Sunday, September 20, 2009

Published : Wednesday, 16 Sep 2009, 9:02 PM MDT

Reporter: Ian Schwartz
Web Producer: Bill Diven

ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE/KBIM) - A dozen silos that once housed Atlas missiles poised to shower nuclear destruction on the Soviet Union were finally declared safe Wednesday.

Scattered around Roswell are the homes of twelve retired Atlas "F" missile silos, all now privately owned.

"This was really something that we could see the turn of history,” silo owner Gary Baker said. “Keep in mind, on a DEFCON situation, we were within one number of total nuclear war."

DEFCON stood for defense readiness condition, a numbered scale with 5 indicating peace and 1 meaning imminent attack.

In the 1960s crews from Walker Air Force base manned the 82-foot nuclear missiles. During the height of the Cold War the silos were as on high alert.

It would take crews below ground 15 to 30 minutes to ready a missile that would launch out of two 75-ton concrete doors.

But three of them blew up during fuel loading exercises eventually causing the silos to be shut down.

Decades later the Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the removal of chemicals like PCBs found at the sites.

"This is an effort by the federal and state government collaboratively making sure that these private parties didn't inherit any environmental problems they weren't aware of," James Bearzi of the New Mexico Environment Department said.

Baker's is the first site in the country to be cleared of the chemicals.

"I think that is very important, not only for my site or me, but for the state of New Mexico,” Baker said. “It is a very proud moment"

Baker said he has given silo tours to high school students and has thought about turning it into a museum.