Under the Radar

'Command and Control': The History of Nuclear Accidents & Near-Misses


Command and Control, the PBS American Experience documentary that premieres Tuesday, January 10 at 9pm ET, suggests that it's a miracle that we all survived the Cold War. Not because of the Soviet threat, but because there was a good chance that the USA could've blown itself up with one of its own nuclear weapons.

Based on the Eric Schlosser book of the same name, the documentary gives a minute-by-minute account of a terrifying 1980 accident in a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas. We've got a clip from that film that describes the moments after a dropped wrench socket punctured a fuel chamber on the rocket. That rocket was attached to a warhead 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.


The documentary shows just how close we came to wiping out the state of Arkansas (goodbye, Governor and Mrs. Clinton) and causing massive nuclear fallout up and down the East Coast.  Command and Control also gives a history of the United States nuclear arsenal and some bleak warnings from Bob Peurifoy, an engineer who joined bombs manufacturer Sandia Laboratory in 1952 and eventually became its vice president and a leading advocate for nuclear safety.

For such an alarming subject, the tone is sober and measured in that PBS style. Once you think about it after you've watched, though, Command and Control is scarier than any horror movie made in the last couple of decades.

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