Documentary of 1980s near-nuclear ground explosion of a Titan II missile in Damascus, Arkansas in Silo 374-7, based on Eric Shlosser's award-winning book of the same title. A riveting minute by minute account of the accident started by the failure to follow written maintenence procedures.Written by
The Governor of Arkansas at the time of the incident was Bill Clinton. See more »
It was never possible for an accidental Titan missile explosion to unleash a nuclear detonation. The worst scenario would have been the deaths of the crew in the affected silo.
All nuclear warheads rely on "quick-assembly" in order to achieve critical mass, and therefore detonation. The very first atomic bomb type built and tested by the USA was adapted from an artillery piece (a simple, linear assembly). All subsequent devices have been designed as implosion models, where a complex set of explosive lenses compress the fissile material in a uniform manner, and in perfect sequence.
The premise that a fuel leak at a Titan missile silo could have caused a thermonuclear disaster is both deeply flawed and physically impossible. See more »
A Powerful and Timely Documentary about a Cold War Accident
You won't find much about the 1980 Damascus Titan Missile Explosion on Wikipedia. It was one of those minor Cold War mishaps that barely made it beyond the local news. A young airman was doing routine maintenance at an Arkansas ICBM site. He didn't fully appreciate the difference between a ratchet and a socket wrench (who knew there was a difference?) and accidentally dropped the heavy steel head of his tool into the silo of an aged Titan II missile. The head punctured the skin of the missile, resulting in a fuel leak and, a few hours later, an explosion that wrecked the silo, killing one airman and wounding 21 others. Fortunately, the Titan's nine-megaton thermonuclear warhead, the most powerful US bomb then in existence, did not explode.
This low-key but powerful documentary examines the chain of events that led to the accident and, more pertinently, looks at the wider significance of what did and didn't happen. There are interviews with the surviving site crew and some impressive re-enactments of the sequence of events, so realistic that at first you think it must be authentic historical footage. The investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, author of an acclaimed book about the Damascus accident, had a large hand in this production and appears periodically in the film.
Knowing little about Damascus, you might be tempted to chalk it up as a calamity avoided because the safety systems in place actually worked. By the time the film is over, you won't be so dismissive. The most serious nuclear threat to the US at this time (because it occurred on a frequent daily basis, and had little to do with international tensions) was from accidents within its own arsenal. (A similar situation must surely have prevailed in the Soviet Union.)
Are we safer now, given that there are far fewer nukes deployed and Command and Control organizations have learned from past experiences? The documentary has a clear answer, and it's probably not the one we hoped for.
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