Would you believe 6 U.S. has lost nuclear weapons?
Nuclear weapons are often regarded as the pinnacle of military technology—devastatingly powerful and carefully guarded. Yet, even with stringent safety protocols, accidents and mistakes have happened.
The United States has lost control of six nuclear weapons, events referred to as “Broken Arrows.” These instances pose questions about the security and accountability measures governing the world’s most powerful arsenals.
The Incidents of Lost Nuclear Weapons
- 1950 – British Columbia: The first known loss occurred when a B-36 bomber experienced engine trouble. While en route from Alaska to Texas, the crew jettisoned the nuclear bomb over the Pacific Ocean before safely landing the plane. Despite search efforts, the bomb remains missing to this day.
- 1956 – Mediterranean Sea: Another instance occurred when a B-47 took off from Florida and disappeared without a trace over the Mediterranean Sea. The bomber was carrying two nuclear weapon cores. Neither the plane nor the weapons have been found.
- 1958 – Savannah, Georgia: A collision between a B-47 and an F-86 led to the bomber dropping a nuclear weapon into the waters near Tybee Island. The weapon, which was not armed with a fissile warhead, has yet to be recovered despite repeated search missions.
- 1961 – Goldsboro, North Carolina: In a near-catastrophic event, a B-52 carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart mid-air. One of the bombs deployed its parachute and was safely recovered, but the other fell into a muddy field and broke apart. The uranium core was never found.
- 1965 – Palomares, Spain: Another mid-air collision led to a B-52 dropping four hydrogen bombs near Palomares. Although the non-nuclear explosives in two bombs detonated upon impact, contaminating the area with plutonium, all four were eventually recovered.
- 1968 – Thule, Greenland: A B-52 crashed into sea ice near Thule Air Base, causing the onboard nuclear weapons to explode on impact sans nuclear detonation. The cleanup operation was only partially successful. It’s believed that one of the four nuclear weapons is still buried in the ice.
The loss of nuclear weapons has significant political, environmental, and security implications. Politically, these incidents have strained U.S. relations with other nations and led to debates on the control and management of nuclear arsenals. Environmentally, the incidents pose a risk of radioactive contamination, as seen in the Palomares incident. From a security standpoint, the loss of these weapons could pose a catastrophic risk if they were to fall into the wrong hands.
Accountability and Measures
The United States has invested significant resources into locating these missing nuclear weapons, often in collaboration with the countries where these incidents occurred. Advances in technology have aided in search efforts, but the success has been limited.
Stringent protocols have been put in place to prevent similar incidents. The military has also increased transparency with the public regarding these incidents. But much information remains classified for national security reasons.
The Uncomfortable Truth
The fact remains that six nuclear weapons are unaccounted for. While the chances of these weapons being operational are low. Bu their mere existence poses an existential threat that underscores the importance of stringent safety and security measures. As nuclear arsenals continue to evolve, the lessons learned from these “Broken Arrow” incidents remain a cautionary tale for all nations.