Nuclear Options | Dialogue & Planning Needed

This post is a follow-up to one from a week ago. See below the line break for the original.

Thanks to comments by readers, there are three resources to promote which discuss the need for careful, considered dialogue and planning with regard to our nation’s domestic and military nuclear capacity. Readers shoreacres and Jim Wheeler discussed two resources by Thomas Nichols. The third resource is a recent NOVA program about the nuclear option.

First, what if we could rebuild our nuclear weapon forces from scratch? How should it be done?

Second, read the preface and introduction to the Nichols book No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security

Third, the NOVA program Nuclear Option is available for viewing until 8 Feb 2017.

All three urge bi-partisan discussion by all interested parties. One of the reasons hinges on the need for safety and security in our world today. The other reason hinges on the need for a viable solution to the challenges of climate change and global warming.

I believe nuclear energy should play a role in our future. To not examine the ideas and technologies formed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s which brought us to our current position is foolhardy. The world has changed very much since then.

Nuclear Weapons | Do Accidents Happen?

Have there been nuclear weapon accidents or incidents? Yes, there have been many. We are lucky to not have detonations or major spills of radioactive material. An accident near Damascus Arkansas on 18 Sep 1980 illustrates how a simple event can cause a situation of monumental potential for disaster.

Local PBS television stations will broadcast on 10 Jan 2016 a program on the American Experience detailing this accident and others. Here is a short preview. Here is a Q&A with the director and the author.


Two airmen technicians were servicing a Titan II missile in an underground silo with a hydrogen bomb mounted on top. The bomb had 3x the explosive energy of all the bombs dropped in WWII including the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. It was based on the design of this one, the B53, developed during the Cold War. It had a 9 megaton yield.

National Nuclear Security Administration

An airman was using a large socket wrench 3 feet (90 cm) long and about 25 pounds (11 kg). The socket alone was about 6 pounds (2.7 kg). By accident, he dropped the socket nearly 80 ft (24 m). It punctured the fuel tank and created a spill. Early the next morning the spilled fuel exploded. The warhead landed about 100 ft away. Fortunately, there was no radioactive leak or detonation. There was one fatality.


About half of the American people were either not born or were young children when the Cold War ended near 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have not grown up with the reality of an arms race and the threat of nuclear war many of us older citizens recall.

As the Cold War progressed after WWII, both the United States and the Soviet Union each armed with over 30,000 nuclear weapons. The two most significant reductions in the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons took place when the Bush administrations were in office. See the blue line. It is currently at about 5000. Click to enlarge.

Hans M. Kristensen | Federation of American Scientists

According to author Eric Schlosser, our arsenal of nuclear weapons includes many older systems. They need frequent attention and maintenance. Complacency and lack of attention by the public is a growing problem. We need a healthy public debate about the need for nuclear weapons and their role in the arsenal in the future. Ignoring the problem leads to increasing numbers of situations where fallible human actions, faulty equipment, or both could lead to a disaster.

Humans are incredibly skilled at developing complex systems. Managing and maintaining these complex system is difficult and time consuming. So far, we have been lucky. We can not and should not count on luck forever. We need the attention of the smartest minds to develop a wise plan of action.

16 thoughts on “Nuclear Options | Dialogue & Planning Needed

  1. Thanks for the link to the NOVA program. I left a link for this post over at Tom’s Twitter feed. It occurred to me you might also be interested in a new book he has coming out, called The Death of Expertise. It’s coming out soon, and is on my to-be-read list.

  2. I’ve had to go back and read up on some of this material. According to Wiki: “The United States produces the most nuclear energy, with nuclear power providing 19% of the electricity it consumes, while France produces the highest percentage of its electrical energy from nuclear reactors—80% as of 2006. In the European Union as a whole, nuclear energy provides 30% of the electricity. Nuclear energy policy differs among European Union countries, and some, such as Austria, Estonia, Ireland and Italy, have no active nuclear power stations. In comparison, France has a large number of these plants, with 16 multi-unit stations in current use.”

    Isn’t it interesting what it says about the French and Americans? Then Austria, Estonia, Ireland and Italy, have no active nuclear power stations. How could that be?

    • Each country has a different history of acceptable policies. They change with time. Ours in the US have. Nuclear is feared more now and has a dark future. I think that is wrong to exclude it as a viable option. It can be done safely.

      • Well, space missions could no be possible. It has to be used. This is what I’ve been reading: “While solar power is much more commonly used, nuclear power offers great advantages in many areas. Solar cells, although efficient, can only supply energy to spacecraft in orbits where the solar flux is sufficiently high, such as low Earth orbit and interplanetary destinations close enough to the Sun. Unlike solar cells, nuclear power systems function independently of sunlight, which is necessary for deep space exploration. Nuclear reactors are especially beneficial in space because of their lower weight-to-capacity ratio than solar cells. Therefore, nuclear power systems take up much less space than solar power systems. Compact spacecraft are easier to orient and direct in space when precision is needed. Estimates of nuclear power, which can power both life support and propulsion systems, suggest that use of these systems can effectively reduce both cost and flight time.”

        “For more than fifty years, radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) have been the United States’ main power source in space. RTGs offer many benefits; they are relatively safe and maintenance-free, resilient under harsh conditions, and can operate for decades. RTGs are particularly desirable for use in parts of space where solar power is not a viable power source. Dozens of RTGs have been implemented to power 25 different US spacecrafts, some of which have been operating for more than 20 years”-Wikipedia I didn’t know much of this, so I’m slowly learning in a general way.

        • Good. Learning is good. Curiosity is good. A current successful rover on Mars is named Curiosity. It is nuclear powered.

        • Well, that’s what I’m saying, how else could it have been done? Now are these nuclear powered systems any different than other ones? I read cardiac pacemaker’s batteries were nuclear powered, but then they have to be.

      • “Lithium iodide” is the one used for pacemakers. It is an electrolyte for high temperature batteries. It’s not he same “lithium” one is used to hearing about.

      • Yes, I see, what I realized is that the pools are for cooling the material down, then after that they go into different storage stages, sorry, must be driving you crazy.

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