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Close to Destruction

October 12, 2013

I did not realize that we came so close to nuclear destruction.  We came close at least twice.  Articles I just read told me so.  The first was about a hydrogen bomb that almost detonated over North Carolina.  This happened in the early 1960’s.  A B-52 bomber with two hydrogen bombs was flying over North Carolina.  It broke up in the air because of an accident.  Both bombs fell from the stricken aircraft.  One bomb was protected by its safety systems, intended to prevent a bomb from detonating in an accident like that.  It hit the ground without incident.  The second bomb went through its entire detonation sequence on the way down.  This was only stopped by a faulty switch.  Saved only by that, it also buried itself in the ground without detonating.  At the time, only the aircraft accident was reported.  The fact that we had come within a hair’s breadth of a thermonuclear explosion was concealed until just recently.  I had no idea that sophisticated weapons of that era were so unreliable and unpredictable.

The other article was an interview with a Russian duty officer.  He was on duty one day in the 1980’s, monitoring the computer.  Suddenly, he got information on several ICBM launches in the US.  His orders were to inform the military leaders immediately.  Instead, he waited and watched the computer.  It was all happening exactly the way it was supposed to happen.  He checked with the radar operator beside him.  There was nothing unusual.  He was not supposed to do that either.  The other duty operators would have informed the leaders immediately.  They would have ordered a counter-strike on the US.  Next, he got information on several nuclear explosions in the USSR.  There was still nothing on the radar.  He called for computer repair.

I recall hearing about this one before, probably also a long time after the incident.  It was a training tape, accidentally run, that the duty officer had been watching.  “Whew!” is all I can say to that one.

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