Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Experts nearly dropped an atomic bomb on a Scottish landmark in the 1950s

John o' Groats, Scotland (Alamy)
John o' Groats, Scotland (Alamy)

THE North Coast 500, Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, is rated by top travel magazines and writers as one of the five best coastal drives in the world.

One of its must-stop-off highlights is the Stacks of Duncansby – the jagged rocks just off the most north-easterly tip of the mainland.

But motorists, bikers and cyclists are lucky to be seeing the jaw-dropping scene at all.

For The Sunday Post can reveal that experts wanted to blast the stacks with a nuclear bomb back in the 1950s.

Incredibly, the iconic landmarks were only saved because scientist decreed the area was “too wet” to set off the explosion.

The nightmare bomb scenario was dreamt up by boffins at Aldermaston, the secretive headquarters of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, in rural Berkshire.

A worker uses hydraulic hands to manipulate radioactive material inside a 'cave' or sealed chamber (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
A worker uses hydraulic hands to manipulate radioactive material inside a ‘cave’ or sealed chamber (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Local community councillor Bill Mowat said the fact the test was even mooted by scientists is terrifying.

He said: “I know there were concerns that Wick might have been in the firing line from fallout.

“It seemed incredible then and it seems incredible now.

“It’s really hard to believe Aldermaston could even think about this worst-case scenario.”

Back in 1953, as Britain desperately tried to keep up with America and Russia in the nuclear arms race, experts at Aldermaston wanted to test a prototype nuclear bomb at the landmark spot.

Looking at a map of the British Isles, Caithness would have seemed like the ideal spot for such an experiment.

Indeed, there was already a precedent – the remote Gruinard Island in the Inner Hebrides had already been used as a testing ground for the lethal anthrax bacterium in 1942.

It had been left uninhabitable by biological warfare testing carried out by scientists from Porton Down.

So blowing up a picturesque stretch of Scottish coastline would not have seemed beyond the realms of possibility to academics locked in a cold war race for nuclear knowledge.

Even before Dounreay Nuclear Power Station was built between 1955 and 1958, “because there were so few people there”, scientists had earmarked Caithness, with its sparse population, as a nuclear test bed.

The nightmarish idea to blow up the Stacks of Duncansby came the year after Operation Hurricane in 1952 when Britain detonated its first atomic bomb at Montebello Islands, West Australia, just three years after the Soviet Union set off its first nuclear bomb.

The bomb planned for Caithness would not have been a slick weapon with pointed nose cone and fins, it would have been cobbled together, the size of a kitchen freezer, and set on top of the tallest of the Stacks.

It might have looked like a
low-tech, rickety invention but it would have packed a punch on par with the US atom bomb which obliterated Hiroshima in August, 1945 – the equivalent of 16,000 tons of TNT.

Nuclear analyst John Large said: “I know they planned to pop a couple off in Scotland but I thought it was called off for political reasons as being a step too far. I didn’t realise it was because of climate conditions.

“It would have been what’s called a tower shot. Normally it would have been on a tower about 150-200 feet above ground level.”

Former UK Atomic Energy Authority expert John Large revealed just why the weather was not suitable for nuclear bombs.

He said: “If there is a lot of mist or low cloud about that would cause problems with their electronics.

“Even in those days they were quite sophisticated. ‘Too wet’ was probably referring to cloud cover that would interfere with the firing devices they used to set off the explosive charges. That’s probably why they scrapped it.

“If they had detonated it there would be a large area of radioactive contamination and you would still be cautious about going into that area.

“If they had gone ahead with their madcap scheme it wouldn’t be a tourist attraction today.”

After the damp halted the Scottish explosion, scientists turned their attention to Donna Nook in Lincolnshire before settling on Skipsea, between Bridlington and Hull, as their preferred test site.

But there was outrage in Parliament and the plan was scuppered.

The bomb test was eventually carried out in late 1953 at Emu Field, a desert area in South Australia.


READ MORE

Reactor shut down at Torness nuclear plant

Fancy owning a nuclear bunker? It’s yours for just over £500,000