Atomic Energy Act Prevents Declassification of Site of 1958 “Broken Arrow” Nuclear Weapons Accident via Unredacted

Air Force Chief of Staff Said Bomber Conflagration in Morocco Involved Nukes–“One of Those Things”

Legislation from 1950s Holds Up Declassification of Obsolete Secrets, Despite Calls for Reform

The Cold War ended several decades ago, but the U.S. government continues to keep secrets from that era under lock and key.  Some secrets remain valid, but some of the secrecy serves no useful purpose. One pointless secret concerns a January 1958 nuclear weapons accident that took place at a U.S. Air Force base in Morocco. A recent U.S. Air Force declassification decision about the accident reminds us about the enduring unnecessary secrecy.


For many years during the Cold War, the U.S. government deployed nuclear weapons around the world, on land and sea, from Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean, from Western Europe to East Asia.


The Defense Department  cited the incident on 31 January 1958 noting that the B-47 was making a simulated takeoff when one of the wheels failed and a fuel tank ruptured when the plane hit the surface.  The conventional explosives on the weapons did not detonate but the meltdown of the bomb’s plutonium pit caused contamination in the area around the fire and on one of the fireman’s clothing.  The burning of a nuclear weapon made the accident a “Broken Arrow” (the highest category short of an accidental nuclear explosion). The Defense Department did not identify the location but Norris correctly surmised that the incident took place at Sidi Slimane.

(For more information on nuclear accidents, read Unredacted’s analysis of an Air Force document entitled, ““Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving U.S. Nuclear Weapons,” which reports that there were at least 32 “accidents involving nuclear weapons” before 1980.)

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