MJ: When most people think of nukes, we think of these massive, high-yield bombs, but you also write about nuclear artillery shells, nuclear depth charges, and even a nuclear rifle called the Davy Crockett. How is it even possible, given the institutional dysfunction of the military, to maintain tight control with all these small nukes around?
ES: It was a constant challenge, and particularly when these weapons were being stored in Europe for use against an invading Red Army, it was a matter of inventory control. This book is critical of the management of our nuclear weapons, and yet the Pentagon deserves its due: To my knowledge, there was never an accidental detonation. If you add them all up, we probably made 70,000 of these things. If one of them had detonated, it means 69,999 did not. And that's very good management. But still, the consequences of one detonation are almost unimaginable.
MJ: You can't screw up!
ES: You can't screw up once! And that's the unique danger of these machines. The incident in 2007, when we lost half a dozen hydrogen bombs for a day and a half, was an incredibly serious security lapse: The fact that nobody was asked to sign for the weapons when they were removed from the bunker, the fact that nobody in the loading crew or on the airplane even knew that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons is just remarkable.
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