Nuclear Armageddon

Humans love technology. We can’t resist inventing crazy new things every day. But sometimes technology can be bad as well. Here are 7 times technology almost destroyed the world through Nuclear Armageddon.

Nuclear Armageddon

November 1961

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background

In the 1950’s, the USA built a serious of early warning radar systems which were designed to detect Russian nuclear strikes.

These radar systems were linked directly to Strategic Air Command and NORAD, from where the USA could coordinate a full-scale nuclear assault.

What happened?

On November 24, 1961, all communications between the radar sites and Strategic Air Command suddenly went dead, signaling an attack.

To make matters even worse, the SAC discovered that phone lines were also dead, cutting off their communication with NORAD.

How close?

When three radar sites disappeared from the map, B-52 bomber crews started their engines, ready to launch.

Radio contact was eventually made with the B-52 fleet on airborne alert over Alaska who confirmed the false alarm.

The cause?

It turned out that all radar sites and phone lines were routed through a single relay station in Colorado, which had overheated and shut down. Phew.

Armageddon rating?

2/5

October 1962

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background

At the height of the Cuban missile crisis and with Cold War paranoia at an all-time high, a guard at Duluth Sector Direction Center spotted a shadowy figure climbing the security fence. Quite rightly, he activated the ‘sabotage alarm’.

What happened
The sabotage alarm set off additional alarms at all surrounding air force bases. The problem, however, was that at on-base – Volk Field, Wisconsin, the wrong alarm went off. Yep, you guessed it. It was the alarm that signaled the start of World War III.
How close?

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The USA was at DEFCON 3 for the first time in history and bomber crews were full readiness.

Knowing that there would be no practice drills while DEFCON 3 was in force, a squadron of nuclear-armed F-106A interceptors started to take off.

Only a single car racing down the runaway and flashing its lights prevented the planes from taking off. WOW.

The Cause?
Someone had incorrectly wired the alarm system at Volk Field and mixed up the ‘sabotage’ siren with “World War III has just started” siren. Oh, and the original intruder turned out to be a curious bear.
Armageddon Rating

3/5

November 1979

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background
With America and Russia fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan, South America and Southern Africa, tensions were predictably high in 1979.
What happened?

At 8:50 a.m. on November 9, 1979, the Pentagon, NORAD, and the SAC watched in horror as they saw the unmistakable pattern of a Soviet nuclear attack appear on their screen.

Launch control centers for America’s Minutemen ballistic missiles received a preliminary launch warning and started working through the launch sequence.

How close?

For a full 6 minutes, the entire of the USA’s military top brass were convinced that they were under a full scale Soviet nuclear attack.

The entire continental air defense force was put on alert and a nuclear of planes launched. The President’s “doomsday plane”, the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, also launched.

The Cause?

Back in 1979, the missile defense and warning system were stored on a good old-fashioned tape. A careless technician had loaded an attack simulation tape into the system by mistake.

Armageddon rating

4/5

June 1980

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background

Less than a year since the last close call, the USA experienced another underpants altering false alarm.

What happened?

Under normal circumstances, America’s missile alert system at NORAD would display “0000 ICBMs detected, 0000 SLBMs detected”. On June 3, 1980, this changed.

The display was now showing that 2 missiles had been launched, then 200. Obviously, this wasn’t a good thing.

How close?

The President was informed and an immediate meeting of the USA top military advisers was scheduled.

Luckily, it became apparent quite quickly that the threat was a false alarm; although it still led to the nuclear bomber crews starting their engines and the launch of Pacific Command’s Airborne Command Post.

The cause?

It turned out that a computer chip costing less than 50 cents had failed, causing the error.

Armageddon rating

2/5

September 1983

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background

The Russians had recently developed a highly accurate missile launch detection system, based on satellite monitoring.

What happened?

On 26 September 1983 the Russian missile detection system reported multiple ICBMs had been launched from the USA.

The newly installed system was more accurate than previous methods and relied on a series of Russian satellites monitoring the horizon for silhouettes of American ICBMs.

Deep in a Soviet nuclear bunker, one man – Stanislav Petrov, had to decide whether to respond with a full-scale nuclear retaliation or whether to wait it out.

How close?

Lieutenant Colonel Petrov decided that it was more than likely a false alarm, saying “when people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles.”

His boss, Soviet chairman Andropov was renowned for his mistrust of the USA and it is highly likely that if Petrov had declared the satellite warnings valid, such an erroneous report could have provoked the Soviet leadership into attacking.

The cause?

The false alarm was due to naturally occurring phenomenon around the Autumn equinox. Russian satellites, the sun and the USA’s missile fields aligned at exactly the wrong time.

Armageddon rating

3/5

June 1992

Category

Genetically modified crops.

Background

A European biotech firm had developed a variation of the Klebsiella planticola bacterium, designed to turn food waste into fuel.

What happened?

The genetically modified bacteria were designed to produce ethanol from food waste, with the leftover sludge being converted into fertilizer for use with crops.

The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency had tested the bacteria thoroughly and had concluded that it posed no harm to humans or the environment.

How close?

Only by chance, an Oregon State University academic decided to test the bacteria in the non-sterile soil to monitor the effects.

Had a scientific sceptic not tested the bacterium in a real-world scenario, we’d probably all be dead by now.

The cause?

When it was tested in non-sterile soil, Klebsiella planticoala killed every single plant it came into contact with. In conclusion, it had the bacterium been released, it could have spread worldwide and destroyed every single plant on Earth.

Armageddon rating

5/5

January 1995

Category

Nuclear Armageddon.

Background

On January 25, 1995, Norwegian scientists and their American colleagues launched a rocket designed to study the northern lights.

What happened?

To the Russians, the rocket looked exactly like an American Trident nuclear missile and followed the same trajectory as a deliberate satellite strike.

The estimated flight time to Moscow was under 10 minutes, which left very little time for the Russian early warning center to decide whether World War III had just started.

How close?

The next day, Boris Yeltsin started that he had activated his “nuclear football” – a device that allowed the Russian president to communicate directly with his top military advisers.

Therefore, the early warning control and command center switched to combat mode. For almost 10 minutes, Russia was armed and ready to end the world in fiery flameball of death.

The cause?

Norway had informed 35 countries of its intended experiment, including the Russians. The news had apparently reached the Russian Defence Ministry but hadn’t been passed onto the early warning personnel.

Armageddon rating

1/5