Need To Review Procedures for Safeguarding Nuclear Weapons in Transit

EMD-79-93: Published: Aug 1, 1979. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 1979.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The procedures employed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Energy (DOE) for protecting nuclear weapons while in transit were recently examined. Nuclear weapons are most vulnerable while in transit, so that security measures taken to protect them outside of their storage locations must be sufficient to dissuade sabotage and theft and to withstand attack. Security procedures are based on transportation mode preferences. DOE prefers overland shipments in special trailers, while DOD prefers shipping by military aircraft.

Although the protection procedures employed by the two departments for weapons in transit appear adequate, neither department has ever compared and balanced the security, public safety, and cost advantages and disadvantages of the transportation modes to determine if one is better than the other. Results of a study conducted to estimate the average probability of a release of nuclear materials to the environment showed that a release will occur every 192,000 years using special trailers, every 3,000 years using C-141 aircraft, and every 2,000 years using C-130 aircraft. A transportation cost comparison for a selected route showed that it costs about $20,000 to ship by air and $38,640 to ship by special truck.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: It is recommended that the Secretaries of Defense and Energy jointly compare the advantages and disadvantages of the overland special trailer and military aircraft nuclear weapon transportation modes to determine which mode overall provides the highest levels of security and public safety necessary at the least cost; establish joint criteria consistent with the above determination to be used in deciding whether a particular shipment should be moved overland or by air; and review the question of why DOE is involved in transporting assembled nuclear weapons.

    Agency Affected:


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 16, 2017

Oct 5, 2017

Sep 29, 2017

Sep 28, 2017

Sep 27, 2017

Sep 26, 2017

Sep 19, 2017

Sep 12, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here