accident prone

Posted on October 16, 2010
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Mushroom Cloud

Ion9, has a compelling collection of nuclear annihilation anecdotes, for those who enjoy reading about just how insanely close we have come to killing vast numbers of people by accident.

This is how NORAD learned not to run computer simulations of Soviet nuclear attacks on the systems used to respond to actual Soviet nuclear attacks. The missile defense agency received alarming indications that a full scale battery of Russian nukes were heading toward the U.S. Planes were scrambled with fully armed nuclear weapons. The president’s shielded emergency plane was put into the air too (although they couldn’t get the president on it in time).

Fingers hovered over buttons. Commanders of flight crews waited for word to strike. For six tense minutes, no one was sure if World War III was happening…and oddly, no one used the “red phone” hotline to ask the Soviets. Finally, word came from Advanced Early Warning radar and satellites that no missiles were detected. The culprit? A training tape had accidentally been run and generated the false positive signals. In military parlance, a NUCFLASH is an actual nuclear detonation that might lead to an outbreak of nuclear war.

An honorable mention goes to the Duluth bear, in which a guard saw a bear climbing a fence at an Air Force base and rang an alarm. The alarm connected to other nearby bases, but one of them was wired wrong, so instead of “intruder alert!” they got the “Nuke Russia Now!” alarm. Nuclear armed jets were on the runways ready to take off before the mistake was rectified.

If that doesn’t seem scary enough, there are dozens more incidents like these on the U.S. side alone. We haven’t even touched on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The sad lesson is that we have less to fear from naked aggression than we do from incompetence and bad engineering.

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