The Washington Times
Friday, October 24, 1997
Nuclear Bomb Records Are Lost, U.S. Says
By RALPH VARTABEDIAN, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON--The Energy Department has disclosed in
private correspondence that it cannot locate the records
proving that it dismantled and destroyed as many as 30,000 nuclear
bombs at weapon plants across the nation between 1945 and
Although experts dismiss the possibility that the federal
government has lost or hidden any nuclear weapons, the missing
documents could cause problems in future arms control efforts.
The missing U.S. records were sought by the Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environmental group, which had filed a request
for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The agency told the environmental group in a series of letters
that "nuclear weapon disassembly information . . . could not be
located." In a letter this week to Energy Secretary Federico Pena,
the council asked the department to find or reconstruct the missing
In a statement released Thursday, an Energy Department
spokeswoman suggested that the department had not conducted an
exhaustive search and would "explore how this information might be
made available" to the environmental group.
The Energy Department never has disclosed exactly how many
nuclear bombs it has produced, but outside estimates peg the
number at 70,000 warheads since World War II. Of those, the
Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that 11,000
remain in the Pentagon's strategic stockpile.
The rest of the weapons presumably were destroyed, which
should be reflected in unclassified Energy Department records,
according to Thomas Cochran, a nuclear weapon expert on the
But the Energy Department responded to the group's request for
the data with a letter saying that it could not locate any records for
destruction of bombs before 1975, when assembly and
dismantlement sites were operated in New Mexico, Texas, Iowa
Available records show that since 1975 the government has
destroyed 26,735 bombs at facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and
Amarillo, Texas. An additional 1,741 bombs are awaiting
destruction at the Energy Department's Pantex Plant in Amarillo.
But that leaves about 30,000 bombs unaccounted for, according
to Cochran and the council's estimates.
The absence of documentation mirrors serious problems,
uncovered in the early 1990s, with the Energy Department's
accounting for its plutonium, the radioactive material that undergoes
fission in a bomb. Of the 95.5 tons of plutonium made in the United
States after World War II, the Energy Department was unable to
account for 2.8 tons, Cochran said.
A nuclear bomb is considered destroyed when technicians
remove the conventional high explosive that surrounds a plutonium
sphere inside the bomb.
The Energy Department keeps reports on the time, location and
number of weapons destroyed. It is those records that are missing
for a period of 30 years.
"I find it extraordinary that they didn't keep the records,"
Cochran said. "It is going to be difficult to ever have a full
The Energy Department spokeswoman said, "We believe we
can provide a reconciliation of our production and dismantlement
Such a reconciliation will be crucial if nuclear weapons are ever
to be eliminated, because every nuclear power will want to ensure
that the other powers do not have secret stockpiles, he said. [Unedited]
Compliments of Proposition One Committee