Nuclear weapons accidents

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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"[1] 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.[2] The accidents received public attention with the publication of Chuck Hansen's book "U.S. Nuclear Weapons, The Secret History".

Soviet/Russian Accidents

The following is a list of published Soviet nuclear weapons accidents-

  1. April 11, 1968/Project 629 (Golf II submarine)/Pacific Ocean
  2. April 8, 1970/Project 627 (November Class submarine)/Bay of Biscay
  3. October 6, 1986/Project 667 (Yankee I class sub)/Off Bermuda
  4. 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).[3]

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.[3]

See also


  • 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.