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Nuclear Error

On 11 March 1958 an atomic bomb was accidentally released from an Air Force B-47 over Mars Bluff, SC (in Florence County). The fissionable core was not in the bomb at the time, but the conventional explosives the bomb contained were detonated, creating a large crater and destroying a house in the process. On 18 September 1980, at a launch site in Arkansas, a wrench dropped into the launch tube of a Titan II missile pierced the fuel tank, and the missile exploded several hours later, although the nuclear warhead did not detonate owing to safety features in its design.

Eric Schlosser, author of the critically acclaimed Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, writes of these and many other mishaps involving nuclear weapons in his new book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. According to a review of Schlosser’s book in The New Yorker, it’s been estimated that from 1950 to 1968, when the Cold War was at its height, more than a thousand nuclear weapons were involved in potentially catastrophic accidents of this kind.

Read Schlosser’s book, as well as these other titles from Richland Library’s collection, on this frightening recent chapter in American history.


Amazon Says: The New Yorker “Excellent... hair-raising... Command and Control is how nonfiction should be written.” (Louis Menand) Famed investigative journalist Eric more...
Amazon Says: The New Yorker “Excellent... hair-raising... Command and Control is how nonfiction should be written.” (Louis Menand) Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A ground-breaking account of accidents, near-misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age:  how do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them?  That question has never been resolved--and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind.   Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years.  It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policymakers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust.  At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.    Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with men who designed and routinely handled  nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view.  Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control.  Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age. Time magazine  “A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S.... fascinating.” (Lev Grossman) Financial Times “So incontrovertibly right and so damnably readable... a work with the multilayered density of an ambitiously conceived novel… Schlosser has done what journalism does at its best." Los Angeles Times “Deeply reported, deeply frightening… a techno-thriller of the first order.” less...
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Amazon Says: An explosive rethinking of the power and purpose of nuclear weapons — and a call for radical action Nuclear weapons have always been a serious but seemingly insolu more...
Amazon Says: An explosive rethinking of the power and purpose of nuclear weapons — and a call for radical action Nuclear weapons have always been a serious but seemingly insoluble problem: while they’re obviously dangerous, they are also, apparently, necessary. This groundbreaking study shows why five central arguments promoting nuclear weapons are, in essence, myths. It is a myth: • that nuclear weapons necessarily shock and awe opponents, including Japan at the end of World War II • that nuclear deterrence is reliable in a crisis • that destruction wins wars • that the bomb has kept the peace for sixty-five years • and that we can’t put the nuclear genie back in the bottle Drawing on new information and the latest historical research, Wilson poses a fundamental challenge to the myths on which nuclear weapons policy is currently built. Using pragmatic arguments and an unemotional, clear-eyed insistence on the truth, he arrives at a surprising conclusion: nuclear weapons are enormously dangerous, but don’t appear to be terribly useful. In that case, he asks, why would we want to keep them? This book will be widely read and discussed by everyone who cares about war, peace, foreign policy, and security in the twenty-first century. less...
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Amazon Says: In the spirit of Dr. Strangelove and The Atomic Café, a blackly sardonic people’s history of atomic blunders and near-misses revealing the hushed-up and forgotten episod more...
Amazon Says: In the spirit of Dr. Strangelove and The Atomic Café, a blackly sardonic people’s history of atomic blunders and near-misses revealing the hushed-up and forgotten episodes in which the great powers gambled with catastrophe Rudolph Herzog, the acclaimed author of Dead Funny, presents a devastating account of history’s most irresponsible uses of nuclear technology. From the rarely-discussed nightmare of “Broken Arrows” (40 nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War) to “Operation Plowshare” (a proposal to use nuclear bombs for large engineering projects, such as a the construction of a second Panama Canal using 300 H-Bombs), Herzog focuses in on long-forgotten nuclear projects that nearly led to disaster. In an unprecedented people’s history, Herzog digs deep into archives, interviews nuclear scientists, and collects dozens of rare photos. He explores the “accidental” drop of a Nagasaki-type bomb on a train conductor’s home, the implanting of plutonium into patients’ hearts, and the invention of wild tactical nukes, including weapons designed to kill enemy astronauts. Told in a riveting narrative voice, Herzog—the son of filmmaker Werner Herzog—also draws on childhood memories of the final period of the Cold War in Germany, the country once seen as the nuclear battleground for NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, and discusses evidence that Nazi scientists knew how to make atomic weaponry . . . and chose not to. less...
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Amazon Says: Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear we more...
Amazon Says: Full Body Burden is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman, Kristen Iversen, growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated "the most contaminated site in America." It's the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and--unknown to those who lived there--tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium. It's also a book about the destructive power of secrets--both family and government. Her father's hidden liquor bottles, the strange cancers in children in the neighborhood, the truth about what was made at Rocky Flats (cleaning supplies, her mother guessed)--best not to inquire too deeply into any of it. But as Iversen grew older, she began to ask questions. She learned about the infamous 1969 Mother's Day fire, in which a few scraps of plutonium spontaneously ignited and--despite the desperate efforts of firefighters--came perilously close to a "criticality," the deadly blue flash that signals a nuclear chain reaction. Intense heat and radiation almost melted the roof, which nearly resulted in an explosion that would have had devastating consequences for the entire Denver metro area. Yet the only mention of the fire was on page 28 of the Rocky Mountain News, underneath a photo of the Pet of the Week. In her early thirties, Iversen even worked at Rocky Flats for a time, typing up memos in which accidents were always called "incidents." And as this memoir unfolds, it reveals itself as a brilliant work of investigative journalism--a detailed and shocking account of the government's sustained attempt to conceal the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents' vain attempts to seek justice in court. Here, too, are vivid portraits of former Rocky Flats workers--from the healthy, who regard their work at the plant with pride and patriotism, to the ill or dying, who battle for compensation for cancers they got on the job. Based on extensive interviews, FBI and EPA documents, and class-action testimony, this taut, beautifully written book promises to have a very long half-life. less...
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Amazon Says: Evan Thomas's startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust. Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhow more...
Amazon Says: Evan Thomas's startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust. Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower set about to make good on his campaign promise to end the Korean War. Yet while Eisenhower was quickly viewed by many as a doddering lightweight, behind the bland smile and simple speech was a master tactician. To end the hostilities, Eisenhower would take a colossal risk by bluffing that he might use nuclear weapons against the Communist Chinese, while at the same time restraining his generals and advisors who favored the strikes. Ike's gamble was of such magnitude that there could be but two outcomes: thousands of lives saved, or millions of lives lost. A tense, vivid and revisionist account of a president who was then, and still is today, underestimated, IKE'S BLUFF is history at its most provocative and thrilling. less...
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Amazon Says: Packed with startling revelations, this inside look at the secret side of the Cold War exposes just how close America came to total annihilation During the Cold War, a flight more...
Amazon Says: Packed with startling revelations, this inside look at the secret side of the Cold War exposes just how close America came to total annihilation During the Cold War, a flight crew had 15 minutes to get their nuke-laden plane in the air from the moment Soviet bombers were detected—15 minutes between the earliest warning of an incoming nuclear strike and the first flash of an enemy warhead. This is the chilling true story of the incredibly risky steps our military took to protect us from that scenario, including: • Over two thousand loaded bombers that crossed American skies. They sometimes crashed and at least nine times resulted in nuclear weapons being accidentally dropped • A system that would use timers and rockets to launch missiles even after everyone was dead • Disastrous atmospheric nuclear testing including the horrific runaway bomb—that fooled scientists and put thousands of men in uniform in the center of a cloud of hot fallout • A plan to use dry lake beds to rebuild and launch a fighting force in the aftermath of nuclear war Based on formerly classified documents, military records, press accounts, interviews and over 10 years of research, 15 Minutes is one of the most important works on the atom bomb ever written. less...
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Amazon Says: From the Manhattan Project to the present energy crisis and what it means for our future, a sweeping chronicle of our recurring failure to manage the power of the atom. This p more...
Amazon Says: From the Manhattan Project to the present energy crisis and what it means for our future, a sweeping chronicle of our recurring failure to manage the power of the atom. This provocative history of nuclear power is perfectly timed for today, when Americans are gravely concerned with nuclear terrorism, and a nuclear renaissance is seen as a possible solution to global warming. Few have truly come to terms with the complexities of an issue which may determine the future of the planet. Nuclear weapons, it was once hoped, would bring wars to an end; instead, they spurred a massive arms race that has recently expanded to include North Korea and I ran. Once seen as a source of unlimited electricity, nuclear reactors breed contamination and have been used as covers for secret weapons programs, from I ndia and Pakistan to Iraq and Iran.  The evolving story of nuclear power, as told by industry insider Stephanie Cooke, reveals the gradual deepening of our understanding of the pros and cons of this controversial energy source. Drawing on her unprecedented access, Cooke shows us how, time and again, the stewards of the nuclear age—the more-is-better military commanders and civilian nuclear boosters—have fallen into the traps of their own hubris and wishful thinking as they tried to manage the unmanageable. T heir mistakes are on the verge of being repeated again, which is why this book deserves especially close attention now. less...
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Amazon Says: From Neil Sheehan, author of the Pulitzer Prize—winning classic A Bright Shining Lie, comes this long-awaited, magnificent epic. Here is the never-before-told story of the n more...
Amazon Says: From Neil Sheehan, author of the Pulitzer Prize—winning classic A Bright Shining Lie, comes this long-awaited, magnificent epic. Here is the never-before-told story of the nuclear arms race that changed history–and of the visionary American Air Force officer Bernard Schriever, who led the high-stakes effort. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is a masterly work about Schriever’s quests to prevent the Soviet Union from acquiring nuclear superiority, to penetrate and exploit space for America, and to build the first weapons meant to deter an atomic holocaust rather than to be fired in anger. Sheehan melds biography and history, politics and science, to create a sweeping narrative that transports the reader back and forth from individual drama to world stage. The narrative takes us from Schriever’s boyhood in Texas as a six-year-old immigrant from Germany in 1917 through his apprenticeship in the open-cockpit biplanes of the Army Air Corps in the 1930s and his participation in battles against the Japanese in the South Pacific during the Second World War. On his return, he finds a new postwar bipolar universe dominated by the antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union. Inspired by his technological vision, Schriever sets out in 1954 to create the one class of weapons that can enforce peace with the Russians–intercontinental ballistic missiles that are unstoppable and can destroy the Soviet Union in thirty minutes. In the course of his crusade, he encounters allies and enemies among some of the most intriguing figures of the century: John von Neumann, the Hungarian-born mathematician and mathematical physicist, who was second in genius only to Einstein; Colonel Edward Hall, who created the ultimate ICBM in the Minuteman missile, and his brother, Theodore Hall, who spied for the Russians at Los Alamos and hastened their acquisition of the atomic bomb; Curtis LeMay, the bomber general who tried to exile Schriever and who lost his grip on reality, amassing enough nuclear weapons in his Strategic Air Command to destroy the entire Northern Hemisphere; and Hitler’s former rocket maker, Wernher von Braun, who along with a colorful, riding-crop-wielding Army general named John Medaris tried to steal the ICBM program. The most powerful men on earth are also put into astonishing relief: Joseph Stalin, the cruel, paranoid Soviet dictator who spurred his own scientists to build him the atomic bomb with threats of death; Dwight Eisenhower, who backed the ICBM program just in time to save it from the bureaucrats; Nikita Khrushchev, who brought the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and John Kennedy, who saved it. Schriever and his comrades endured the heartbreak of watching missiles explode on the launching pads at Cape Canaveral and savored the triumph of seeing them soar into space. In the end, they accomplished more than achieving a fiery peace in a cold war. Their missiles became the vehicles that opened space for America. less...
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Amazon Says: Uranium, a nondescript element when found in nature, in the past century has become more sought after than gold. Its nucleus is so heavy that it is highly unstable and radioac more...
Amazon Says: Uranium, a nondescript element when found in nature, in the past century has become more sought after than gold. Its nucleus is so heavy that it is highly unstable and radioactive. If broken apart, it unleashes the tremendous power within the atom—the most controversial type of energy ever discovered. Set against the darkening shadow of World War II, Amir D. Aczel's suspenseful account tells the story of the fierce competition among the day's top scientists to harness nuclear power. The intensely driven Marie Curie identified radioactivity. The University of Berlin team of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner--he an upright, politically conservative German chemist and she a soft-spoken Austrian Jewish theoretical physicist--achieved the most spectacular discoveries in fission. Curie's daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, raced against Meitner and Hahn to break the secret of the splitting of the atom. As the war raged, Niels Bohr, a founder of modern physics, had a dramatic meeting with Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist in charge of the Nazi project to beat the Allies to the bomb. And finally, in 1942, Enrico Fermi, a prodigy from Rome who had fled the war to the United States, unleashed the first nuclear chain reaction in a racquetball court at the University of Chicago. At a time when the world is again confronted with the perils of nuclear armament, Amir D. Aczel’s absorbing story of a rivalry that changed the course of history is as thrilling and suspenseful as it is scientifically revelatory and newsworthy. http://amirdaczel.com/books.html less...
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