Nuclear weapons accidents
Since the creation of nuclear weapons in 1945, there have been numerous nuclear weapons accidents by the United States and Soviet Union. The United States categorizes such accidents using the military code word "Broken Arrow".
Broken Arrow Definition
Definition of an Accident The U.S. Department of Defense categorizes a "Broken Arrow" as
- An unexpected event involving nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components that results in any of the following-
- Accidental or unauthorized launching, firing, or use, by U.S. forces or supported allied forces, of a nuclear capable weapon system which could create the risk of an outbreak of war.
- Nuclear detonation.
- Non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon or radioactive weapon component, including a fully assembled nuclear weapon, and unassembled nuclear weapon, or a radioactive weapon component.
- Radioactive contamination.
- Seizure, theft, or loss of a nuclear weapon or radioactive nuclear weapon component, including jettisoning.
- Public hazard, actual or implied.
Thirty-six U.S. Accidents Declassified
To date, the U.S. Department of Defense has declassified thirty-six nuclear weapons accidents-
1. February 13, 1950, B-36, British Columbia
2. April 11, 1950, B-29, Manzano Base, New Mexico
3. July 13, 1950, B-50, Lebanon, Ohio
4. August 5, 1950, B-29, Fairfield-Suison AFB, California
5. November 10, 1950, B-50, St. Lawrence River, Canada
6. March 10, 1956, B-47, Mediterranean Sea
7. July 27, 1956, B-47, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
8. May 27, 1957, B-36, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico
9. July 28, 1957, C-124, Atlantic Ocean
10. October 11, 1957, B-47, Homestead AFB, Florida
11. January 31, 1958, B-47, Overseas Base
12. February 5, 1958, B-47, Savannah River, Georgia
13. March 11, 1958, B-47, Florence, South Carolina
14. November 4, 1958, B-47, Dyess AFB, Texas
15. November 26, 1958, B-47, Chennault AFB, Louisiana
16. January 18, 1959, F-100, Pacific Base
17. July 6, 1959, C-124, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
18. September 19, 1959, P-5M, Off Oregon Coast
19. October 15, 1959, B-52/KC-135, Hardingsburg, Kentucky
20. June 7, 1960, BOMARC missile, McGuire AFB, New Jersey
21. January 24, 1961, B-52, Goldsboro, North Carolina
22. March 14, 1961, B-52, Yuba City, California
23. June 3, 1962, Thor IRBM, Johnston Island, Pacific Ocean
24. June 20, 1962, Thor IRBM, Johnston Island
25. June 25, 1962, Thor IRBM, Johnston Island
26. October 25, 1962, Thor IRBM, Johnston Island
27. November 13, 1963, AEC Storage Igloo, Medina Base, Texas
28. January 13, 1964, B-52, Cumberland, Maryland
29. December 5, 1964, LGM-30B ICBM, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota
30. December 8, 1964, B-58, Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana
31. October 11, 1965, C-124, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
32. December 4, 1965, A-4, USS Ticonderoga, Pacific Ocean
33. January 17, 1966, B-52/KC-135, Palomares, Spain
34. January 21, 1968, B-52, Thule, Greenland
35. May 1968, USS Scorpion, Off the Azores
36. September 18, 1980, Titan II ICBM, Damascus, Arkansas
Over the years, the DOD Broken Arrow list grew from 17 accidents in 1968, to 32 in 1977. In 1983, four accidents which occurred at Johnston Island in 1962 were declassified by Field Command, Defense Nuclear Agency. The accidents received public attention with the publication of Chuck Hansen's book "U.S. Nuclear Weapons, The Secret History".
The following is a list of published Soviet nuclear weapons accidents-
- April 11, 1968/Project 629 (Golf II submarine)/Pacific Ocean
- April 8, 1970/Project 627 (November Class submarine)/Bay of Biscay
- October 6, 1986/Project 667 (Yankee I class sub)/Off Bermuda
- April 7, 1989/Project 685 (Mike class sub)/Sea of Okhotsk
Errors and Disinformation
In 1995, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) corrected an error regarding the 1959 crash of a U.S. Navy P-5M off the coast of Washington and Oregon (the original reference stated the crash was in Puget Sound). Additionally, unclassified details regarding the weapons aboard the USS Scorpion were released.
DOE released the Atomic Energy Commission custody form for the so-called Tybee bomb. Form AL-569, signed by aircraft commander Major H. Richardson, clearly shows the Mark 15 Mod 0 bomb carried a simulated 150 capsule (such training capsules are made of lead).
On November 10, 2008, BBC reporter Gorden Correra claimed that there is a "missing nuclear weapon" near Thule Air Base in Greenland. Declassified documents conclusively prove that all four B28FI weapons were destroyed by B-52 impact and high explosive (non-nuclear) detonation of bomb primaries.
- Authors unknown, "Department of Defense Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving U.S. Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1980".
- Authors unknown, "Operation Dominic I, 1962", Field Command Defense Nuclear Agency, Nuclear Test Personnel Review, 1 February 1983.
- Oskins, James C., and Maggelet, Michael H. "Broken Arrow, The Declassified History of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents". ISBN 1435703618, or ISBN 978-1435703612.