1. News & Issues

Broken Arrows to Faded Giants

Dateline: 08/16/00

On Monday, Aug. 14, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea off the northwest coast of Russia. Even before their efforts to rescue the sub's crew began, Russian naval officials issued statements that no nuclear weapons were on board the "Oscar" class Kursk and that her two nuclear reactors had been safely shutdown. In U.S. Department of Defense nuclear accident terms, the Kursk had become a "Faded Giant."

While the facts concerning the existence or non-existence of nuclear weapons aboard the Kursk may never be confirmed, several lost nuclear warheads already litter the world's oceans. Joshua Handler, past research coordinator of Greenpeace, estimates that since 1945, 50 nuclear weapons have been lost and remain lost at sea. The U.S. alone officially lists 11 nuclear bombs lost and never recovered in accidents. (See: Nuclear Spring, from you About Guide.)

Understandably, governments of nations having nuclear weapons are reluctant to give out exact information about their whereabouts. The U.S. Department of Defense's official answer to questions about the location of nuclear weapons is, "It is U.S. policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any specific location."

Cold War: Costs of Victory US spends $475 million to help Russia dismantle nuclear weapons.

If asked whether nuclear weapons are aboard a specific surface ship, attack submarine, or naval aircraft, DoD officials are directed to respond, "It is general U.S. policy not to deploy nuclear weapons aboard surface ships, attack submarines, and naval aircraft. However, we do not discuss the presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard specific ships, submarines or aircraft." (Source: DoD Directive 5230.16 - Dec. 20, 1993)

Thankfully, none of the 50 or so atomic castaways have yet resulted in reported death or injury, but they continue to disrupt diplomatic relationships, even among friends.

Just days ago, reports that a lost U.S. hydrogen bomb may still be on the seabed off Greenland threatened negotiations between the U.S. and Denmark over America's continued use of the Thule air and radar base.

The bomb was one of four lost in the crash of a U.S. B-52 bomber off Thule, Greenland in 1968. While the U.S. has always contended that all four weapons were recovered, a group of former Thule workers claims to be in possession of "classified" documents indicating that one bomb went unfound.

How to tell the world you've lost a nuke
On December 20, 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense issued Directive 5230.16, "Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance," as a guidebook for Pentagon officials in dealing with issues such as nuclear bombs gone missing.

Quoting from Directive 5230.16, the document establishes, "procedures for the prompt release of information to the public in the interest of public safety, and to prevent public alarm in the event of accidents or significant incidents involving nuclear weapons or nuclear components, radioactive material, nuclear weapon launch or transport vehicles (when a nuclear weapon is aboard), or nuclear reactors under DoD control." 

Among many other policies, Directive 5230.16 provides DoD officials with a set of standard answers to public questions about the location or disposition of nuclear weapons. When asked about the general location of nuclear weapons, officials are to reply, "It is U.S. policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any specific location."

If asked whether nuclear weapons are aboard a specific surface ship, attack submarine, or naval aircraft, DoD officials are directed to respond, "It is general U.S. policy not to deploy nuclear weapons aboard surface ships, attack submarines, and naval aircraft. However, we do not discuss the presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard specific ships, submarines or aircraft." 

Next page What does DoD consider a "Nuclear Weapons Accident?" >Page 1, 2


Reference Links

Grey Lady Down -- Rescue of the Kursk
Russian Culture Guide Linda DeLaine covers the sinking of the Kursk and efforts to rescue the Russian sub's crew. 

The Russian Navy
Stories and Web sites full of history and information on the Russian Navy from
Russian Culture Guide Linda DeLaine.

Nuclear Spring
Total number of U.S. nuclear bombs lost in accidents and never recovered: 11 -- This an more nuclear remembrances from your About Guide.

US Navy Submarine Photos
Pictures of U.S. Navy Submarines in Action. From US Military Guide Rod Powers.

US Navy Fact File: Attack Submarines
Information on hardware of the U.S. Navy from US Military Guide Rod Powers.

  Historic Confederate Sub Hunley Raised
The wreck of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley has been recovered intact under the direction of a National Parks Service team. The Hunley became the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship during battle 136 years ago. From your About Guide.

Directive 5230.16, "Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance"
Text of the DoD document on dealing with nuclear accidents.

Nuclear Weapons: Pay Up to Cleanup
The U.S. spends about $96 million a day on nuclear weapons. The DOE estimates that from $151 billion to $195 billion will be needed through 2070 for cleanup and closure of nuclear weapons facilities. From your About Guide.

Cold War: Costs of Victory
The Berlin Wall and communism fell, but now the U.S. is spending $475.5 million to help the former Soviet Union dismantle and store its excess nuclear weapons. From your About Guide.

US - Russia Agree to Destroy Plutonium
Meeting in Moscow, President Clinton and Russian President Putin have agreed that both nations should destroy their stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium and work together on missile warning systems. From your About Guide.

Nuke 'em?! - The problem
Las Vegas Guide Robert Romano looks at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage issue from the viewpoint of a next-door neighbor.

Nuclear Waste in the US
Links to articles and sites dealing with United States nuclear waste issues. From Environment Guide Patricia Michaels.

Other Information Sources

A history of accidents
"MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian and Soviet nuclear submarines have been involved in a number of accidents during the past four decades. Poor maintenance and economic troubles since the 1991 Soviet collapse have worsened the problem." CNN -- Aug. 14, 2000

Norway calls crisis talks on Russian submarine
CNN & AP -- Aug. 14, 2000

Russian "Oscar" Class Submarine Photos
From Haze Gray and Underway, one of the leading information sources on navies of the world.

"Oscar" Class Submarine Specification
From Haze Gray and Underway, one of the leading information sources on navies of the world.

Greenpeace - Save Our Seas 2000
The often confrontational environmentalist organization's effort to rid the oceans of nuclear contamination.

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