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The Case of the Six Missing Nuclear Weapons

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

It’s taken our team nearly 2 years to finish designing Proliferation: The Game of Nuclear Strategy. Since the inspiration behind the game was world politics and nuclear armament, we wanted to make the game as realistic as possible, jampacking it full of facts and subtle nods to real historical events. In the process, our team members became versed on the complex, terrifying, and often incredible history of nuclear proliferation across the world.

Countless hours of research was required to get Proliferation to the place it is today. And since we still have all these facts swirling around in our heads, we thought we would share some of the most surprising ones we discovered while designing your future favorite tabletop game.

With that being said, it’s time to talk about lost Nukes.

FACT: Unexpected incidents involving nuclear weapons are called “Broken Arrows”.

There have been at least 30 “Broken Arrow” incidents since the inception of the Trinity bomb in 1945. However, six of these incidents comprise a category all on their own. Six of the “Broken Arrows” involve completely losing Nukes, three of which cannot be found until this day.

It also looks as if the United States is responsible for all of them.

Imagine... six of these going missing!

However, the nuclear histories of countries like The UK, France, and Russia have been kept more secret than that of the USA. In fact, a report was declassified in the 1980’s by the US Department of Defense detailing all of its “Broken Arrow” incidents.

FACT: The USA kept nuclear-armed airplanes in the sky at all times from 1960 to 1968.

It was called Operation Chrome Dome, and it’s the principal reason behind half of the six missing Nukes.

With the American public on high alert, preoccupied with fears of Mutually Assured Destruction with the USSR, the US government made sure to have ready and expansive access to nuclear weapons at all times. This also made it so that accidents were bound to occur, with military training and routine missions brushing up against nuclear priorities consistently.

In December of 1965, a one-megaton nuclear weapon rolled off the deck of the USS Ticonderoga. In 1968, a nuclear-equipped submarine drowned near the Azores Islands, and in 1961, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, the military initially lost two 24-megaton weapons, only to recover one of them. The other has never been seen since.

In 1958, a nuclear weapon was dropped over the Wassaw Sound in South Carolina to reduce payload for a plane that had collided in midair. That weapon is still in those waters to this day.

FACT: There are six missing US nuclear weapons to this day, and all six of them are over half a century old.

While the nuclear programs of some other countries remain historically shrouded in mystery, the USA is the only country which has admitted to flat-out losing Nukes. Six nuclear weapons remain missing to this day.

The silver lining? The last Nuke lost by the US government was in 1968. So at least mankind is getting better at this nuclear thing. Or maybe they’re just being more secretive.

The nuclear history that builds the backbone of Proliferation is terrifying, to be sure. At least one of the bombs lost was a hydrogen bomb, a much more powerful version of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Knowing that these Broken Arrow incidents have occurred really puts into perspective the amount of power that nuclearized nations have, and how much human error is still very much part of the equation.

Creating Proliferation has been an excellent opportunity for our team to learn about one of the darker sides of humanity. We hope that spreading information and awareness can help to keep people educated, and move toward a society with no Nukes… Or at least a lot fewer than there are today.

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