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(Mother Jones)   New book on nuclear weapons accidents will leave you wondering why we're not all dead   (motherjones.com) divider line 45
    More: Scary, Eric Schlosser, nukes, missile silos, Penguin Group, nuclear detonation, respiratory systems, B-52, launch complexes  
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2399 clicks; posted to Geek » on 19 Sep 2013 at 9:43 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



45 Comments   (+0 »)
   
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2013-09-19 08:10:54 AM  
starsmedia.ign.com

We're all gonna die.
 
2013-09-19 08:28:33 AM  
Jesus.
It's a wonder I can sleep at all.
 
2013-09-19 09:34:19 AM  
That's because a lot of it is exaggerated, from what I've heard - particularly the Arkansas incident - a crazy situation to be sure but no threat of nuclear detonation.  I've heard it's an interesting read but many of the incidents are exaggerated.
 
2013-09-19 09:48:42 AM  
We're not all dead because . . . no matter how bad the nuclear incident, "There's no danger."

/Or so they tell us
 
2013-09-19 10:05:25 AM  
There's also the fact that WWIII was averted by one Russian desk jockey who refused to follow protocol. So thanks for that, Stanislav Petrov.
 
2013-09-19 10:17:05 AM  
If I recall correctly, there are still missing parts from those North Carolina bombs in the swamp somewhere.
 
2013-09-19 10:18:43 AM  

cgraves67: If I recall correctly, there are still missing parts from those North Carolina bombs in the swamp somewhere.


Would explain their gubernatorial election.
 
2013-09-19 10:39:55 AM  
I die a little bit each day...

Coincidence?
 
2013-09-19 10:42:01 AM  
www.balettie.com

/oblig
 
2013-09-19 10:49:02 AM  
Paranoia Paranoia everybody's comin' to get me
Just say you never met me


/OMG WE ARE GONNA DIE BY AN ACCIDENTAL NUKE OMG WE CAME SO CLOSE
 
2013-09-19 10:55:58 AM  
Makes for a good read, I think. Under the covers by flashlight on a dark and stormy night ...
 
2013-09-19 10:58:30 AM  
"Well I've been to one world's fair, a picnic and a rodeo - and that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard come over a set of earphones!"

"You sure you got today's codes?"

/not obscure, I'm sure
 
2013-09-19 10:58:58 AM  
We are dead subby, we are dead and this is hell!
 
2013-09-19 11:06:34 AM  
Years ago I was traveling to a project in north Arkansas with an engineer I used to work with. At a 4-way stop there was a station wagon marked USAF parked on the shoulder with a couple of AF guys kind of leaning on the fenders, waiting. We were both kind of WTF? They didn't appear to be having car trouble, just chilling.
We drove through and ahead there was a helicopter coming towards us following the highway we were on. Soon there appeared a convoy of various miltary vehicles, tired armored vehicles, state troopers, and maybe some local sheriff cars thrown in. Somewhere in the middle of this was a flatbed semi with a tarp-drapped bundle on the middle of the trailer.
We found later it was the warhead from Rose Bud, Arkansas, supposedly last ICBM silo to be decommissioned in Arkansas, headed for the LRAFB.
Some years later I worked with an older engineer who had retired ftom the Corps of Engineers. I told him my ICBM story; he told me he was a project site engineer during the silo construction. He then told me that one day at the site they were lowering a bulldozer into the hole for the silo with a crane. There were men working down there, directing the lowering of the dozer when the dozer fell. I can't remember if the cable was supposed to have snapped or what, but miraculously no one was hurt.
The crane operator got out of the cab and started walking. They never saw him again.

\CSB
 
2013-09-19 11:10:26 AM  
The very fact that despite many mishaps over the years, not once has a nuclear weapon detonated accidentally in all that time goes to show you how many safeguards are built into them.
 
2013-09-19 11:20:40 AM  
In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.
 
2013-09-19 11:20:41 AM  

dryknife: The crane operator got out of the cab and started walking. They never saw him again.


HE'S IN THE HOUSE. HE'S CALLING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE.
 
2013-09-19 11:23:29 AM  

UberDave: That's because a lot of it is exaggerated, from what I've heard - particularly the Arkansas incident - a crazy situation to be sure but no threat of nuclear detonation.  I've heard it's an interesting read but many of the incidents are exaggerated.


Just reading that excerpt pretty much killed any interest I had in the book- while it's an interesting topic, there's no need for exaggeration and sensationalization of such things. A fuel leak from a Titan II is going to be a friggin' mess and a real danger to anybody in the silo but it's hardly going to cause the warhead to trigger.

There's little doubt that sometimes those handling such weapons didn't treat them with the respect and caution needed (such as the fairly recent B-52 flight with nuke-tipped ALCMs on board that people forgot were live), but those didn't happen all THAT much. Then there are the honest accidents (such as the bombers that end up crashing with bombs going missing) that are more the result of the law of averages catching up with having a bunch of nuclear armed bombers in the air nearly all the time (eventually one or more is going to crash).

But we're still here. And it's not accidents with nukes that have killed throngs of people, it's profligate use of conventional weapons.
 
2013-09-19 11:32:25 AM  

ReapTheChaos: The very fact that despite many mishaps over the years, not once has a nuclear weapon detonated accidentally in all that time goes to show you how many safeguards are built into them.


There are several and they are very effective.
 
2013-09-19 11:36:30 AM  

BafflerMeal: In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.


I'd believe a truck carrying MX missile parts spilled, not multiple missiles.  A complete LGM-118 is 71 feet long and weighs almost 100 tons.
 
2013-09-19 11:37:26 AM  

dryknife: Years ago I was traveling to a project in north Arkansas with an engineer I used to work with. At a 4-way stop there was a station wagon marked USAF parked on the shoulder with a couple of AF guys kind of leaning on the fenders, waiting. We were both kind of WTF? They didn't appear to be having car trouble, just chilling.
We drove through and ahead there was a helicopter coming towards us following the highway we were on. Soon there appeared a convoy of various miltary vehicles, tired armored vehicles, state troopers, and maybe some local sheriff cars thrown in. Somewhere in the middle of this was a flatbed semi with a tarp-drapped bundle on the middle of the trailer.



Sounds like it was the entire nose assembly rather than the bare warhead.  As far as I know, bare warheads can only be moved inner-area.

CSB: I was once directing a crew for inner-area movements (very large WSA).  I took the lowest job as gun guard on the tow vehicle so the younger airmen could get some experience, with the movements and opening secure structures and making the calls on the radio and such.  Myself and one airman were dragging four bare warheads (with tarps on them) on a trailer with mounting rails.  This civilian contractor with their dumbass Civil Engineering escort in the cab drives up in their civilian vehicle (truck) and gets right on the trailer's ass...the dude was in a hurry and the local civies drove like idiots as this guy was demonstrating...my tug was only going 5mpg as regulations dictate.  I told the tow driver to slow up and I jumped out while the tug was moving holding my AR at ready but finger off the trigger (of course).  With my free hand, I just pointed at the driver and he slams on the breaks.  I walk-trot with the tug the rest of the way to the storage igloo, about a quarter mile of road, and the truck never moves from where I stopped it until we get the trailer inside and start to close up.  I didn't mean to make the driver shiat his pants but damn...if you're in a triple fence high-security area you don't go around tailgating trailers with mysterious shiat on it (I blamed his CE escort though...should have known better).
 
2013-09-19 11:40:23 AM  

pag1107: BafflerMeal: In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.

I'd believe a truck carrying MX missile parts spilled, not multiple missiles.  A complete LGM-118 is 71 feet long and weighs almost 100 tons.


It's possible.  I was just a kid and saw it on the news.  Can't find any modern references to it.  Shut down a good portion of the town / interstate though for a good while.  With a SAC base just down the highway in Shreveport, all kinds of stuff was going back and forth through there.
 
2013-09-19 11:45:19 AM  
Jorg of Ancrath is unimpressed.
 
2013-09-19 11:47:01 AM  

BafflerMeal: pag1107: BafflerMeal: In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.

I'd believe a truck carrying MX missile parts spilled, not multiple missiles.  A complete LGM-118 is 71 feet long and weighs almost 100 tons.

It's possible.  I was just a kid and saw it on the news.  Can't find any modern references to it.  Shut down a good portion of the town / interstate though for a good while.  With a SAC base just down the highway in Shreveport, all kinds of stuff was going back and forth through there.


Ah, found it.  It was a truck of Hawk surface to air missiles.  My memories are faulty.

http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1994/Truck-Carrying-Military-Rockets-Cr as hes-In-Louisiana/id-cd84c9e875d24cf830a3a38fa86eec9b

I love the second article, paragraph 2.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1901&dat=19930102&id=IQwqAAAAI BA J&sjid=L9MEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3949,245166
 
2013-09-19 11:47:55 AM  

BafflerMeal: In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.


I've never heard of that one either.  First, those a "Peacekeeper" missiles.  And the warheads are transported in separate containers and that would have been an SST transport.  SST transports happen go down I-20 all the time.  I've heard of one slipping on the ice and ending up in the ditch upside down.  The weapons/warheads are so securely tied down that they will pretty much "stick" to the floor in such an incident (and did in the one I'm told...I've spend days tying down B-83s in SST trailers....the drivers and Marshalls used to shiat bricks at my forklift skills while moving doublestacks of bombs...I digress).

I'm betting that there was a exercise deployment from Barksdale and some slacker didn't tie something down correctly (heard and seen that happen).
 
2013-09-19 11:52:24 AM  

BafflerMeal: BafflerMeal: pag1107: BafflerMeal: In the 80s a section of I-20 was closed down inside the city limits of Monroe, LA.  A truck hauling MX missiles had jackknifed and the missiles spilled all over the side of the interstate.  Wonder if that's in the book.  Can't find any references on the inet.

I'd believe a truck carrying MX missile parts spilled, not multiple missiles.  A complete LGM-118 is 71 feet long and weighs almost 100 tons.

It's possible.  I was just a kid and saw it on the news.  Can't find any modern references to it.  Shut down a good portion of the town / interstate though for a good while.  With a SAC base just down the highway in Shreveport, all kinds of stuff was going back and forth through there.

Ah, found it.  It was a truck of Hawk surface to air missiles.  My memories are faulty.



So is mine.  Can't believe I don't remember that.  And that's hilarious.  Incidentally, they would have had to evacuate less people had it been a trailer full of w87 warheads.
 
2013-09-19 12:02:22 PM  
UberDave:Sounds like it was the entire nose assembly rather than the bare warhead.

Yeah, that's right I guess.

On a different note, the Office of Secure Transportation (OST), managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration within the U. S. Department of Energy, has their driver and escort training center here. I have met some of those guys, and that's pretty scary in itself. They're nucking futs.
 
2013-09-19 12:14:16 PM  

dryknife: UberDave:Sounds like it was the entire nose assembly rather than the bare warhead.

Yeah, that's right I guess.

On a different note, the Office of Secure Transportation (OST), managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration within the U. S. Department of Energy, has their driver and escort training center here. I have met some of those guys, and that's pretty scary in itself. They're nucking futs.


The drivers are paid quite well.  I seem to remember that it's a pretty good job for former USAF Security Police and pays quite well.  But you're gone away from home quite a bit...
 
2013-09-19 12:30:15 PM  
The word: brinkmanship gets bandied about but it really really doesn't begin to capture the feel/mindset of those making the decisions at the height of the Cold War.

Probably my favorite example, I don't want to write a tl;dr so I'll skip as much of the details as I can:

A Soviet above ground nuclear test went 'south'; a significant number of their best and brightest (military and scientists) were killed. The US (very condensed version) 'figured' it out.  However, it was decided that confronting the Soviets would be a 'bad thing'; possibly spooking them into starting a nuclear war; the loss severely handicapping their program for years - decades really.

So, US policy was to deny reality. Invitations were politely sent to the deceased to attend scientific symposiums, etc. Soviet officials - who btw were not freaking stupid, they knew that the US knew - quietly demurred with some BS excuse, and the US 'pretended' to believe them. Each side 'faked' it. For years...
 
2013-09-19 12:53:33 PM  
Just got out of a class thirty minutes ago on nonproliferation and arms control issues.
It's apparently incredibly difficult to launch a missile by mistake. The type of incidents in Schlosser's books aren't the sort that start wars.

What starts wars is misinformation, lack of information, and a whole load of perverse incentives.

For example, from the India-Pakistan relationship:
India is far superior to Pakistan in terms of conventional forces. Their tanks could cut Pakistan in two in a matter of days.
For that reason, Pakistan relies on a nuclear posture called asymmetric escalation. If Indian forces enter Pakistan, the latter will use nukes (even in its own territory) to stop them. Battlefield use can very quickly escalate to strategic exchanges, so this risk essentially locks down the Indian army. And it works; during Kargil, and after the Mumbai attack, the Indian army has been deterred from punishing Pakistan directly.

Of course, the Indians hate this. It means the Pakistanis can support infiltrators and terrorists, and they have few means to respond. So, they've developed something called 'Cold Start', a strategy where they place all their forces along the border and plan to invade quickly enough that Pakistan loses control of their nukes, loses command capability, or is so resoundingly defeated that it doesn't have the will to respond with nukes.

The Pakistani response to Cold Start has been to devolve authority to use nukes downwards along the chain of command. In a crisis, they double-down on that practice. This should theoretically convince India that allowing even a few nukes to survive would be catastrophic.

The kicker is that the further devolved downwards the Pakistani nukes are, the easier it is for a terrorist group to steal one. And because the nukes are more vulnerable during a crisis, it's in the interest of terrorists to create them in order to create the opportunity for theft. So after all that strategic planning, who the hell is safer?
 
2013-09-19 12:55:34 PM  

UberDave: That's because a lot of it is exaggerated, from what I've heard - particularly the Arkansas incident - a crazy situation to be sure but no threat of nuclear detonation.  I've heard it's an interesting read but many of the incidents are exaggerated.


They are. All of our nukes are one point safe meaning that any nuclear detonation has to be intentional (I'm not going to go into details on how it's done but the weapons are physically set up so that an accidental nuclear detonation is virtually impossible). There have been a couple of non-nuclear accidental detonations where the HE went off and, aside from the obvious damage from conventional explosives going off, the only nuclear issues were contamination from the fissile material being scattered by that conventional explosion.
 
2013-09-19 01:47:19 PM  
Why aren't we all dead? Underdog!
 
2013-09-19 02:33:55 PM  
I still get weirded out out every time we go to Tybee Island.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision
 
2013-09-19 02:34:05 PM  
"Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.
 
2013-09-19 02:46:31 PM  

Seth'n'Spectrum: [Snip]

...Pakistan relies on a nuclear posture called asymmetric escalation. If Indian forces enter Pakistan, the latter will use nukes (even in its own territory) to stop them. Battlefield use can very quickly escalate to strategic exchanges, so this risk essentially locks down the Indian army. And it works; during Kargil, and after the Mumbai attack, the Indian army has been deterred from punishing Pakistan directly.

Of course, the Indians hate this. It means the Pakistanis can support infiltrators and terrorists, and they have few means to respond.


... Not to threadjack, but this is the perfect response I've been looking for when people ask why we're so adamant that Iran, NK, et al, not have nukes.
 
2013-09-19 03:08:19 PM  
Stopped reading after the first story. I call BS. There was no risk of detonation no matter how small, cheap, inexpensive-whatever the "simple electronic toggle switch" was. It didn't flip, there was no risk of detonation. Mother Jones, you're stupid, go home.

All the real scary stuff is human error compounded by bad data. Like how the guy in Russia in the 80's single handily prevented global thermonuclear war because he didn't feel like it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov
 
2013-09-19 03:20:30 PM  

maxheck: "Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.


Aint that the truth.  The USAF wanted to nuke the moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119
 
2013-09-19 03:51:51 PM  
BafflerMeal:

maxheck: "Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.

Aint that the truth. The USAF wanted to nuke the moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119


Well, hey... what are you going to do with 32,000 warheads even though analysts were saying that two dozen getting through to major ports and transportation hubs could knock a country back to the 19th century?

We had (and still have) a farked up situation where the DOD didn't have to pay for development and production of nukes, that fell to the red-headed-stepchild, the DOE. We had people like Edward Teller who was just a little bit warped after Czechoslovakia bending the president's ear, we had an intelligence community that consistently overestimated the soviets, for much the same reasons as they overestimated Iraq when Cheney was visiting the DIA on a weekly basis.

Not surprising that we ended up with an oversupply of nukes that would make Dr. Strangelove cream his jeans. And what will you do with thousands of nuclear weapons? Use them in every conceivable SIOP.

We really did luck out in avoiding disaster. We're still not out of the woods, but...
 
2013-09-19 05:15:00 PM  

BafflerMeal: maxheck: "Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.

Aint that the truth.  The USAF wanted to nuke the moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119


You should look up Operation Plowshare for some crazy atomic bomb fun.
 
2013-09-19 06:39:51 PM  
If there is a moral to this story at all, it's that the nukees of various services have done a damn good job of protecting us from our own excesses.

Kudos.
 
2013-09-19 09:00:24 PM  
 I was on the Base Decontamination Team at Wurtsmith AFB in the early 80s, and we got briefed on a lot of the nuclear accidents that made headlines, and quite a few that didn't.  FWIW, we were told that the North Carolina accident could not have resulted in an impact yield for reasons the trainers didn't go into detail on.  We did get a very long briefing on the Titan II accident, and although this guy does rightfully point out that the 'socket' involved weighed nine pounds, they still almost never point out that the skin on a Titan is so thin that it relied on the pressurized rocket fuel to keep it erect. (Go ahead, get it out of your systems.....) Otherwise, it literally deflates like a balloon.  They also never point out that the missile techs in question didn't use a safety net that would have caught the socket.  It got worse once the accident was in full swing because every general in the chain of command all the way up to CINCSAC decided to go out there and personally take command.  One can imagine the fun.

There's also a bomb in the seabed off Tybee Island, GA:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision

And finally, here's the picture I took a year or so back of the Mk15 impact crater at Mars Bluff, SC. (  http://wikimapia.org/8091131/Mars-Bluff-crater ):

i239.photobucket.com
 
2013-09-19 09:45:08 PM  
There was some crazy incident at Pantex in Texas that was, ostensibly, a close call...
 
2013-09-19 10:22:21 PM  

SoupJohnB: "Well I've been to one world's fair, a picnic and a rodeo - and that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard come over a set of earphones!"

"You sure you got today's codes?"

/not obscure, I'm sure


Read it in slim pickens voice without thinking.
 
2013-09-20 10:46:46 AM  

BafflerMeal: maxheck: "Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.

Aint that the truth.  The USAF wanted to nuke the moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119


DrunkWithImpotence: BafflerMeal: maxheck: "Broken arrows" aside, during the Cold War we basically had a farkton of hammers and everything looked like nails. So much so that the guy in charge of our nuclear operations in Europe became a disarmament advocate.

Aint that the truth.  The USAF wanted to nuke the moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119

You should look up Operation Plowshare for some crazy atomic bomb fun.


while looking up those (which are freaking crazy) I found this little gem - I mean, how does this not even leave a trace? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1956_B-47_disappearance
 
2013-09-20 03:13:45 PM  
www.motivateusnot.com


I was doing my 2 week AT at Vandenburg AFB. It was the last couple of days and we had nothing to do but screw around and explore the base. We happened upon a decommissioned nuke silo. The topside bunker entrance had been filled with dirt, but there was a 3 foot gap at top. No one was around to tell us 'no' so we crawled over and down into the tunnel. There was zero light, but we had flashlights. Surpisingly the main blast door was wide open. The whole place had been totaly gutted to where there was even holes in the floor. I was surpised by how small the non missle area was. Small launch control room, and two or 3 small other rooms. With equipment I imagined it would be fairly cramped. Then we got to the silo. Amazing how deep it goes. Couldn't see the bottom, but it was filled with water. We dropped rocks down there, and they took a frightningly long time to go 'sploosh'. I remember thinking it would be the perfect place to dump a body.
 
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