# List of military nuclear accidents

This article lists notable military accidents involving nuclear material. Civilian accidents are listed at List of civilian nuclear accidents. For a general discussion of both civilian and military accidents, see nuclear and radiation accidents.

## Contents

In listing military nuclear accidents, the following criteria have been adopted:

1. There must be well-attested and substantial health damage, property damage or contamination.
2. The damage must be related directly to radioactive material, not merely (for example) at a nuclear power plant.
3. To qualify as "military", the nuclear operation/material must be principally for military purposes.
4. To qualify as "accident", the damage should not be intentional, unlike in nuclear warfare.

## 1940s

• June 23, 1942 – Leipzig, Germany (then Nazi Germany) – Steam explosion and reactor fire*
• Shortly after the Leipzig L-IV atomic pile — worked on by Werner Heisenberg and Robert Doepel — demonstrated Germany's first signs of neutron propagation, the device was checked for a possible heavy water leak. During the inspection, air leaked in, igniting the uranium powder inside. The burning uranium boiled the water jacket, generating enough steam pressure to blow the reactor apart. Burning uranium powder scattered throughout the lab causing a larger fire at the facility.[1][2]
A sketch of Louis Slotin's criticality accident used to determine exposure of those in the room at the time.

In the above incidents, both Daghlian (August 21, 1945 case) and Slotin (May 21, 1946 case), were working with the same bomb core which became known as the "demon core", which was eventually utilized for the Able test detonation on July 1, 1946.

## 1950s

• February 13, 1950 – British Columbia, Canada – 1950 British Columbia B-36 crash—non-nuclear detonation of a simulated atomic bomb
• A USAF B-36 bomber, AF Ser. No. 44-92075, was flying a simulated combat mission from Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, Alaska, to Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, carrying one weapon containing a dummy warhead. The warhead contained uranium instead of plutonium. After six hours of flight, the bomber experienced mechanical problems and was forced to shut down three of its six engines at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Fearing that severe weather and icing would jeopardize a safe emergency landing, the weapon was jettisoned over the Pacific Ocean from a height of 8,000 ft (2,400 m). The weapon's high explosives detonated upon impact. All of the sixteen crew members and one passenger were able to parachute from the plane and twelve were subsequently rescued from Princess Royal Island. The Pentagon's summary report does not mention if the weapon was later recovered.[5]
• April 11, 1950 – Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA – Loss and recovery of nuclear materials
• Three minutes after departure from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque a USAF B-29 bomber carrying a nuclear weapon, four spare detonators, and a crew of thirteen crashed into a mountain near Manzano Base. The crash resulted in a fire which the New York Times reported as being visible from 15 miles (24 km). The bomb's casing was completely demolished and its high explosives ignited upon contact with the plane's burning fuel. However, according to the Department of Defense, the four spare detonators and all nuclear components were recovered. A nuclear detonation was not possible because, while on board, the weapon's core was not in the weapon for safety reasons. All thirteen crew members died.[5]
• July 13, 1950 – Lebanon, Ohio, USA – Non-nuclear detonation of an atomic bomb
• USAF B-50 aircraft on a training mission from Biggs Air Force Base with a nuclear weapon flew into the ground resulting in a high explosive detonation, but no nuclear explosion.[6]
• November 10, 1950 – Rivière-du-Loup, Québec, Canada – Non-nuclear detonation of an atomic bomb
• Returning one of several U.S. Mark 4 nuclear bombs secretly deployed in Canada, a USAF B-50 had engine trouble and jettisoned the weapon at 10,500 feet (3,200 m). The crew set the bomb to self-destruct at 2,500 ft (760 m) and dropped over the St. Lawrence River. The explosion shook area residents and scattered nearly 100 pounds (45 kg) of uranium (U-238) used in the weapon's tamper. The plutonium core ("pit") was not in the bomb at the time.[7]
The Castle Bravo fallout pattern.
• March 1, 1954 – Bikini Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands (then Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) – Nuclear test accident
• During the Castle Bravo test of the first deployable hydrogen bomb, a miscalculation resulted in the explosion being over twice as large as predicted, with a total explosive force of 15 megatons of TNT (63 PJ). Of the total yield, 10 Mt (42 PJ) were from fission of the natural uranium tamper, but those fission reactions were quite dirty, producing a large amount of fallout. Combined with the much larger than expected yield and an unanticipated wind shift radioactive fallout was spread eastward onto the inhabited Rongelap and Rongerik Atolls. These islands were not evacuated before the explosion due to the financial cost involved, but many of the Marshall Islands natives have since suffered from radiation burns and radioactive dusting and also similar fates as the Japanese fishermen and have received little if any compensation from the federal government[citation needed]. A Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryu Maru/Lucky Dragon, also came into contact with the fallout, which caused many of the crew to take ill with one fatality. The test resulted in an international uproar and reignited Japanese concerns about radiation, especially with regard to the possible contamination of fish. Personal accounts of the Rongelap people can be seen in the documentary Children of Armageddon.
• November 29, 1955 – Idaho, USA – Partial meltdown
• Operator error led to a partial core meltdown in the experimental EBR-I breeder reactor, resulting in temporarily elevated radioactivity levels in the reactor building and necessitating significant repair.[8][9]
• March 10, 1956 – Over the Mediterranean Sea – Nuclear weapons lost
• A USAF B-47 Stratojet, AF Ser. No. 52-534, on a non-stop mission from MacDill Air Force Base to an overseas base descended into a cloud formation at 14,000 feet over the Mediterranean in preparation for an in-air refuelling and vanished while carrying two nuclear weapon cores. The plane was lost while flying through dense clouds, and the cores and other wreckage were never located.[10][11][12]
• July 27, 1956 – Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK – Nuclear weapons damaged
• A USAF B-47 crashed into a storage igloo spreading burning fuel over three Mark 6 nuclear bombs at RAF Lakenheath. A bomb disposal expert stated it was a miracle exposed detonators on one bomb did not fire, which presumably would have released nuclear material into the environment.[13]
• May 22, 1957 – Kirtland AFB in New Mexico, USA – Non-nuclear detonation of an atomic weapon
• A B-36 ferrying a nuclear weapon from Biggs AFB to Kirtland AFB dropped a nuclear weapon on approach to Kirtland AFB. The weapon impacted the ground 4.5 miles south of the Kirtland control tower and 0.3 miles west of the Sandia Base reservation. The weapon was completely destroyed by the detonation of its high explosive material, creating a crater 12 feet deep and 25 feet in diameter. Radioactive contamination at the crater lip amounted to 0.5 milliroentgen.[12]
• July 28, 1957 – Atlantic Ocean – Two weapons jettisoned and not recovered
• A USAF C-124 aircraft from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware was carrying three nuclear bombs over the Atlantic Ocean when it experienced a loss of power. The crew jettisoned two nuclear bombs to protect their safety, which were never recovered.[6]
• September 11, 1957 – Rocky Flats Plant, Golden, Colorado, USA – Fire, release of nuclear materials
• A fire began in a materials handling glove box and spread through the ventilation system into the stack filters at the Rocky Flats weapons mill 27 kilometres (17 mi) from Denver, Colorado. Plutonium and other contaminants were released, but the exact amount of which contaminants is unknown; estimates range from 25 mg to 250 kg.[14][15][16][17]
• 29 September 1957 – Kyshtym, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia (then USSR) – Explosion, release of nuclear materials
• See Kyshtym disaster. A cooling system failure at the Mayak nuclear processing plant resulted in a major explosion and release of radioactive materials. Hundreds of people died and hundreds of thousands were evacuated.[18]
• October 8–12, 1957 – Sellafield, Cumbria, UK – Reactor core fire
• See Windscale fire. Technicians mistakenly overheated Windscale Pile No. 1 during an annealing process to release Wigner energy from graphite portions of the reactor. Poorly placed temperature sensors indicated the reactor was cooling rather than heating. The excess heat led to the failure of a nuclear cartridge, which in turn allowed uranium and irradiated graphite to react with air. The resulting fire burned for days, damaging a significant portion of the reactor core. About 150 burning fuel cells could not be lifted from the core, but operators succeeded in creating a firebreak by removing nearby fuel cells. An effort to cool the graphite core with water eventually quenched the fire. The reactor had released radioactive gases into the surrounding countryside, primarily in the form of iodine-131 (131I). Milk distribution was banned in a 200-square-mile (520 km2) area around the reactor for several weeks. A 1987 report by the National Radiological Protection Board predicted the accident would cause as many as 33 long-term cancer deaths, although the Medical Research Council Committee concluded that "it is in the highest degree unlikely that any harm has been done to the health of anybody, whether a worker in the Windscale plant or a member of the general public." The reactor that burned was one of two air-cooled graphite-moderated natural uranium reactors at the site used for production of plutonium.[19][20][21]

## 1960s

• June 7, 1960 – New Egypt, New Jersey, USA – Nuclear warhead damaged by fire
• October 13, 1960 – Barents Sea, Arctic Ocean – Release of nuclear materials
• A leak developed in the steam generators and in a pipe leading to the compensator reception on the ill-fated K-8 while the Soviet Northern Fleet November-class submarine was on exercise. While the crew rigged an improvised cooling system, radioactive gases leaked into the vessel and three of the crew suffered visible radiation injuries according to radiological experts in Moscow. Some crew members had been exposed to doses of up to 1.8–2 Sv (180–200 rem).[31]
SL-1 reactor being removed from the National Reactor Testing Station.
• January 3, 1961 – National Reactor Testing Station, Idaho, USA – Accidental criticality, steam explosion, 3 fatalities, release of fission products
• During a maintenance shutdown, the SL-1 experimental nuclear reactor underwent a prompt critical reaction causing core materials to explosively vaporize. Water hammer estimated at 10,000 pounds per square inch (69,000 kPa) struck the top of the reactor vessel propelling the entire reactor vessel upwards over 9 feet (2.7 m) in the air. One operator who had been standing on top of the vessel was killed when a shield plug impaled him and lodged in the ceiling. Two other military personnel were also killed from the trauma of the explosion, one of which had removed the central control rod too far. The plant had to be dismantled and the contamination was buried permanently nearby. Most of the release of radioactive materials was concentrated within the reactor building.
• January 24, 1961 – Goldsboro B-52 crash – Physical destruction of a nuclear bomb, loss of nuclear materials
• A USAF B-52 bomber caught fire and exploded in midair due to a major leak in a wing fuel cell 12 miles (19 km) north of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Five crewmen parachuted to safety, but three died—two in the aircraft and one on landing. The incident released the bomber's two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. Three of the four arming devices on one of the bombs activated, causing it to carry out many of the steps needed to arm itself, such as the charging of the firing capacitors and, critically, the deployment of a 100-foot (30 m) diameter retardation parachute. The parachute allowed the bomb to hit the ground with little damage. The fourth arming device — the pilot's safe/arm switch — was not activated preventing detonation. The second bomb plunged into a muddy field at around 700 mph (300 m/s) and disintegrated. Its tail was discovered about 20 feet (6 m) down and much of the bomb recovered, including the tritium bottle and the plutonium. However, excavation was abandoned due to uncontrollable ground water flooding. Most of the thermonuclear stage, containing uranium, was left in situ. It is estimated to lie around 55 feet (17 m) below ground. The Air Force purchased the land and fenced it off to prevent its disturbance, and it is tested regularly for contamination, although none has so far been found.[32]
• March 14, 1961 – 1961 Yuba City B-52 crash
• USAF B-52 bomber experienced a decompression event that required it to fly below 10,000 feet. Resulting increased fuel consumption led to fuel exhaustion; the aircraft crashed with two nuclear bombs, which did not trigger a nuclear explosion.
• July 4, 1961 – coast of Norway – Near meltdown
• The Soviet Hotel-class submarine K-19 suffered a failure in its cooling system. Reactor core temperatures reached 800 °C (1,500 °F), nearly enough to melt the fuel rods, although the crew was able to regain temperature control by using emergency procedures. The incident contaminated parts of the ship, some of the onboard ballistic missiles and the crew, resulting in several fatalities. The movie K-19: The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, offers a controversially fictionalized story of these events.
• May 1, 1962 – Sahara desert, French Algeria – Accidental venting of underground nuclear test
• The second French underground nuclear test, codenamed Béryl, took place in a shaft under mount Taourirt, near In Ecker, 150 km (100 mi) north of Tamanrasset, Algerian Sahara. Due to improper sealing of the shaft, a spectacular flame burst through the concrete cap and radioactive gases and dust were vented into the atmosphere. The plume climbed up to 2600 m (8500 ft) high and radiation was detected hundreds of km away. About a hundred soldiers and officials, including two ministers, were irradiated. The number of contaminated Algerians is unknown.
• April 10, 1963 – Loss of nuclear reactor
• Submarine USS Thresher sinks about 190 nmi (220 mi; 350 km) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts due to improper welds allowing in seawater which forced a shutdown of the reactor. Poor design of its emergency ballast system prevented the ship from surfacing and the disabled ship ultimately descended to crush depth and imploded.
• January 13, 1964 – Salisbury, Pennsylvania and Frostburg, Maryland, USA – Accidental loss and recovery of thermonuclear bombs
• A USAF B-52 on airborne alert duty encountered a severe winter storm and extreme turbulence, ultimately disintegrating in mid-air over South Central Pennsylvania.[33] Only the two pilots survived. One crew member failed to bail out and the rest succumbed to injuries or exposure to the harsh winter weather. A search for the missing weapons was initiated, and recovery was effected from portions of the wreckage at a farm northwest of Frostburg, MD.
• April 21, 1964 – Indian Ocean – Launch failure of a RTG powered satellite
• A U.S. Transit-5BN-3 nuclear-powered navigational satellite failed to reach orbital velocity and began falling back down at 150,000 feet (46 km) above the Indian Ocean.[34] The satellite's SNAP-9a generator contained 17 kCi (630 TBq)[35] of 238Pu (2.1 pounds), which at least partially burned upon reentry.[36][37][38][39] Increased levels of 238Pu were first documented in the stratosphere four months later. Indeed NASA (in the 1995 Cassini FEIS)[35] indicated that the SNAP-9a plutonium release was nearly double the 9000Ci added by all the atmospheric weapons tests to that date.[40][41] The United States Atomic Energy Commission reported a resulting threefold increase in global 238Pu fallout.[42][43] All subsequent Transit satellites were fitted with solar panels; RTG's were designed to remain contained during re-entry.
• 8 December 1964 – Bunker Hill Air Force Base, USA – Fire, radioactive contamination
• USAF B-58 aircraft carrying a nuclear weapon caught fire while taxiing. Nuclear weapon burned, causing contamination of the crash area.[6]
• 11 October 1965 – Rocky Flats Plant, Golden, Colorado, USA – Fire, exposure of workers
• A fire at Rocky Flats exposed a crew of 25 to up to 17 times the legal limit for radiation.
• December 5, 1965 – coast of Japan – Loss of a nuclear bomb
• January 17, 1966 – Palomares incident – Accidental destruction, loss and recovery of nuclear bombs
• A USAF B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs collided with a USAF KC-135 jet tanker during over-ocean in-flight refueling. Four of the B-52's seven crew members parachuted to safety while the remaining three were killed along with all four of the KC-135's crew. The conventional explosives in two of the bombs detonated upon impact with the ground, dispersing plutonium over nearby farms. A third bomb landed intact near Palomares while the fourth fell 12 miles (19 km) off the coast into the Mediterranean sea. The US Navy conducted a three-month search involving 12,000 men and successfully recovered the fourth bomb. The U.S. Navy employed the use of the deep-diving research submarine DSV Alvin to aid in the recovery efforts. During the ensuing cleanup, 1,500 tonnes (1,700 short tons) of radioactive soil and tomato plants were shipped to a nuclear dump in Aiken, South Carolina. The U.S. settled claims by 522 Palomares residents for $600,000. The town also received a$200,000 desalinization plant. The motion picture Men of Honor (2000), starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., as USN Diver Carl Brashear, and Robert De Niro as USN Diver Billy Sunday, contained an account of the fourth bomb's recovery.[46]
• January 21, 1968 – 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash, Greenland – Loss and partial recovery of nuclear bombs
• A fire broke out in the navigator's compartment of a USAF B-52 near Thule Air Base, Greenland. The bomber crashed 7 miles (11 km) from the air base, rupturing its nuclear payload of four hydrogen bombs. The recovery and decontamination effort was complicated by Greenland's harsh weather. Contaminated ice and debris were buried in the United States. Bomb fragments were recycled by Pantex, in Amarillo, Texas. The incident caused outrage and protests in Denmark, as Greenland is a Danish possession and Denmark forbade nuclear weapons on its territory.
• May 22, 1968 – 740 km (400 nmi) southwest of the Azores – Loss of nuclear reactor and two W34 nuclear warheads
• The USS Scorpion (SSN-589) sank while en route from Rota, Spain, to Naval Base Norfolk. The cause of sinking remains unknown; all 99 officers and men on board were killed. The wreckage of the ship, its S5W reactor, and its two Mark 45 torpedoes with W34 nuclear warheads, remain on the sea floor in more than 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water.
• May 24, 1968 – location unknown – Loss of cooling, radioactive contamination, nuclear fuel damaged
• During sea trials the Soviet nuclear submarine K-27 (Project 645) suffered severe problems with its reactor cooling systems. After spending some time at reduced power, reactor output inexplicably dropped and sensors detected an increase of gamma radiation in the reactor compartment to 150 rad/h. The safety buffer tank released radioactive gases further contaminating the submarine. The crew shut the reactor down and subsequent investigation found that approximately 20% of the fuel assemblies were damaged. The entire submarine was scuttled in the Kara Sea in 1981.
• August 27, 1968 – Severodvinsk, Russia (then USSR) – Reactor power excursion, contamination
• While in the naval yards at Severodvinsk for repairs Soviet Yankee-class nuclear submarine K-140 suffered an uncontrolled increase of the reactor's power output. One of the reactors activated automatically when workers raised control rods to a higher position and power increased to 18 times normal, while pressure and temperature levels in the reactor increased to four times normal. The accident also increased radiation levels aboard the vessel. The problem was traced to the incorrect installation of control rod electrical cables.

## 1970s

Baneberry's radioactive plume rises from a shock fissure. Contaminants were carried in three different directions by the wind
• December 18, 1970 – Nevada Test Site – Accidental venting of nuclear explosion
• December 12, 1971 – New London, Connecticut, USA – Spill of irradiated water
• December 1972 – Pawling, New York, USA – Contamination
• A major fire and two explosions contaminated the plant and grounds of a plutonium fabrication facility resulting in a permanent shutdown.
• 1975 – location unknown – Contamination
• Radioactive resin contaminates the American Sturgeon-class submarine USS Guardfish after wind unexpectedly blows the powder back towards the ship. The resin is used to remove dissolved radioactive minerals and particles from the primary coolant loops of submarines. This type of accident was fairly common; however, U.S. Navy nuclear vessels no longer discharge resin at sea.
• October 1975 – Apra Harbor, Guam – Spill of irradiated water
• August 1976 – Benton County, Washington, USA – Explosion, contamination of worker
• An explosion at the Hanford site Plutonium Finishing Plant blew out a quarter-inch-thick lead glass window. Harold McCluskey, a worker, was showered with nitric acid and radioactive glass. He inhaled the largest dose of 241Am ever recorded, about 500 times the U.S. government occupational standards. The worker was placed in isolation for five months and given an experimental drug to flush the isotope from his body. By 1977, his body's radiation count had fallen by about 80 percent. He died of natural causes in 1987 at age 75.[57]
• 1977 – coast of Kamchatka – Loss and recovery of a nuclear warhead
• The Soviet submarine K-171 accidentally released a nuclear warhead. The warhead was recovered after a search involving dozens of ships and aircraft.[58]
• January 24, 1978 – Northwest Territories, Canada – Spill of nuclear fuel

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