It’s a while ago since I read Perrow’s “Normal Accidents” and Scott Sagan’s “The Limits Of Safety”, both discussing (among others) the safety of nuclear weapons. This book is the perfect companion to these two books and gives perfect arguments in favour of Perrow’s theory.

The book takes the Titan II accident near Damascus, Arkansas in September 1980 as the central storyline around which he tells the story of nuclear arms development of the USA from the Manhattan Project until today, and especially the safety side. There is much focus on the accidental causing a nuclear explosion in the USA, of course, which would have a wide range of possible adverse effects, like destroying a military base or populated area and of course not in the least accidentally causing a nuclear war. There is also much attention for ‘smaller’ incidents that also can have major effect, including the dispersion of radioactive dust.

The amazing thing is maybe that serious accidents happened, like fires, plane crashes, accidental dropping of bombs or the explosion of the Titan II rocket, but that none of these incidents led to something really MAJOR. No nuclear weapon exploded by accident. General Butler is quoted saying “…we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion”.

The book is extremely well written and while it reads like an action thriller novel it discusses many important safety lessons and safety relevant themes, including:

At the end of the of the book in the Epilogue, Schlosser turns to Perrow and Sagan and echoes Perrow’s sentiment while acknowledging that nuclear weapons couldn’t be un-invented and would need attention in the future. At the end of the book there is also a quick look at other nations with nuclear weapons, especially those who are in the stage of developing them and basically form the greatest risk for accidental explosions or warfare with nuclear weapons.

A book you will find hard to put down.

I’ve read the Penguin pocket version, 2013, ISBN 978-0-141-03791-2


If you want to get an idea, you can watch this one-hour YouTube clip, or a shorter clip (only 12 and a half minutes).