US sent nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan in error

The Pentagon mistakenly shipped four electrical fuses for Minuteman nuclear missiles to Taiwan, officials said yesterday.

It is the second time in seven months that the Pentagon has admitted to mishandling nuclear-related material. The Taiwan shipment could have had international repercussions because of the sensitivity of US arms sales to the island.

The Pentagon said that in 2006 it inadvertently shipped four fuses, intended for the nose cone assemblies for intercontinental ballistic missiles, to Taiwan. The shipment was supposed to contain helicopter batteries, and the Pentagon learned of the slip-up after being informed by Taiwan. The fuses were recovered by the Pentagon, and officials said the components had not been tampered with.

The air force was forced to admit last September that a B-52 bomber mistakenly armed with five nuclear warheads had flown from North Dakota to Louisiana. The pilot and crew were unaware they had nuclear arms aboard.

Officials said the fuses sent to Taiwan, which were from the 1960s, appeared to have been in a shipping container that had been sent between US air force bases in 2005. The sequence of events that led to the fuses being shipped onwards to Taiwan a year later was not clear.

Pentagon officials attempted to minimise the significance of the misplaced material, saying the fuses themselves contained no nuclear materials.

China’s embassy in Washington has so far made no comment. US arms sales to Taiwan are especially sensitive because China objects to defence assistance to the island that Beijing deems to be part of China. – Â

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