13 times the U.S. almost destroyed itself with its own nuclear weapons

Published: Sunday, July 13 2014 11:18 p.m. MDT

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In two days, it will be the 69th anniversary of the the first ever atomic test, conducted in the deserts of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The bomb was found to have the same destructive force as 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT, according to PBS. PBS also gave an account of General Leslie Groves, who was there to witness the testing and described it as "successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of anyone."

However, the U.S.' record with nuclear weapons has not always been quite as "successful" as its first atomic test. In fact, the U.S. has had several close encounters with its own nuclear weapons that could easily have ended in disaster. Compiled here are the stories of 13 nuclear near-misses of catastrophic proportions.

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Sandy, UT

Remind me again why nuclear weapons were/are a good idea......

Iron Rod
Salt Lake City, UT

Fantastic article.

How many of you knew that we have had problems with our nuclear weapons like this?

One nuclear weapon in the Savanah River was never recovered.

If we have had problems like this, what have other nuclear powers experienced.

Example Russia, China, England, France, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea?


Another goofy list with a false but attention grabbing headline. Even had ANY of these incidents resulted in a nuclear explosion, it would not have "Destroyed the U.S.".
These reports seem to me to indicate the wisdom in the design of nuclear weapons for transport, successfully preventing further catastrophe.
What always make ME wonder is the fact that a sizeable number of scientists involved in the Manhattan Project theorized the White Sands explosion MIGHT ignite the atmosphere and incinerate the earth. They set it off anyway..... go figure.

Mister J
Salt Lake City, UT

Paging Dr Strangelove.

Kings Court
Alpine, UT

We've also lost nuclear weapons over the ocean during the Cold War due to accidents.

Elwood P. Suggins

PBS is not an information source that I trust. I don't trust PBS.

Saint Louis, MO

The key issue with every nuclear accident is the detonator. In order to have a nuclear explosion, you have to have implosion of the core. The detonator has to have simultaneous explosions in a circular pattern like a large rubber ball exploding from the outer skin. My father, as an Air Force technician in places like Albuquerque, installed them. In order for the danger level to be evaluated fairly, you would have to check the status of the detonator. A conventional explosion would just mean that the detonator exploded and the bomb itself was inactive.

Alpine, UT

Thank you for informing terrorists that there is a nuclear warhead in the Savannah river.

one old man
Ogden, UT

FOX is not an information source that I trust. I trust PBS

Flagstaff, AZ

These are complex weapons that are designed not to explode easily....for obvious reasons. It would be like a person standing 50 feet away from a person holding a firecracker and trying to light the fuse. I was on a Special Weapons (nuclear) loading team while in the Marine Corps (air wing)and know that a lot has to happen before the actual nuclear part of the bomb detonates. Just dropping it won't do it. I found some of the stories in this article humorous....if you can use that word when talking about nuclear weapons. The one about the intruder....they were actually going to drop a nuke on a single intruder? And the parachutes do not arm the weapon as was insinuated. The weapons I worked on were parachute retarded, not to arm it but rather to provide a pre-determined altitude where the bomb would detonate. An air burst proved to be the most destructive. I stopped reading after a few stories.

Bountiful, UT

The Mar. 14, 1961 Yuba City incident involved a B-52 Bomber - not a B-42 Bomber.

Kaysville, UT

Interesting article! The last event listed was 1980. Are the handling procedures that much better today that there haven't been any major accidents since then? Or have others occurred and just not been declassified yet so we don't know about them?

Iron Rod
Salt Lake City, UT

Re General
Alpine, Utah

"Thank you for informing the terrorists that there is an undiscovered nuclear weapon in the Savannah River."

I would think the people who live near that area in Georgia would like to know. I would think the State would like to know also to monitor the water quality. I would think the fisherman eating fish out of that area would like to know.

I think you would like to know if there was a lost nuclear weapon in Utah Lake?

Nothing is indestructible or stays intact for ever. At some time in the future the casing will leak.

We need to continually monitor that site.

Bountiful, UT

If one will note, most of these incidents occurred before 1960, and only one occurred in 1980, the Damascus, Arkansas incident, which is now no longer possible (no liquid fueled missiles anymore). The storage and handling of nuclear weapons are much improved from those earlier days.

@Iron Rod, Kings Court, and General,

In the Savannah River incident, some sources describe the bomb as a functional nuclear weapon, but others describe it as being disabled (no nuclear core installed). An extensive six week search was made for the weapon, but it was not located. DOE estimates it is probably buried some 5 to 15 feet beneath silt and sand in Wassaw Sound. After all this time in that salty water of the Sound, it possibly could no longer be a functional weapon. If we could not locate it (last search in 2004), I seriously doubt that any terrorists could locate it without being detected (significant boat and diving activity within the area).

Side Note: The Sound was used for a sailing venue as part of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

@Iron Rod,

If you want a list of all other publically known accidental nuclear incidents throughout the World, go search Wikipedia under the title “List of Military Nuclear Accidents.”

Pittsburgh, PA

Lucky 13. That's scary.

Harrison Bergeron
Holladay , UT

Iron Rod & General

There is not a nuclear warhead sitting in the Savannah River. This article is misleading. Nuclear warheads are not installed on bombs during training or simulations.

In most of these examples the 'nuke' part of the bomb was never in play.

This story is meant to be sensational to generate traffic. And it worked. Here we are reading and discussing it. Click on one of the adds to the right and the objective will be complete.

Bountiful, UT

@Harrison Bergeron said, “Nuclear warheads are not installed on bombs during training or simulations.”

In this instance, there may be one that was installed (it was 1958 – not 2014).

Some of the information on this incident is still classified. There was testimony made on both sides of the story. One said there was a nuclear core installed – another said there was not.

Bountiful, UT

13 times the U.S. almost destroyed itself with its own nuclear weapons


If we keep shaking the dice, eventually the 'magic' number WILL come up.

Pleasanton, CA

To say that the U.S. "almost destroyed itself" in any of these instances is a ludicrous overstatement. If anything, these examples prove how well the fail-safe mechanisms worked. And by the way, the so-called National Security Archive is a decidedly left-wing organization, by no means dedicated to our national security.

A Chem Engineer
Pocatello, ID

@ SAS:

Why were they? So that my father and a million other anticipated U.S. casualties did not have to invade Japan (i.e. so I could be born - and before you say it, remember who started the war in the Pacific...and who were going to fight until the last Japanese citizen was dead.). Please refer to the documentary, "The Last Raid", documenting the last U.S. bombing raid over Japan AFTER both bombs had been dropped, to understand the veracity of my last comment.

Why are they? Because the U.S. was the FIRST, not the ONLY, country to develop the atomic bomb. Were it not for two sabotage efforts in Norway to destroy the heavy water plant there, Germany might have beaten us to it. How's your German (that's assuming you would have ever been born under Hitler's totalitarian world rule in the shadow of his nuclear arsenal)?

Is the picture becoming clear yet?

Salt Lake City, UT

The article was humorous and designed to excite the excitable. What I glean from the information was that fail-safe and security measures work. Also the "two crossed wires" article sounded a little fishy.

Nukes are serious business and the people who handle them take them seriously. No one's perfect but I think the troops who handle them and fly or sail with them are safe.

It's the looney politicians who order their use I am worried about.

Harrison Bergeron
Holladay , UT


Some people say went to the moon, some say we did not...

Not all testimony is equally credible. There was no warhead for those of us that recognize the moon landings as actual events.

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