Saturday, January 3, 2015
Eric Schlosser's new book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety is about the insanity of keeping a nuclear arsenal. He began research on the book after hearing horror stories from enlisted men who are tasked with maintaining these aging nuclear weapons. Many documents have recently been declasifIed, making research possible. He told a story about a simple maintenance worker in a launch silo who was tightening a bolt and accidentally dropped his wrench. It clamored downward and just missed hitting a device which would have caused the bomb to explode.
The nuclear bombs that exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were apparently very inefficient devices. Only 30% of the uranium was part of the nuclear fission used in the blast. The rest of the uranium was just dissipated by the explosions. Had these bombs been better designed, the devastation of the blast would have been much greater. I didn't realize that an atomic bomb is designed to explode in the air just before impact. This means that none of the blasts downward percussive force was wasted.
The arms race resulted in countries hoarding as many weapons of mass destruction as possible. There is something known as the Titanic Effect. Basically every machine eventually fails which is why we need to buy new cars or build new planes. No matter how many safe guards there are, a device will fail because of aging outdated components, or human error. If you have ever driven on the roads in Florida then you know that humans can't be trusted to use machines with safety in mind. A recent airplane crash wasn't caused by pilot error or the engine failing, instead the crash was caused by the seat back entertainment system failing and causing a fire. An airplane was used to transport a nuclear warhead from one storage facility to another. The plane crashed in the Carolinas and thankfully the bomb didn't explode. A huge disaster was narrowly averted. Luck only lasts so long. The bulk of our nuclear arsenal is using outdated technology from the 60's and 70's.
When the first nuclear bomb was exploded as a test, the scientist weren't sure if it might burn away the entire atmosphere leaving a dead planet. Thankfully that didn't happen but the incessant testing through the years has littered the atmosphere with harmful radiation that will last for centuries. Our need for bigger bombs as security is slowly killing us all. The Russians have created the largest bomb to date, the Tsar Bomba, with a 100 Mega Ton yield. If that puppy were to detonate above Disney World, the air blast radius would go as far north as Mount Dora and as far west as Bithlo. At 5 psi overpressure, most residential buildings would collapse, injuries would be universal, and fatalities widespread. Of course the radio active fallout would drift further killing many more. Oh, Happy New Year!