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Mistakes Were Made

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.


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