"I don't know what's scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there's actually a term for it."
Nukes are very powerful things, capable of doing untold damage in the wrong hands. So of course, when a nuke shows up in fiction
, you can just bet
it will end up in the wrong hands.
The trope name comes from a US military code phrase
, meaning any situation involving the theft or seizure of a functioning nuclear weapon. The accidental loss of a nuclear weapon is also included in this trope, though the military uses a different code phrase for it (Broken Arrow).
See also Artistic License - Nuclear Physics
and A Nuclear Error
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Anime & Manga
- In Wednesday's Wrath, Mack Bolan discovers a plan to rob White Sands of nuclear & chemical weapons during a range demonstration. A Dept of Defense strategist had become obsessed with an "unbeatable" war game he'd developed involving a similar scenario, and when his superiors told him to drop the matter decided to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Phoenix Force (an '80's action/adventure spin-off series of Mack Bolan, written by Gar Wilson) novel The Fury Bombs.
- The first few Track novels by Jerry Ahern are based around a neo-Nazi plot to use a hundred stolen nuclear weapons to blackmail the world.
- From Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears:
- The novel featured an air-dropped Israeli nuclear weapon lost during the Yom Kippur War, later found in a Druze farmer's field in Syria, and refurbished with the help of an East German scientist. The movie doesn't get as detailed about it.
- According to the movie, the weapons is US-made and secretly given to Israel, but the plane carrying it crashes. This is confirmed when Ryan asks a member of the cleanup crew if he can tell where the nuclear material came from. The man recognizes the signature pretty quickly and can even narrow it down to a specific reactor.
- And the whole crises is made worse because the CIA had been getting some disinformation from one of their spies in the USSR indicating that that they had "lost" some of their nukes: something Jack Ryan found hard to believe, because those aren't something that you just lose.
- The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean. The villains steal the latest mini-nuke from the United States, and plan to use it to destroy all evidence and witnesses after their robbery of a gold shipment. Though why they don't just sell the nuke...
- Three nukes are the weapons of mass destruction that are claimed to have been stolen by terrorists in John Ringo's Unto the Breach, to the US president, instead of the actual theft, due to the sensitive nature of the stolen material. Not really a subversion, though, as the reader is aware from the start about the real WMD that's been stolen, as the theft scene is at the very beginning of the book.
- The original Ian Fleming novel on which Thunderball is based is probably the first and most definite example of the trope. It is, however, subverted in that the nuke in question is British (while the code is American), and the terrorists attempt to portray it as an accident, that is, a "Broken Arrow" situation, instead of "Empty Quiver".
Live Action TV
- Every Metal Gear Solid game:
- Metal Gear Solid: FOXHOUND hijacks Metal Gear REX with the threat of firing its railgun-launched nuke if their ransom demands aren't met.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Dead Cell steal Arsenal Gear with the intent of detonating its experimental nuke in the air over Wall Street, destroying The Patriots' information network there.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: American defector delivers a tactical nuke to a GRU Colonel. He test-fires it on his own troops at the end of the first act. There's also The Shagohod, but that's not stolen.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Ocelot retrieves REX's forgotten railgun and its armed nuke to destroy The Patriots orbital command satellite.
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker has the nuke 'legally' owned by the villains. It's then Kaz who steals it and attaches it to ZEKE to use as MSF's deterrent, and since we all know where Big Boss ended up...
- The Modern Warfare series thrives on this concept.
- Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter involved the president's nuclear football being stolen. The sequel involved two nukes being stolen.
- Wild ARMs 2 has a situation like this, where the leader of one country excavates an ancient nuke in order to intimidate the absurdly powerful terrorist organization that's currently running amok all over the planet. Three guesses as to who ends up swiping the nuke and whether or not it actually gets used.
- In Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars's Nod campaign, Act III revolves around a combination of this, an Alien Invasion, and Kane living. Note that the theft is accomplished in two parts: first, hijacking the warheads by force using the aforementioned alien invasion as cover and then pretending to team up with the local GDI garrison against the aliens while secretly stealing the launch codes. And then you get to nuke (a GDI base near) Sydney.
- Mass Effect 1 has a minor mission where you track down a probe the Alliance sent out during the First Contact War, that had been equipped with a nuclear warhead. It turns out to have been stolen by terrorists.
- In the third game, there's also the turian bomb on Tuchanka that Cerberus uncovers and tries to detonate.
- This website has a list of nuclear bombs which are believed to have been lost at sea.
- In 1966, a B-52G collided with its KC-135 refueller off the southern coast of Spain, the KC-135 exploding and the B-52 breaking up. Of the four nuclear weapons being carried at the time by the bomber, three dropped on land near the fishing village of Palomares, Spain, and the remaining one fell in the Mediterranean Sea. All four devices were eventually recovered, though the conventional explosives of two of the three that fell on land detonated, contaminating the area with weapon grade plutonium.
- Note that all above examples are technically cases of a Broken Arrow, because the losses of nuclear devices were accidental. Empty Quiver denotes an intentional theft, and there is no confirmed cases of such an event wherever it might be.