clock menu more-arrow no yes

Eric Schlosser recounts the United States’ clumsy history with nuclear weapons. And it’s terrifying.

Human error is, well, human. Most systems people design break from time to time. Including the United States' nuclear weapons systems:

The shocking stories in the video come from investigative reporter Eric Schlosser's book Command and Control, in which he uncovered a "litany of errors" that go way, way beyond the official record of 33 serious accidents, known as "broken arrows." Even the first test, 70 years ago this July 16, flirted perilously close with disaster.

Schlosser spent 6 years "in the most crazy nuclear shit imaginable" – and the revelations in the book about times we almost "destroyed a large part of the Florida coast" are seemingly endless.

Most discussion about nuclear weapons today has to do with a potential deal with Iran promising not to build a weapon. Discussion of the US missiles that were meant to be replaced 30 years ago, aging wiring, and control systems that run on floppy-disks have remained safely on the sidelines of the conversation.

If you're worried you'll never sleep again, it's worth remembering that none of the nuclear weapons the US has built – 70,000, by Schlosser's count – has fully detonated by accident. But if the US has come this perilously close, one can only imagine what might be going on in Russia, India, or Pakistan.

How close did the US come? Watch above or on our YouTube page.

Video

Why heaters are the future of cooling

Video

How decades of stopping forest fires made them worse

Video

Why the US isn’t ready for clean energy

View all stories in Video