pictures of one the big rigs, as well as the personnel that are in the convoy:  https://fmt.kcp.com/OSTfederalagent/

The next time you see an unmarked truck rolling down the highway with government license plates, and a lot of antennas on the roof, give the rig plenty of room.

Photo Credit: DOE/Office of Secure Transportation