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Accidents and the bomb

by Alex Wellerstein, published April 18th, 2014

When I first heard that Eric Schlosser, the investigative journalist was writing a book on nuclear weapons accidents, I have to admit that I was pretty suspicious. I really enjoyed Fast Food Nation when it came out a decade ago. It was one of those books that never quite leaves you. The fact that the smell of McDonald’s French fries was deliberately engineered by food chemists to be maximally appealing, something I learned from Schlosser’s book, comes to mind whenever I smell any French fries. But nuclear weapons are not French fries. When writing about them, it is extremely easy to fall into either an exaggerated alarmism or a naïve acceptance of reassuring official accounts. In my own work, I’m always trying to sort out the truth of the matter, which is usually somewhere in between these two extremes.

Schlosser - Command and Control book

This is especially the case when talking about nuclear weapons accidents — the many times during the Cold War when nuclear weapons were subjected to potentially dangerous circumstances, such as being set on fire, being accidentally dropped from a bomber, crashing with a bomber, having the missile they were attached to explode, and so on. The alarmist accounts generally inflate the danger of the accidents achieving a nuclear yield; the official accounts usually dismiss such danger entirely. There are also often contradictory official accounts — sometimes even the people with clearances can’t agree on whether the weapons in question were “armed” (that is, had intact fissile pits in them), whether the chance of detonation was low or high, and so on. I’ve always been pretty wary about the topic myself for this reason. Sorting out the truth seemed like it would require a lot of work that I wasn’t interested in doing.

Well, I’m happy to report that in his new book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of SafetySchlosser has done that work. I reviewed the book recently for Physics Today. You can read my PT review here, but the long and short of it is that I was really, really impressed with the book. And I’m not easily impressed by most works of nuclear weapons history, popular or academic. I’m not surprised it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, either.

Titan II silo complex. There's a lot going on in one of these. This, and all of the other Titan II images in this post, are from Chuck Penson's wonderful, beautiful Titan II Handbook.

Titan II silo complex. There’s a lot going on in one of these. This, and all of the other Titan II images in this post, are from Chuck Penson’s wonderful, beautiful Titan II Handbook.

What I ask out of a new book is that it teach me something new — either novel facts or novel spins on things I already knew about. Schlosser’s book does both. He clearly did his homework when it came to doing the work, and it’s not really surprising it took him about a dissertation’s worth of time to write it. It’s not just a document dump of FOIA’d material, though. He really shines when contextualizing his new information, writing a very rich, synthetic history of nuclear weapons in the Cold War. So the new and the old are woven together in a really spectacular, unusually compelling fashion.

The book has two main threads. One is a very specific, moment-by-moment account of one accident. This is the so-called Damascus Accident, which is when a Titan II missile in Damascus, Arkansas, exploded in its silo in 1980, resulting in one fatality. It’s not one of the “standard” accidents one hears about, like the 1961 Goldsboro bomb, the 1958 Tybee bomb, the 1968 Thule crash, or the 1966 Palomares accident. But Schlosser’s journalist chops here really came through, as he tracked down a huge number of the people involved in the accident and used their memories, along with documentary records, to reconstruct exactly how one dropped spanner — itself just an apparently innocuous, everyday sort of mistake — could lead to such explosive outcomes.

The other thread is a more historical one, looking at the history of nuclear weapons and particular how the problem of command and control runs through it from the beginning. “Command and control” is one of those areas whose vastness I didn’t really appreciate until reading this book. Nominally it is just about making sure that you can use the weapons when you want to, but that also includes making sure that nobody is going to use the weapons when you don’t want them to, and that the weapons themselves aren’t going to do anything terrible accidentally. And this makes it mind-bogglingly complex. It gets into details about communication systems, weapons designs, delivery system designs, nuclear strategy, screening procedures, security procedures, accident avoidance, and so much more.

How do you service a Titan II? Very carefully. This is a RFHCO suit, required for being around the toxic fuel and oxidizer. Not the most comfortable of outfits. From Penson's Titan II Handbook.

How do you service a Titan II? Very carefully. This is a RFHCO suit, required for being around the toxic fuel and oxidizer. Not the most comfortable of outfits. From Penson’s Titan II Handbook.

Schlosser weaves this all together wonderfully. I found very few statements, technical or otherwise, that struck me as genuine outright errors.1 Of course, there are places where there can be differences of interpretation, but there always are. This is pretty good for any book of this length and scope — there are many academic books that I’ve read that had more technical errors than this one.

What I found really wonderful, though, is that Schlosser also managed to give a compelling explanation for the contradictory official accident accounts that I mentioned before. It’s so simple that I don’t know why it never occurred to me before: the people concerned with nuclear weapon safety were not the same people who were in charge of the weapons. That is, the engineers at Sandia who were charged with nuclear safety and surety were institutionally quite remote from the Air Force people who handled the weapons. The Air Force brass believed the weapons were safe and that to suggest otherwise was just civilian hogwash. The engineers who got into the guts of the weapons knew that it was a more complicated story. And they didn’t communicate well — sometimes by design. After awhile the Air Force stopped telling the Sandia engineers about all of the accidents, and so misinformation became rampant even within the classified system.

The fate of the world in a few punched holes. Penson: "Targeting information was stored on Mylar-backed punched paper tape. Though primitive by today's standards, punched paper tape will retain data decades longer than magnetic tapes or CDs. This tape is somewhat worse for wear from 20 years of museum use, but probably would still work."

The fate of the world in a few punched holes. Penson: “Targeting information was stored on Mylar-backed punched paper tape. Though primitive by today’s standards, punched paper tape will retain data decades longer than magnetic tapes or CDs. This tape is somewhat worse for wear from 20 years of museum use, but probably would still work.”

We usually talk about nuclear weapons safety as a question of whether they are “one-point safe.” That is, will the weapon have a chance of a nuclear yield if one point on the chemical explosives surrounding the fission pit detonated inadvertently? Most of the time the answer is no, of course not. Implosion requires a very high degree of detonation symmetry — that’s why it’s hard to make work. So a one-point detonation of the explosive lenses will produce a fizzle, spreading plutonium or uranium like a “dirty bomb” but not producing a supercritical chain reaction.

But some of the time, answer is, “well, maybe.” We usually think of implosions as complex affairs but some weapons only require two-point implosion to begin with. So now you’re no longer talking about the possibility that one out of 36 explosive lenses will go off; you’re talking about one out of two. This isn’t to say that such weapons aren’t one-point safe, just to point out that weapons design isn’t limited to the sorts of things present in the first implosion weapons.

But even this doesn’t really get at the real problem here. “One-point safe” is indeed an important part of the safety question, but not the only one. Consider, for example, what would happen if the firing signal was only a simple amount of DC electrical current. Now imagine that during a fire, the firing circuit board soldering melts and a short-circuit is formed between the batteries and the firing switch. Now the bomb is actually trying to truly set itself off as if it had been deliberately dropped — and full implosion, with nuclear yield, is totally possible.

The injector plate of a Titan II. I thought the somewhat abstract pattern of holes and corrosion on the recovered plate made for a beautiful image. The diagram at left shows you what you are looking at — this is where fuel and oxidizer would come together, propelling the missile.

The injector plate of a Titan II. I thought the somewhat abstract pattern of holes and corrosion on the recovered plate made for a beautiful image. The diagram at left shows you what you are looking at — this is where fuel and oxidizer would come together, propelling the missile.

How likely is this kind of electrically-activated nuke scenario? What the Sandia engineers discovered was that in some weapons it was really not implausible at all. Under the “abnormal environment” of a weapons accident (such as a crashing or burning B-52), all sorts of crazy things could happen with electronic circuits. And unless they were really carefully designed for the possibility of this kind of accident, they could arm themselves and fire themselves. Which is the kind of thing you’d expect an engineer who is deeply connected with the electrical technology of the bomb to conclude.

And of course, as Schlosser (and his engineer sources) point out — this kind of thing is only one small detail in the broad, broad question of nuclear safety. These systems are big, complex, and non-linear. And so much hinges on them working correctly.

The sociologist of science Donald MacKenzie has proposed (in a slightly different context — nuclear weapons accuracy, not safety) that a “certainty trough” exists with regards to complex questions of technological uncertainty. He draws it somewhat like this:2

MacKenzie's Certainty Trough

So this divides people into three groups. On the left are the people who actually build the technology and the knowledge. These people have reasonably high levels of uncertainty about the technology in question — they know the nuts and bolts of how it works and how it could go wrong. (I’ve added “confidence” as a label because I find it more straightforward than “uncertainty” at times.) They also know what kinds of failure situations are not likely as well. In the middle, you have people who are completely committed to the technology in question. These people aren’t completely divorced from solid knowledge about it, but they are just consumers of knowledge. They look at the final data, but they don’t really know how the data was made (and all of the uncertainty that gets screened out to make the final version of the data). They have very low uncertainty, and so very high confidence in the technology. At far right you have the people who are either total outsiders, or people who are totally committed to another approach. These have the highest levels of uncertainty and the lowest levels of confidence.

So if we were mapping Schlosser’s actors onto these categories, we’d have the Sandia engineers and other weapons scientists on the far left. They know what can go wrong, they know the limits of their knowledge. They also know which accident situations are outlandish. In the middle we have the military brass and even the military handlers of the weapons. They are committed to the weapons. They have data saying the weapons are safe — but they don’t know how the data was made, or how it was filtered. They think the weapons are totally safe and that anyone who suggests otherwise is just ignorant or foolish. And lastly, at far right, we have total outsiders (the activists, perhaps, or sometimes even politicians), or people who really are looking to amplify the uncertainty for their own purposes.

Titan II Launch Control Center, with the facilities console at center. From Penson.

Titan II Launch Control Center, with the facilities console at center. From Penson.

The disconnect between the far left group and the middle group is the one that disturbs me the most in Schlosser’s account. It also reflects what I’ve seen in online discussions of weapons accidents. People with a little bit of knowledge — e.g. they know about one-point safety, or they once handled nukes in the military — have very high confidence in the safety issues. But they don’t know enough to realize that under the hood, things are more complicated and have been, in the past at least, much more dangerous. Not, perhaps, as dangerous as some of the more alarmist, outsider, activist accounts have stressed. But dangerous enough to seriously concern people whose jobs it is to design the weapons — people who know about the nuts and bolts of them.

Anyway. Schlosser’s book is a great read, as well. Which it needs to be, because it is long. But it’s also segregable. Don’t care much of the details of the Damascus accident? You can skip those sections and still get a lot out of the book (even though the Damascus accident is really a perfect account of all of the little things that can go wrong with complex, non-linear systems). But part of that length is a copious amount of endnotes, which I applaud him and his publisher for including. For a book like this, you can’t skimp on the documentation, and Schlosser doesn’t. The only thing he did skimp on was illustration, which I — as a pretty visual guy — thought was too bad. So much of the Damascus story takes place inside of a Titan II silo, and while the inner flap of the cover did have a simplified illustration of one, I still felt like I didn’t really know what was happening where at times. (I wonder if this was a trade-off with the publisher in having so many notes and pages.)

Chuck Penson's Titan II Handbook, and one of its several amazing fold-out diagrams. Adorable pupper (Lyndon) for scale.

Chuck Penson’s Titan II Handbook, and one of its several amazing fold-out diagrams. Adorable pupper (Lyndon) included for scale.

Fortunately, there is a solution for this. If it were up to me, every copy of Schlosser’s book would be accompanied by a copy of Chuck Penson’s Titan II Handbook: A civilian’s guide to the most powerful ICBM America ever built. Penson’s book is a richly illustrated history of this particular missile, and contains lots of detailed photographs and accounts of daily life on a Titan II base (such as those seen above) It’s utterly fascinating and it gives so much visual life to what Schlosser describes. It also includes giant fold-out diagrams of the missiles themselves — the printing quality is really impressive all around. It includes fascinating technical details as well. For example, in the early days of the Titan II silos they had large motor-generators that constantly ran in case they needed to convert DC power into AC in the event of a failure of commercial power. Penson then notes that:

The motor-generator ran with a loud, monotonous high-pitched whine… noise in the [Launch Control Center] turned into a serious issue. Crew members complained of temporary hearing loss due not only the incessant buzz of the motor-generator, but also to the constant drone of the air conditions, fans and blowers in equipment. Eventually the Air Force covered the tile floor with carpeting, and acoustic batting was hung in the in the area of the stairway leading up to level 1 and down to level 3. … These changes made a tremendous improvement, but one that came too late for many of the crew, a significant number of whom now need hearing aids.

This kind of detail fits in perfectly with Schlosser’s approach to the facility, which itself seems strongly influenced by the sociologist Charles Perrow’s notion of “Normal Accidents.” That the devices in the facility would affect the hearing of the crew was certainly not something that anybody thought of ahead of time; it’s one of those little details that gets lost in the overall planning, but (at least for those who suffered the hearing loss) had real consequences. Ultimately this is the thesis of Schlosser’s book: that the infrastructure of nuclear command and control is much larger, much more complex, much more problematic than most people realize, and is one of those high-complexity, high-risk systems that human beings are notoriously pretty bad at managing.

If you’re the kind of person who geeks out on nuke history, both Schlosser’s and Penson’s books are must-reads, must-buys.

Notes
  1. The two biggest mistakes I noted, which I’ve told Schlosser about and may be fixed in the paperback, are that he misstates the size of the neutron initiator in the Fat Man bomb — he confuses the diameter for the radius — and he got the story of Szilard’s 1933 chain reaction work wrong, which lots of people do. Szilard’s patent is such a common source of misunderstanding even amongst scholars that I will be writing a blog post about it soon. Neither of these are terribly important to his argument or narrative. []
  2. Adapted from Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), figure 7.2. []

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29 Responses to “Accidents and the bomb”

  1. Paul Guinnessy says:

    Do you know when the paperback is out?

  2. Bill Higgins says:

    Your suggestion to have the Penson book (which I had not heard of) on hand sounded like a great idea until I followed the Amazon link. Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle! New copies may be had for $250 and used copies start at $321.40. Worldcat indicates that only three libraries hold this book. The nearest one is 607 miles away from me.

    Can I borrow your copy?

    Oh, wait– Google has found the author’s site. He’s only asking $24.95 plus shipping for this rare tome. Much more reasonable. And he is kind enough to offer a PDF of some sample chapters to help a prospective purchaser make up his mind.

    Dear scholars of the Cold War: If this book is as good as Alex says it is, then it ought to be in more libraries. Please consider pestering your librarians to acquire a copy.

    • Yeah, I noticed that the Amazon copies (no doubt priced according to some idea that people won’t see they can buy it direct) are ridiculous. I’ve re-linked them to his main website.

      It’s self-published, I believe, but of superb quality (both in terms of writing and production). Penson sent me a copy gratis a little while ago and I was totally absorbed by it. It is beautiful, well-researched, well-written.

      • John Simpson says:

        I just ordered my own copy from the author’s website using PayPal after finding out his eBay store was closed. I made sure to give this blog as the source for my finding out about it.

        Really looking forward to this.

  3. Howard Morland says:

    I’m assuming the Schlosser book does not mention a 1964 incident in the Tonkin Gulf in which an F-102 pilot named Bart Bartolowich supposedly fired two AIM-26N nuclear-armed air-to-air missiles at a North Vietnamese PT boat during a pilot rescue operation. The story comes from a former F-102 Hawaii Air National Guard pilot named Tony Hodges, who later flew for Hawaiian Air Lines and then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S Senate from Hawaii. Bartolowich was Hodges’s F-102 flight instructor at Perrin AFB in Texas in the mid-1960s. I tried to track the story down, as did Jack Anderson’s staff. If it really happened, someday part of the story may be declassified.

    • John Simpson says:

      Since it’s not a work of fiction there would be no point in mentioning this alleged incident in the book.

      Apart from the fact that the nuclear tipped AIM-26A Falcon was indeed an air-air missile and not too effective shooting at boats sitting on the water, one also has to ask why an F-102 deployed to Vietnam has at least two nuclear missiles on board? Then why would someone feel the need to fire two of them at a PT boat? Maybe it was a flying PT boat?

      I also have to question the wisdom of firing two atomic bombs during a pilot rescue. How is that supposed to work exactly?

      Now is the story that two missiles each with a W54 sub-kiloton (.25kt) nuclear warhead detonated in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 and we’re only now hearing about it? And you think the only reason that we haven’t heard about it until now is because it’s classified?

      This is probably where Jesse Ventura gets his stuff.

      • Puncheex says:

        I’d have to agree with that. The sheer thought of live nukes in a combat area (on any mission whatsoever) is just such a huge shock; it’s too like the Bedford incident. While it is certain strategic bombs were carried in Chrome Dome, I find it unlikely that those Genie missiles (tested at NTS with Plumbbob/John) were ever loaded onto a real mission. While I have all the respect in the world for the military, I find them not especially more reliable than, say, bankers or (my case) engineers. Gilding the lily is forever. And classification would not have stood in the way of a story of this kind; no way, no how.

        • John Simpson says:

          Actually it depends on what you call operational. In Air Defense Command US F-106 and Canadian CF-101 interceptors carried sub-kiloton AIM-26A or 1.5 kt Genie missiles while flying over North America. The Canadians flew them until 1984 with the US retiring them a year later.

          Interesting note about the live Genie fired by an F-89 in the John shot. That was the one where 5 officer volunteers and one assigned photographer stood directly under “ground zero” as the Genie detonated.

          • puncheex says:

            Having finished reading Command and Control, I’d have to say I was way off the mark in my comment above; they were apparently carried on lots of missions.

            I note the John shot photographer, Akira “George” Yoshitake, died on October 17, 2013 of a stroke, leaving only one member of the group, Donald A Lutrell, still alive. See http://www.rafu.com/2013/12/the-atomic-filmmaker/.

      • Howard Morland says:

        Tony Hodges does seem to be a bit of a tall tale teller. However, in his story, Bartolowich was well aware that his missiles were air to air, so he turned off the homing system and fired them straight ahead, at the water. He was overly excited at the prospect of a downed pilot being captured and forgot about the nuclear warheads. In Tony’s tale, the warheads exploded with nuclear fireballs. I assume there was no nuclear explosion, since keeping that a secret would not be easy.

        I doubt that any part of the story is true, but I always keep a lookout for something that might be a basis for Tony’s tall tale. A confirmation that planes were flying around with nuclear weapons over there would be interesting.

        • John Simpson says:

          Listen to what you’re saying.

          A pilot “forgot” he was carrying missiles with nuclear warheads?

          There was no “homing system” on the AIM-26A but rather a semi-active tracker that required the pilot to illuminate the target with his plane’s radar in order to be picked up by the missile(s).

          You turn that off and you really think a missile will fly straight as an arrow without it?

          And then you have recovery helicopters and other aircraft rescuing this pilot and they assume they’re going to see a missile detonate with a 48.5 lb explosive warhead. Think that they might have had some eyewitness testimony to give?

          But like a lot of these tales reality has a nasty of rearing it’s ugly head. So, someone authorized missiles with nuclear warheads to be transported to Vietnam. Someone with authorization signed for them from where they were stored, munitions techs strapped them onto an F-102 and of course the White House is conspicuous by its absence in this fairy tale.

          Why? Why were nuclear air to air missiles even sent to Vietnam? Why were they loaded on a plane?

          Also, how did the Soviet Union miss this one? Two nuclear fireballs (whatever that’s supposed to mean) go off in the Gulf of Tonkin after being fired by an American airplane and no one says anything? No cases of radiation sickness?

          Do you know how the military works? Even if we assume that everything happened the way you say, the pilot who “forgot” he was carrying nuclear weapons and fired them with his only defense that he was “overly excited” wasn’t court-martialed?

          • Peter says:

            As I understand it, US aircraft carried nuclear air-to-air missiles for use against massive Soviet strategic bomber fleets. That would have been a consideration in defending the US mainland, but not in Indochina.

  4. Michael Dennis says:

    Great post, but even better is the linkage to the certainty trough, a concept that I don’t believe we use enough. Thanks.

  5. Mike Felbeck says:

    I laughed when I saw the diagram of silo; it reminded me of downloading schematics showing the radial pattern for a plutonium core when I was probably less than 10 years, back when the internet was not vernacular and Windows 95 was new!

    As an aside, what might you recommend as the best resource for tracing individual family members involvement within MED? It’s on my bucket list to visit the individual site museums, but they are spread so far darn apart! Off topic to the specificity of accidents, so if you don’t feel it’s appropriate to approve as a comment here I’d agree and understand.

  6. Puncheex says:

    When I was a explorer scout (must have been about 1964) our troop was sponsored by the Glenn L Martin Company which had 7 years nefore moved their Titan factory to Denver, and many engineers had their kids in our parochial school. Somehow they arranged for the troop to tour a live Titan II silo facility on the Lowry bombing range east of Denver. We got a ride up the elevator next to the rocket with the ominously tapering top, through all the blast doors and the C^3 facility. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was the room with the three huge diesel/generator sets; it was explained that one was always on line, one on hot standby and the third in maintenance. The noise in that area was simply overwhelming.

    As an electrical engineer who worked at that same plant somewhat later, I have to agree with your (or rather, MacKenzie’s) hypothesis about the levels of certainties. I knew it then, in everything from the Viking landers to solar power plants to intelligence systems, and none of the mountainous documentation required of us to complete a contract ever went near that sort of thing – what the engineers designing and building a system really know about it. I occasionally wrote up informal documents to cover those things I’d worked on, but my doubts about it ever reaching beyond the plant security fence is almost sure.

    Thanks for a great blog, Alex.

  7. Ori says:

    great post, alex, and just a little comment-
    another matter with one point safety id the delta-> alpha phase change. the explosion of even one explosive lens will create a shockwave, that will induce this phase change to the plutonium. this can phase change can create a supercritical mass, and a serious nuclear yield in result (in fat man, that was the case, and if one of the explosive lens would’ve been detonated, the presumed yield would have been like 500 tons, even without further compression after the phase change)

  8. Jim Winchester says:

    Ignoring the silly F-102 story, there were plenty of nuclear weapons in Vietnamese waters, one of which the navy managed to leave near Okinawa in 1965 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1965_Philippine_Sea_A-4_incident gives a very broad summary). Official documentation in the public domain on this one is fairly limited, although the Ticonderoga’s deck logs and the JAG report can be found online. Despite various FOIA requests, I haven’t yet unearthed a lot more detail. Would love to have a copy of the original ‘Broken Arrow’ report and any other message traffic between the Pentagon and 7th Fleet about it, also any messages between the White House and Japan, although I suspect they weren’t informed until the story broke in the ’80s. If anyone has any pointers for targeting FOIA requests or knows other archival sources of info on this one, please share them!

    • John Simpson says:

      Did you read the account in Broken Arrow Volume II?

      http://books.google.com/books?id=DF1RAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA337&lpg=PA337#v=onepage&q&f=false

      And of course there were nuclear weapons all over the Pacific on aircraft carriers and onshore. My point was that there were no nuclear air to air missiles delivered to Air Force bases in Vietnam.

      I agree, silly is the word for the F-102 story.

      See 1999’s “Where They Were” for info on where the stockpiles were

      http://www-personal.umich.edu/~sanders/214/other/news/nd99norris.pdf

      • Jim Winchester says:

        The account in Broken Arrow II, which I have here, is less detailed than the Wikipedia entry, unfortunately. The best one in any book is in James Little’s ‘Brotherhood of Doom': http://assets.booklocker.com/pdfs/3222s.pdf or in the Japanese-language ‘Death of a Top Gun’ by Masayo Duus (Toppu gan no shi: Kakutosaiki suibotsu jiken = The death of a top gun : the story behind the Ticonderoga nuclear accident). The story has also spawned a manga and an anime, but very little in English so far other than an article in The Aviation Historian Issue 3 http://theaviationhistorian.com/shop-rest-of-world.htm#iss3 – but I wrote that.

        Thanks for the link to the Bulletin piece. What I’d really like to know is the special weapons magazine capacity of a modernized ‘Essex’-class carrier and how many were likely on board, but I think that falls into the category of ‘Formerly Restricted Data’.

        • John Simpson says:

          I think exact numbers and descriptions of W Division in the Weapons Department nuclear magazines are a long way from being declassified.

          If you don’t mind Greenpeace as a source there is this 1990 report on Navy nuclear weapons that estimates about 100 nuclear weapons on a carrier

          https://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/nep5text.htm

          In 1990 the inventory was listed as “…B43, B57 and B61 nuclear bombs for surface attacks by the attack aircraft, and B57 nuclear depth bombs for the ASW aircraft.”

    • Michael G.arbour.III Felbeck says:

      Reply to:

      Jim Winchester says:
      April 20, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      I’m a newcomer to the history — I ordered 15 used books off Amazon in July to September 2012, and still I find new chapters within R. Rhodes c.1987!! — but a kindly gentleman [1] I met recently at the Mt. Holyoke Seminary archives pointed me towards the Library of Congress, and I guess Maryland has a few good college libraries too! Being not yet thirty this year, it’s a challenge to catch up on the past 75-95 years and so many fine men and women did superb scientific work for 4, 20, or 50 years in these areas that I don’t think I shall ever know enough. How does one learn an accurate, declassified summary of what has transpired ever since the Wilhelm Kaiser institutes were founded 105 years ago, and that fat arrogant duke wasn’t appreciative of the research he was funding near Berlin?

      For me, it starts with the family I know, the relatives who I heard stories from firsthand (primarily Felbeck Jr), and reading about what little I know of my great-grandfathers.

      Anyways, I’ll have to add Frank’s suggestion to my book wishlist – thank G*d for the Information Age aye? I am very much enjoying the thoughtful discussion here, and am grateful for any outlandish theories that get shot down to the ground.

      ~MAGF

      [1] An AtomEnComm fellow I believe, I feel terrible to have forgotten his first name when I met him this week and plumb forget ‘da name in less than 150 hours!

  9. Franc says:

    Great!!!

    Still reading the book but the titan 2 book makes for a perfect gift to self next month for my birthday!

    :)

  10. Patrick Pipino says:

    I, too, found Schlosser’s book a serious page turner; but as someone who has read everything he could about Titan II (and visited the silo-twice-including a “top to bottom” tour with Mr. Penson) I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t much “new” stuff about the weapons system that you couldn’t have already absorbed from Stumpf (Titan II: History of a Cold War Missile Program) or Penson’s book.

    In fact, I daresay that much of the credit for research on the Titan II piece of “Command and Control” belongs to Stumpf himself…

    Just my two cents.

  11. John Simpson says:

    Speaking of Mr Sclosser, how many caught his interview on 60 Minutes last night?

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/whos-minding-the-nuclear-weapons/

  12. Brenton says:

    Alex,
    MacKenzie’s graph sets off an interesting comparison. It looks like an unstable oscillating signal that will continue propagating. The next trough and peak will be of greater magnitude than the previous ones. My initial guess at these two groups, further removed from the weapons designers would be the workers in the weapons production sites and the anti-nuclear protestor ideologues. The workers have a reason to push confidence in the weapons because their livelihoods depend on it, as you mentioned in the post about the plutonium factories. The second group have political motivations for staying ignorant of any data that could point to the weapons being safe. The data simply doesn’t matter to them because they believe in the absence of facts and won’t let facts dissuade them from the cause.

  13. […] Schlosser’s Command and Control is a great read if you are interested in how this problem gets addressed over the course of the Cold War. Michael […]

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