Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern about entrusting presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump with the country’s nuclear codes. Some have wondered aloud if the ultimate weapons of mass destruction should be under the control of someone so erratic and vindictive.

The prospect of Trump’s finger on such a trigger makes a lot of people across the globe uneasy. But the truth is, no matter who serves as commander-in-chief, a nuclear holocaust has always been closer than we think — because of faulty equipment, dumb accidents and apparently irreducible human error.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has now put together a list of some of the near misses the world has survived. Each one is hair-raising. Taken together, they are utterly terrifying.

1961 B-52 crash marker

Road marker in Eureka, NC, commemorating the 1961 B-52 crash.
Photo credit: RJHaas / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Bombs on a Plane

Putting nuclear weapons on manned airplanes has led to near disasters several times. In 1966, a bomber carrying four nuclear warheads collided with a refueling plane and crashed over Spain (the link will take you to a Pentagon memo detailing 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons from 1950-1980).

Two of the bombs exploded but neither nuclear warhead was triggered. Another bomb landed in a riverbed and was recovered, while the fourth fell into the Mediterranean and was not secured for several weeks.

While none of the nuclear warheads went off, some plutonium was released at the crash site, which remains contaminated to this day.

Five years earlier, a B-52 bomber broke apart in flight and the two nuclear weapons it carried dropped on North Carolina. The arming sequence of both bombs began, and one slammed into the ground after its parachute failed. While the chute of the other nuclear weapon deployed, five of its safety devices failed and the one that prevented the bomb from going off was later found to be defective in other nuclear bombs.

A uranium-containing part of one of the bombs was never recovered.