Beyond the Nuclear Shadow: A Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S.-Russian Relations

By David E. Mosher; Lowell H. Schwartz et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
POSSIBLE SCENARIOS FOR ACCIDENTAL OR
UNAUTHORIZED NUCLEAR USE

A variety of scenarios could result in the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. This chapter begins by analyzing the different types of possible scenarios, giving several examples of each one. Some of the examples are real world experiences that illustrate the types of problems that might lead to accidental or unauthorized use; others are fictional situations that demonstrate how a combination of factors might lead to nuclear use. The chapter then considers all of the underlying factors that might contribute to accidental or unauthorized nuclear use in these scenarios. Only after understanding these factors can solutions be designed to reduce nuclear risks.


POSSIBLE SCENARIOS

Because our goal was to understand the underlying causes for accidental or unauthorized nuclear use, we tried to capture as many types of scenarios as possible. We grouped our results into three basic types of scenarios, as shown in Figure 2.1. We believe this set of eight types encompasses the full range of possible scenarios involving accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

Although none of these types of scenarios is very likely, the tremendous destructive capacity of nuclear weapons makes the risk of even one of them occurring unacceptably high. Furthermore, if one were to occur, it is unlikely that it would result directly from a single un-

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