Nuclear weapons and a natural disaster

As a change from the recent blogs about the ‘psi earth’ story idea, I thought it would be good to talk about another topic that’s been in the papers this week. In the U.K., our Parliament recently conducted a debate in whether or not to renew our Trident nuclear missile programme. Britain currently has a small fleet of submarines carry many nuclear warheads which will cost around £200 billion over the next twenty years to upgrade and maintain. The arguments for and against the continuing of this trident missile fleet are roughly:

Against: They cost a lot. We’re more likely to be attacked if we have nuclear weapons. It’s wrong to use nuclear weapons. One could go off accidentally with disastrous effects (start a war, kill people, fill a large area with radioactivity). They’re actually an outdated weapon system and modern developments in drone technology means that nuclear subs can be watched by underwater schools of drones all the time and sunk immediately in a war situation before they could launch anything.

For: They’re a deterrent. We feel safer. We continue to be a major power in the world. We’ve got a big stick.

The British government voted clearly in favour of keeping Trident going. Many people in Britain agree with keeping Trident as they do agree with all the items in the ‘For’ section listed above. It also seems to be the case, in the eyes of many people, that there won’t be a nuclear war because the nuclear powers of the world won’t fire off their weapons unless they’re invaded. Logically, since no one in their right mind would to invade a nuclear powered country, nuclear war will never happen. This view seems solid but it misses an important scenario, which is the subject of this article. Read More...

'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser - book review

This week, I've been reading Eric Schlosser's 'Command and Control', an extensive and comprehensive non-fiction book that looks into the history of nuclear weapon safety in the U.S.A. since the Second World War. Schlosser wrote the excellent 'Fast Food Nation' and this book is just as thorough and just as alarming. Schlosser's book makes it clear, using an exhaustive list of events, that it's pretty much a miracle that a nuclear weapon didn't accidentally explode in the United States in the last sixty years.
I'm a supporter of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and so I was keen to read this book to be as knowledgeable as possible on such an important subject. I came to the decision, several years ago, that I would rather be killed by a nuclear weapon than be even partly responsible for dropping one on millions of other people. There are many visceral examples of what such a nuclear strike would do in books and television, from an excellent passage in the book 'Doomsday Men', that I recently reviewed, as well as the harrowing and brilliant series 'Threads', made by the BBC (when the Beeb was being brave). I heartily recommend both items, but be aware, the Threads programme pulls no punches at all.

'Command and Control' is a thick wedge of a book. Schlosser exhaustively reports on the history of nukes in the U.S. and the cold war. To be honest, there were sections that I skipped, as page after page of descriptions of missiles and strategies can get dull. Fortunately, the book switches between this history and the recounting of a particular event; a disastrous accident that occurred at a Titan II missile silo. Schlosser's account of the accident is riveting. His writing reminded me a lot of Stephen King's 'The Stand', with the same approach of giving each character's back story, before narrating what happened to them during the accident. I wouldn't be surprised if Schlosser starts writing fiction soon, he's certainly prepared the ground.

Doomsday Men and Dr Strangelove

Here's a quick book review of a book I've just finished called 'Doomsday Men' by P.D.Smith. The book is all about the history of atomic research, from Madame Curie onwards, and how it became used to build the ultimate military weapon, the hydrogen bomb and its fictional but apocalyptic dark sibling, the radioactive 'cobalt bomb'.

I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...

I've joined CND

I've joined C.N.D, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I'm not an impulsive type (I bought a new bicycle frame last week after two years of searching around and weighing up the pro's and cons) and joining CND has also taken years of thought. Read More...