updated 9/29/2004 3:37:15 PM ET 2004-09-29T19:37:15

Spurred by what appear to be unusual radiation readings offshore, the U.S. government is sending a team of 20 scientists to try to find a hydrogen bomb lost off the Georgia coast in 1958.

Scientists from the Pentagon and the National Labs met on Wednesday with Derek Duke, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has searched for the missing 7,600-pound nuke over the past five years.

Duke has detected what he believes are unusual radiation readings in Wassaw Sound near Tybee Island.

A B-47 bomber dumped the H-bomb into the Atlantic Ocean 46 years ago after the plane collided with a fighter jet during a training flight. Navy divers searched the shallow, murky waters near Tybee Island for nearly 10 weeks before declaring the bomb irretrievably lost.

The bomb became one of 11 “broken arrows” — nuclear bombs lost during air or sea mishaps, according to U.S. military records.

The Air Force contends there is no danger of a nuclear blast from the bomb off the Georgia coast, because it did not contain the plutonium capsule needed to trigger one.

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank Smolinsky said the government scientists were meeting with Duke to go over the data.

On Thursday, the team “will go to Wassaw Sound, where Mr. Duke believes he knows where the bomb is located,” Smolinsky said. “They will take radiation readings and samples back to the National Labs ... and see if they can confirm or not confirm the possible presence of the bomb in that location.”

After being approached by Duke more than three years ago, Air Force officials decided not to renew the search for the bomb. The Air Force argued that the bomb, believed buried in 10 to 15 feet of mud, would pose a greater threat if disturbed. It contains uranium and 400 pounds of conventional explosives.

But Duke continued his search and recently said he believes he has found the weapon. That prompted the Air Force to take a second look.

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