Via PP at Kos, Walter Pincus has a good article on the apparent decline of interest in nuclear security on the part of the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force. The concern stems from an inquiry into the incident last year in which a B-52, unbeknownst to anyone, carried five nuclear warheads across the country. Most interesting was this bit:
It found that almost the entire B-52 bomber force is focused on conventional missions "as the accepted permanent or semi-permanent state of affairs." There is a "widespread perception in both the Navy and Air Force that a nuclear forces career is not the highly promising opportunity of the past era," the panel of experts said.
Organizationally, the Air Force (and perhaps also the Navy) is becoming less interested in nuclear weapons, because the perceived chances for nuclear war are declining. Consequently, the best professionals go into other areas, and the people who do get stuck with the nukes want to get out as quickly as possible. This isn't terribly surprising, and mirrors professional behavior in all kinds of different organizations. For example, during the Vietnam era counter-insurgency was not seen as a way to get ahead in the Army. This led not only to a dearth of talented individuals, but also to a situation in which no one stuck with the specialty long enough to develop an expertise. Extended to nuclear weapons, this professional tendency (which is not isolated to the military) produces the risk of a nuclear accident, which has for a long time been the most likely form of uncontrolled nuclear detonation.
Hans Kristensen also has a good overview of nuclear weapon safety procedures. I hasten to add that the presence of weak safety procedures in the U.S. makes it harder to get other nations to take such procedures seriously, especially those (such as Russia, India, and Pakistan) which run a much more serious risk of a nuclear accident.