Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser describes the terrifyingly close calls we've had with nuclear weapons and the incredibly high odds that such a disaster will occur. (It's 100%). Schlosser is the author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (http://goo.gl/kb3yZO).
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Transcript - Eric Schlosser: Well I was spending time with the Air Force because I was interested in writing about the future of warfare in space. And most people don’t realize but we have an Air Force Space Command and we have a United States Space Command. This sounds like something out of science fiction but we have them and we have them because someday we’re planning to use laser beams and directed energy weapons in space to attack enemy satellites. So I was spending time with the Air Force Space Command visiting bases, looking at all this new high tech weaponry and the guys who I was hanging out with started telling me stories of the Cold War. Many of them had served as launch officers in intercontinental ballistic missile control centers during the Cold War. And it was a natural career path. If you knew a lot about missiles to go into the Space Command, and they told me some extraordinary stories about accidents involving our nuclear weapons that I just had never heard before.
And one of the stories that they told really stuck in my mind and it was the story of an accident in Damascus, Arkansas in September of 1980. And it just so happens that, you know, we’re doing this interview on September 18 and it was on September 18, 1980 that this accident happened. There were workers working in a missile silo doing routine maintenance, the kind of thing that, you know, they did all the time without thinking about it. And the missile in the silo was a Titan II missile, the biggest intercontinental ballistic missile the United States ever built. It was taller than a ten story building. And while they were doing this routine maintenance they were standing on a steel work platform near the top of the missile. And one of the guys reached over with a wrench handle with a socket on it to unscrew a pressure cap on the missile and as he reached over the socket fell off of the wrench handle and the socket fell in between this narrow gap between the missile and the steel work platform and it dropped about 80 feet, it hit the side of the silo, ricocheted and then hit the missile.
And when it hit the missile it tore a hole in the missile’s metal skin and suddenly thousands of gallons of highly flammable, highly explosive rocket fuel were filling the silo. And the Air Force literally had no idea what to do. No accident like this had ever happened before and they had to figure out what to do very quickly because on top of this missile was the most powerful nuclear warhead that the United States ever built. This one warhead on this one missile had more than three times the explosive force of all the bombs used by all the armies in the Second World War combined including both atomic bombs. So I was told this story by this Air Force officer and I just – I became obsessed with it. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard about this before. I couldn’t believe how close we came to a major nuclear catastrophe that would have consumed much of the state of Arkansas in firestorms. So I started researching this one accident and I thought I’d write a fairly short book, a minute by minute retelling of this one nuclear accident. [transcript truncated].
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