In 1990, the U.S. Government Accidentally Gave Up a Nuclear Secret
National Archive published sensitive Air Force photos
In mid-February 2016, the U.S. government finally admitted what observers had long known — that the Pentagon stashed atomic weapons on the Japanese island of Okinawa during the Cold War. This despite repeated official denials and Tokyo’s long-standing opposition to nuclear weapons.
The National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. celebrated the February disclosure. “Although an open secret for decades, the subject has been controversial because Japan’s leaders and U.S. officials have consistently denied the presence of such weapons on Japanese territory,” the university program explained. “However welcome the release may be, its significance is somewhat tempered by the astonishing fact that U.S. Air Force photographs of nuclear weapons on the island have been publicly available for over 25 years.”
Indeed, Air Force archivists released several photos of nuclear weapons in Okinawa beginning in 1990. The photos, dating back to the 1960s, apparently escaped censorship because archive officials didn’t realize what they were looking at.
One 1962 photo depicts a Mark 7 atomic bomb being readied by airmen from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena air base in Okinawa during the 1st Annual Pacific Air Force Munitions Loading Competition on Oct. 23, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The caption accompanying the official Air Force picture does not specifically identify the Mark 7 as a nuclear weapon, which “may explain why it survived in the open files,” according to the National Security Archive.