Sunday, November 22, 2015

Command and Control

I just finished listening to Command and Control - Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser.  This is a very very interesting book.  This is a very very long book. 

I am very surprised at how many nuclear bomb accidents we've had.  Wow.  Here's Wikipedia's page outlining the many nuclear accidents.  This book includes many more details about some of them than I could find anywhere online.  This was all especially interesting to me because many years ago I worked in the ICBM world.

Throughout the book, Schlosser gives a very detailed account of the 1980 Damascus accident, where a Titan II ICBM blew up in its silo near Damascus, Arkansas.  That event began when a maintenance technician dropped a socket down the silo that bounced off something and struck the missile, puncturing the rocket and the first stage fuel tank.  This led to a cascade of human errors culminating in rocket fuel explosions that blew off the top of the missile silo and tossed the 9 megaton thermonuclear warhead hundreds of feet away.  It was amazing that only one person died.  It was amazing that half of Arkansas wasn't incinerated.  

I found these images online.  This graphic of a Titan II missile silo complex was very useful in following the story during some sections of the book.


Here's a photo of a Titan II in its silo, followed with a photo of the hole created by the Damascus accident.



This book was a finalist for a 2014 Pulitzer Prize.  For more information about the book, check out the NY Times review and this NPR story and interview.

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