The US Has Lost Six Nuclear Weapons. So Where The Hell Are They?

The BAKER test of Operation Crossroads, July 25, 1946.  Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Keys, phones, headphones, socks, thermonuclear weapons  some things just always seem to go missing. Believe it or not, the US has lost at least six atomic bombs or weapons-grade nuclear material since the Cold War.

Not only that, but the US is responsible for at least 32 documented instances of a nuclear weapons accident, known as a "Broken Arrow" in military lingo. These atomic-grade mishaps can involve an accidental launching or detonation, theft, or loss – yep loss – of a nuclear weapon.

February 13, 1950

The first of these unlikely instances occurred in 1950, less than five years after the first atomic bomb was detonated. In a mock nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, a US B-36 bomber en route from Alaska to Texas began to experience engine trouble. An icy landing and stuttering engine  meant the landing was going to be near-impossible, so the crew jettisoned the plane’s Mark 4 nuclear bomb over the Pacific. The crew witnessed a flash, a bang, and a sound wave.

The military claim the mock-up bomb was filled with "just" uranium and TNT but no plutonium, so it wasn't capable of a nuclear explosion. Nevertheless, the uranium has never been recovered.

March 10, 1956

On March 10, a Boeing B-47 Stratojet set off from MacDill Air Force Base Florida for a non-stop flight to Morocco with “two nuclear capsules” onboard. The jet was scheduled for its second mid-flight refueling over the Mediterranean Sea, but it never made contact. No trace of the jet or the nuclear material was ever found again.

February 5, 1958

In the early hours of February 5, 1958, a B-47 bomber with a 3,400-kilogram (7,500-pound) Mark 15 nuclear bomb on board accidentally collided with an F-86 aircraft during a simulated combat mission. The battered and bruised bomber attempted to land numerous times, but to no avail. Eventually, they made the decision to jettison the bomb into the mouth of the Savannah River near Savannah, Georgia, to make the landing possible. Luckily for them, the plane successfully landed and the bomb did not detonate. However, it has remained “irretrievably lost” to this day.

January 24, 1961

On January 24, 1961, the wing of a B-52 bomber split apart while on an alert mission above Goldsboro, North Carolina. Onboard were two 24-megaton nuclear bombs. One of these successfully deployed its emergency parachute, while the other fell and crashed to the ground. It's believed the unexploded bomb smashed into farmland around the town, but it has never been recovered. In 2012, North Carolina put up a sign near the supposed crash site to commemorate the incident.

A Mark 4N aluminum bomb casing. US Government/Public Domain
A Mark 4 aluminum bomb casing, similar to a few of the missing weapons. US Government Photo/Public Domain

December 5, 1965

An A-4E Skyhawk aircraft loaded with a nuclear weapon rolled off the back off an aircraft carrier, USS Ticonderoga, stationed in the Philippine Sea near Japan. The plane, pilot, and nuclear bomb have never been found.

In 1989, the US eventually admitted their bomb was still laying in the seabed around 128 kilometers (80 miles) from a small Japanese island. Needless to say, the Japanese government and environmental groups were pretty pissed about it.

?, 1968

At some point during the Spring of 1968, the US military lost some kind of nuclear weapon. The Pentagon still keeps information about the incident tightly under wraps. However, some have speculated that the incident refers to the nuclear-powered Scorpion submarine. In May 1968, the attack submarine went missing along with its 99-strong crew in the Atlantic Ocean after being sent on a secret mission to spy on the Soviet navy. This, however, remains conjecture. 

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