Where the Nuclear WMDs Are

November 14th, 2006 - by admin

Federation of American Scientists & Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – 2006-11-14 23:49:18


Where the Bombs Are

Hans Kristensen / Federation of American Scientists

(November 9, 2006) — Ever wondered where all those nukes are stored?

A new review published in the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists shows that the United States stores its nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads at 18 locations in 12 states and six European countries.

The article’s authors – Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council — identified the likely locations by piecing together information from years of monitoring declassified documents, officials statements, news reports, leaks, conversations with current and former officials, and commercial high-resolution satellite photos.

The highest concentration of nuclear warheads is at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific in Bangor, Washington, which is home to more than 2,300 warheads – probably the most nuclear weapons at any one site in the world. At any given moment, nearly half of these warheads are on board ballistic-missile submarines in the Pacific Ocean.

Approximately 1,700 warheads are deployed on Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines operating in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and about 400 warheads are at eight bases in six European countries — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Great Britain (for more information on US warheads in Europe, go to http://www.nukestrat.com/us/afn/nato.htm).

The United States is the only nuclear weapon state that deploys nuclear weapons in foreign countries.

Consolidation of US nuclear storage sites has slowed considerably over the past decade compared to the period between 1992 and 1997, when the Pentagon withdrew nuclear weapons from 10 states and numerous European bases.

Over the past decade, the United States removed nuclear weapons from three states — California, Virginia and South Dakota, and from one European country — Greece.

The overview finds that more than two-thirds of all US nuclear warheads are still stored at bases for operational ballistic missiles and bombers, even through the Cold War ended more than 16 years ago. More than 2,000 of those warheads are on high alert, ready to launch on short notice.

Only about 28 percent of US warheads have been moved to separate storage facilities. The largest of these, an underground vault at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stores more than 1,900 warheads.

The 10 US sites that currently host nuclear weapons are: the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, Bangor, Washington; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; Pantex Plant, Texas; Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; and the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic, Kings Bay, Georgia. (See map.)

• Full-size map available here. Full article available from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists here.

Go on a Nuclear Google Trip
Based on the information in the Bulletin article, FAS and NRDC have created a virtual satellite image tour of the 18 nuclear weapons storage facilities in the United States and Europe. To take the tour you need to have GoogleEarth installed on your computer. (GoogleEarth is available for free here.)

Once you’re set up, click here or on the link below the Google map below to begin. When GoogleEarth has finished loading, check the “Where the Bombs are, 2006” box in the “Places” window to the left to activate the placemarks, click once on a placemark to get an overview of the nuclear weapons stored at the base, and click twice to zoom in on the facility.

• Click here to open GoogleEarth nuclear facility overview

The US government refuses to disclose where it stores nuclear weapons, but the researchers emphasize that all the locations have been known for years to house nuclear weapons. Safety of nuclear weapons is determined not by knowledge of their location but by the military’s physical protection of the facilities and that the weapons cannot be detonated by unauthorized personnel.

Where the Bombs Are, 2006
Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen

November/December 2006 pp. 57-58 (vol. 62, no. 6) C 2006 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Katharine Lee Bates, the author of “America the Beautiful,” could not have been referring to the expanse of the US nuclear arsenal when she penned the lyric “from sea to shining sea,” but it is fitting. Though it is the smallest it has been since 1958, the US nuclear arsenal continues to sprawl across the country, with thousands of weapons deployed from the coast of Washington State to the coast of Georgia and beyond.

In total, we estimate that the United States deploys and stores nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons at 18 facilities in 12 states and six European countries (see below). The Pentagon developed this extensive network of installations over the past six decades in order to ensure the survivability of its nuclear arsenal. Post-Cold War base closures and arms reductions led to the consolidation of weapons at the current facilities; the number of weapons and their locations will change as the Pentagon implements the June 2004 Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Plan and the “New Triad.”

Pinpointing the whereabouts of all US nuclear weapons, and especially the numbers stored at specific locations, is fraught with many uncertainties due to the highly classified nature of nuclear weapons information. Declassified documents, leaks, official statements, news reports, and conversations with current and former officials provide many clues, as do high-resolution satellite images of many of these facilities.

Such images are available to anyone with a computer and internet access, thanks to Google Earth and commercial satellite imaging companies such as DigitalGlobe. This development introduces important new tools for research and advances citizen verification. The statistics contained in this article represent our best estimates, based on many years of closely following nuclear issues.

The nuclear weapons network shrank during the past decade, with the Pentagon removing nuclear weapons from three states (California, Virginia, and South Dakota) and the size of the stockpile decreasing from about 12,500 warheads to nearly 10,000. Consolidation slowed considerably compared with the period between 1992 and 1997, when the Pentagon withdrew nuclear weapons from 10 states and several European bases, and the total stockpile decreased from 18,290 to 12,500 warheads. (For a detailed accounting of the location and distribution of US nuclear weapons in the 1990s, see “Where the Bombs Are, 1992,” September 1992 Bulletin; and “Where the Bombs Are, 1997,” September/October 1997 Bulletin.)

Approximately 62 percent of the current stockpile belongs to the air force and is stored at seven bases in the United States and eight bases in six European countries; the navy stores its weapons at two submarine bases, one on each coast. None of the other services possesses nuclear weapons.

The ballistic missile submarine base at Bangor, Washington, contains nearly 24 percent of the entire stockpile, or some 2,364 warheads, the largest contingent. The Bangor installation is home to a majority (nine) of the navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and a large number of surplus W76 warheads that will eventually be retired and disassembled. Its counterpart on the Atlantic coast, Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia, is the third-largest contingent, with some 1,364 warheads. Each base stores approximately 150 nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles.

Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota, with more than 800 bombs and cruise missiles for its B-52 bombers and more than 400 warheads for its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile wing, has the largest number of active air force weapons. The other B-52 wing at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana has more than 900 warheads, and Whiteman AFB in Missouri has more than 130 bombs for its B-2 bombers.

The large underground facility at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stores more than 1,900 warheads that are either part of the inactive/reserve stockpile or awaiting shipment across Interstate 40 to the Pantex Plant outside of Amarillo, Texas, for dismantlement. The 970-acre facility at Nellis AFB, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas, performs a similar function, storing approximately 900 warheads in 75 igloos–“one of the largest stockpiles in the free world,” according to the air force.

During the Cold War, the United States deployed a large percentage (up to one-third) of its nuclear weapons in other countries and at sea. At its peak arsenal size in the late 1960s, the United States stored weapons in 17 different countries. By the mid-1980s, there were about 14,000 weapons in 26 US states, 6,000 more at overseas US and NATO bases, and another 4,000 on ships at sea.

The United States terminated many nuclear missions after the end of the Cold War and retired the weapons. It withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 and thousands more from Europe by 1993. The army and Marine Corps denuclearized in the early 1990s, and in 1992 the navy swiftly off-loaded all nuclear weapons from aircraft carriers and other surface vessels. By 1994, the navy had eliminated these ships’ nuclear capability, and many air force, navy, and army bases and storage depots closed overseas as a result. Today, perhaps as many as 400 bombs remain at eight facilities in six European countries, the last remnant of a bygone era (see “US Nuclear Weapons in Europe, 1954-2004,” November/December 2004 Bulletin).

Nuclear Notebook is prepared by Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Inquiries should be directed to NRDC, 1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20005; 202-289-6868.

November/December 2006 pp. 57-58 (vol. 62, no. 6) C 2006 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Locations of US Nuclear Weapons, 2006

Warhead/Weapon Total Location (Weapon)


Bomber weapons
B61-7 bombs Total 439
35 at Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2);
210 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H);
194 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H)

B61-11 bombs Total 41
Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2)

B83-1, -0 bombs* Total 626
60 at Whiteman AFB, MO (B-2);
130 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H);
130 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H);
306 at Nellis AFB, NM (storage)

W80-1/ALCM Total 1,411
500 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H);
200 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H);
711 at Kirtland AFB, NM (storage)

W80-1/ACM Total 400
100 at Barksdale AFB, LA (B-52H);
300 at Minot AFB, ND (B-52H)

W76/Trident II D5 Total 1,712
1,100 at Bangor, WA;
612 at Kings Bay, GA

W76/Trident I C4 Total 1,318
850 inactive at Bangor, WA;
468 inactive at Kings Bay, GA

W88/Trident II D5 Total 404
264 at Bangor, WA;
140 at Kings Bay, GA ICBMs

W62/Minuteman III Total 580
46 warheads in 46 Warren AFB silos, CO;
85 warheads in 85 Warren AFB silos, NE;
19 warheads in 19 Warren AFB silos, WY;
20 spare warheads in Warren AFB, WY;
150 warheads in 50 Malmstrom AFB silos, MT;
10 spare warheads in Malmstrom AFB, MT;
250 warheads in storage at Kirtland AFB, NM

W78/Minuteman III Total 805
200 warheads in 100 Malmstrom AFB silos, MT;
150 warheads in 50 Malmstrom AFB silos, MT;
25 spare warheads at Malmstrom AFB, MT;
300 warheads in 100 Minot AFB silos, ND;
100 warheads in 50 Minot AFB silos, ND;
30 spare warheads at Minot AFB, ND

W87/MX Total 553
553 warheads in storage at Kirtland AFB, NM


B61-3 Total 386
200 in Europe;
186 at Nellis AFB, NV

B61-4 Total 404
200 in Europe;
204 at Nellis AFB, NV

B61-10* Total 206
206 at Nellis AFB, NV

W80-0/SLCM Total 294
150 at Bangor, WA;
144 at Kings Bay, GA


W84/GLCM Total 383
383 in reserve at Kirtland AFB, NM


Several types of warheads await dismantlement; schedule unknown

Total 9,962

ACM: advanced cruise missile; AFB: air force base; ALCM: air-launched cruise missile; ICBM: intercontinental ballistic missile; GLCM: ground-launched cruise missile; SLBM: submarine-launched ballistic missile; SLCM: submarine-launched cruise missile

* All B61-10 and 83-0 bombs are inactive.

** Presidential Decision Directive 74 of November 29, 2000, authorized deployment of 480 (+/- 10 percent) B61 bombs in Europe. Whether the full number was deployed is unclear. Since 2000, the United States withdrew weapons from two former nuclear bases (Araxos in Greece and Memmingen in Germany) and placed all B61-10s in the inactive stockpile

Locations of US nuclear weapons overseas

Where they were
Chichi Jima
Iwo Jima Japan (non-nuclear)
Johnston Island
Kwajalein Atoll
Midway Islands
Puerto Rico
South Korea
* Deployed prior to 1959 statehood