Estimated Nuclear Weapons Locations 2009

Some 23,300 nuclear weapons are stored at 111 locations around the world (click for map)

By Hans M. Kristensen

The world’s approximately 23,300 nuclear weapons are stored at an estimated 111 locations in 14 countries, according to an overview produced by FAS and NRDC.

Nearly half of the weapons are operationally deployed with delivery systems capable of launching on short notice.

The overview is published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and includes the July 2009 START memorandum of understanding data. A previous version was included in the annual report from the International Panel of Fissile Materials published last month.

Figure 2:
Saratov Nuclear Sites

More than 1,000 nuclear weapons surround Saratov.

Russia has an estimated 48 permanent nuclear weapon storage sites, of which more than half are on bases for operational forces. There are approximately 19 storage sites, of which about half are national-level storage facilities.  In addition, a significant number of temporary storage sites occasionally store nuclear weapons in transit between facilities.

This is a significant consolidation from the estimated 90 Russian sites ten years ago, and more than 500 sites before 1991.

Many of the Russian sites are in close proximity to each other and large populated areas.  One example is the Saratov area where the city is surrounded by a missile division, a strategic bomber base, and a national-level storage site with probably well over 1,000 nuclear warheads combined (Figure 2).

The United States stores its nuclear weapons at 21 locations in 13 states and five European countries.  This is a consolidation from the estimated 24 sites ten year ago, 50 at the end of the Cold War, and 164 in 1985 (see Figure 3).

Figure 3:
B61 Nuclear Bombs in Storage

Approximately 50 B61 nuclear bombs inside an igloo at what might be Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Seventy-five igloos at Nellis store “one of the largest stockpile in the free world,” according to the U.S. Air Force, one of four central storage sites in the United States.

Europe has about the same number of nuclear weapon storage locations as the Continental United States, with weapons scattered across seven countries. This includes seven sites in France and four in Britain. Five non-nuclear NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) still host U.S. nuclear weapons first deployed there during the Cold War.

We estimate that China has 8-14 facilities associated with nuclear weapons, most likely closer to the lower number, near bases with units that operate nuclear missiles or aircraft.  None of the weapons are believed to be fully operational but stored separate from delivery vehicles at sites controlled by the Central Military Commission.

Is There a Nuclear Weapons Storage Site on Hainan Island?

Where does China store nuclear warheads for its ballistic missile submarines?  The naval base near Julin on Hainan Island has extensive underground facilities.  An alternative to the base itself could potentially be a facility elsewhere on the island, such as Foluo Air Base where construction of an underground facility began five years before the first SSBN arrived at Hainan. Or are the weapons stored on the mainland?  Click image to enlarge.

Israel probably has about four nuclear sites, whereas the nuclear storage facilities in India and Pakistan are – despite many rumors – largely undetermined.  All three countries are thought to store warheads separate from delivery vehicles.

Despite two nuclear tests and many rumors, we are unaware of publicly available evidence that North Korea has operationalized its nuclear weapons capability.

Warhead concentrations vary greatly from country to country. With 13,000 warheads at 48 sites, Russian stores an average of 270 warheads at each location. The U.S. concentration is much higher with an average of 450 warheads at each location. These are averages, however, and in reality the distribution is thought to be much more uneven with some sites only storing tens of warheads.

Finally, a word of caution is in order: estimates such as these obviously come with a great deal of uncertainty, as we don’t have access to classified intelligence estimates. Based on publicly available information and our own assumptions we have nonetheless produced a best estimate that we hope will assist the public debate. Comments and suggestions are encouraged so we can adjust the overview in the future.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

21 thoughts on “Estimated Nuclear Weapons Locations 2009

  1. Why do you assume none are stored at Diego Garcia?

    Reply: Because we know of no indications that any nuclear weapons are stored in Diego Garcia. All U.S. nuclear weapons that used to be deployed in other countries have been withdrawn – except in Europe, where 200 bombs are left over from the Cold War in five countries. Those bombs and the warheads on sea-launched ballistic missile submarines patrolling in the Atlantic and Pacific are the only U.S. nuclear weapons deployed outside the continental United States. HK

  2. Are you sure there are no USN SSBNs floating around in the Indian Ocean, at least from time to time? And do you have any indication that they really do in the Med?

    Reply: The patrol areas on the map are nominal patrol areas. The SSBNs patrol where their mission requires them to go; meaning where they are within range of the targets the particular submarine has to hold at risk according to the war plan. SSBNs not on hard alert have greater freedom to go elsewhere, but I have never seen any indication of US SSBNs in the Indian Ocean. During the Cold War they went into the Mediterranean, but that was probably primarily because of the shorter range of the missiles. With the D5 they don’t have to go there to reach their targets, unless the mission involves a compressed trajectory to get a warhead on target quickly. But if so, that’s probably only a very small portion of the patrols with the majority taking place in open Ocean areas. HK

  3. I’m looking at the map of the UK and trying to work out what the site on the east of scotland could be. It seems to imply Rosyth but as far as I’m aware only old nuclear subs are keep there waiting for to be dismantled.

    Reply: There is no site in Eastern Scotland. The map is too rough and the dots too large to eyeball locations. If you go into the text and look under the United Kingdom (or Britain as the editors decided), you’ll see that there are two facilitates listed in Scotland: Faslane (sub base) and Coulport (warhead storage). HK

  4. Chinese media has a response (more here) to your estimate with a public discussion of 2nd artillery’s multiple underground facilities (with pictures). It said it can withstand multiple nuclear strikes on single location, and requires perhaps thousands nukes to destroy an entire facility.

    Reply: Thanks for the links. Amazing claims, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that. I can’t help wonder what good intact warheads deep underground would be if there’s nothing left on the surface to deliver them. HK

  5. Actually israel has not confirmed that it has nuclear weapons (officially) so where from such strange and exact information?

    Reply: Of course, only the Israeli government knows how many nuclear weapons it has produced. That is the case with all nuclear weapon states. What we provide is an estimate based available public information. The reason the Israeli government has not officially confirmed that it has nuclear weapons is because it is its policy not to do so, but everyone else have concluded long ago that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, including the U.S. government. HK

  6. What is the basis of the presumptions that India has 60-80 weapons and Pakistan has about 70-90. Is it based on the fissile material available? If so, can you explain your assumptions on the fissile material, in the case of India? Example: What are the presumptions for each reactor for fissile material produced in its life time?

  7. [Edited] The Israeli government already has nuclear weapons and has had them for a long time. Because of the Holocaust and the “Six Day War,” the weapons were acquired and it was of great importance to have the nuclear capabilities. Surrounding by neighboring Islamic countries that are Israel’s adversaries, Israel has to have the upper hand. Iran is their main concern!

    Reply: Certainly, Israel’s history and its sense of vulnerability probably had a significant influence on the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Whether it was about Islamic neighbors or simply hostile neighbors is less clear. Israel’s own policies and actions are also part of the picture. But now that Israel has the nukes, what happens if some of its potential adversaries in the region also acquire them? Does Israeli security go up or down? HK

  8. Have you considered operationally deployed missiles on mobile launchpads in Chazhou, and in area of Taiwan straits? I found rather accurate crowd-sourced map on the internet.

    Reply: Yes, the image you found appears to show vehicles at an air-defense launch site for the Chinese HQ-12 Surface-to-Air Missile system. The ballistic missiles in this region off Taiwan are said to be short-range ballistic missiles (DF-11, DF-15). Further inland there are garrisons for medium-range DF-21 missiles organized under the 52 Base and 55 Base. Some of the DF-21s are thought to be nuclear, others possibly conventional. HK

  9. And where are all the US Army and USMC nuclear artillery shells and tactical missile warheads stored? We don’t just have air delivered bombs and ICBMs, you know. There used to be some, supposedly, at the Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, California. The US Army and USMC artillery still, to this day, practice shooting 155mm nuclear shells and tactical nuclear missiles. Why do that if the warheads are all supposedly awaiting dismantling?

    1. All the US Army and USMC nuclear weapons have been retired and the warheads scrapped. The Sierra Army Depot has not stored nuclear weapons for two decades. Neither the US Army nor the USMC practice shooting nuclear shells or tactical nuclear missiles. Those days are gone.

      1. Dear Sir,
        I am a civilian who is a semi- celebrity near a major Marine Corps Air Station. Due to my contributions to the base I get to fly in the fighter jets a helicopters from time to time. The jets have a switch on their console which arms the nuclear weapons. I saw it and touched it myself! The pilots seem to know where the warheads are and practice low altitude high speed delivery just for nukes. I even know the exact name of the maneuver which I will not share with you since none of that exists.
        Total contradiction from above, maybe I have access to information you don’t. Please explain.

  10. Pakistan has 100-120 nuclear warheads and the numbers are going to climb in the next 2 years making it the 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world..!!

  11. During the 1980s I was stationed at Moffett Field. We stored nuclear war heads there and most people had no idea. They were for harpoon missiles that could be attached to our P-3 aircraft. just a cold war tidbet.

    1. Are you sure? It sounds odd because the Harpoon was never equipped with a nuclear warhead. There were plans in the 1970s to do so but the program was unfunded in 1980. The P-3 was equipped to drop nuclear depth bombs. Perhaps that’s what you remember. If not, I’d be interested in hearing more. Thanks.

  12. I played golf recently at the Moffett field golf course. The WSA is clear to see and is still being used by a usaf rescue team still active at the ex navy field. The WSA looks well cared for, I can only assume they use it for small arms munitions and flares etc. Talk about overboard in! I am ex navy and knew someone on the ordanance team of the p3s. The wsa was for nuc depth bombs only. There is also a wsa on ex alameda nas and also a semi active wsa on concord sealift base.

    1. There is no longer a Weapons Storage Area (for nuclear weapons) at Moffett. Up through the 1980s NAS (Naval Air StationO Muffett Field served as a “contingency support” nuclear depth bomb storage site for P-3 antisubmarine aircraft, but the weapons were probably kept at Concord Naval Weapons Station under normal circumstances. The “contingency” storage bunkers were probably on the north-east side of the runway. As nuclear depth bombs were scrapped in the early-1990s, NAS Moffett Field lost the nuclear mission and the Navy closed the base in 1994. Today it is known a Muffett Federal Airfield and home of the Air Force’s 129th Rescue Mission:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *