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U.S. Nuclear Weapons on Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima


Companion Page to the
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
January /February 2000 Issue

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 23

Published – December 13, 1999

For more information contact:
Robert S. Norris, NRDC, 202/289-2369
William M. Arkin, 802/457-3426
William Burr, National Security Archive, 202/994-7032 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu


Rewriting Japanese History: Article reveals new information about U.S. nukes in "non-nuclear" Japan during the 1950s and 1960s


Washington, D.C., December 13, 1999 – For more than 40 years, the United States has kept secret the fact that it once deployed nuclear weapons on two Japanese islands, Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima, according to an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' January/February 2000 issue. The article, by three noted nuclear weapons analysts, is a follow up to their article in the November/December 1999 Bulletin about the history of the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in 27 countries and territories around the globe.

The authors conclude that though the United States technically abided by Japan's "non-nuclear" principles, the non-nuclear status of the country was fundamentally undermined. Japan was fully integrated into U.S. nuclear war plans, nuclear warheads were deployed on the three Japanese islands of Chichi Jima, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, components were stored on the Japanese mainland, and nuclear weapons were routinely present on U.S. ships and submarines calling at Japanese ports. "Japanese post-war nuclear history is now only becoming clear," said co-author William M. Arkin. "An elaborate contraption was built to accommodate Japanese nuclear sensitivities, but none of it meant that Japan truly escaped the potential effects of a nuclear war."

In the article, "How Much Did Japan Know?," the authors show that the scale of Japanese involvement in the U.S. nuclear infrastructure was much larger than has ever been known. Ambiguity, secrecy, silence and ignorance were the ingredients of the policy. Japan's non-nuclear policy was largely fictitious, and it allowed the U.S. military to optimally base its weapons to wage a nuclear war against the Soviet Union and China.

"There was some unfinished business from the first article," said co-author Robert S. Norris. "There was the question of identifying a mystery site that came alphabetically between Canada and Cuba, and there also was the fact that we incorrectly identified Iceland as a nuclear storage location. We now know that Chichi Jima is the "C" location and that Iwo Jima is the real "I" location, and we have the ‘smoking gun' documents to prove it."

The United States stored nuclear weapons and/or components on the two occupied Japanese islands from 1956 to 1966. Using newly discovered documents from the National Archives and elsewhere, the authors also show that even after the Pentagon had withdrawn nuclear weapons from Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima when the islands reverted to Japan, military planners wanted to use the islands as secret storage sites for nuclear weapons if World War III broke out and other bases were destroyed.

Additionally, the article reveals for the first time that the United States and Japan signed a secret agreement in 1968 enabling the U.S. military to store nuclear weapons on the two islands in the event of an emergency. According to co-author William Burr, "This agreement was an important precedent for a similar nuclear storage arrangement reached in 1972 when the U.S. returned control of Okinawa to Japan."

The article's co-authors are Robert S. Norris, senior research analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, William M. Arkin, a military expert, and William Burr, senior analyst at the National Security Archive. Their article, "Where They Were," in the November/December 1999 issue of the Bulletin, received worldwide attention.

The article can be found on the Bulletin's Web site at


Key documents can be found at the National Security Archive's Web site

and at the Nautilus Institute's Web site


# # #

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information is available through NRDC's Web site at www.nrdc.org.


National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 22


U.S. Nuclear Weapons on Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima

Many of the following documents, most of them from collections at the National Archives, are cited in "Where They Were: How Much Did Japan Know?"  by Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, and William Burr, published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February 2000, pp. 11-13, 78-79.


Document 1: Telegram 1204 from U.S. Embassy Tokyo to Department of State, 13 October 1952, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-54 (Washington, D.C. , 1985), Volume XIV, Part 2, 1340-43.

This document recounts Admiral Radford's inspection tour of the Bonin Islands in early October 1952 as well as his assessment of their strategic importance. The archival file copy of this document remains classified; only the sanitized version published in the FRUS is available.  The communique mentioned in the text refers to the U.S.-Japanese statement, then undergoing negotiation, that would be issued at the conclusion of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato's visit to Washington.  The statement released on 15 November 1967 disclosed plans for the "early restoration" of the Bonins to Japanese administration.


Document 2: Memorandum, Mr. Allison to the Secretary [of State], "Future Disposition of the Ryuku and Bonin Islands," 18 March 1953, National Archives, Department of State Records, Record Group 59 (hereafter cited as RG 59), Central Decimal Files, 1950-54, file "894C.0221/3-1853."

Not convinced by the Pentagon's arguments about Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima, the State Department was interested in returning the islands to Japan. The Joint Chiefs would block any initiative in that direction for years.


Document 3: Chairman's Staff Group to Admiral Radford, "Dispersal of Atomic Weapons in the Bonin and Volcano Islands," 4 June 1957, National Archives, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Record Group 218, Chairman's Files, Admiral Radford, box 44, file "476.1."

The only declassified document that discloses U.S. decisions to deploy nuclear weapons on Chichi Jima.


Document 4: Joint Chiefs of Staff, memorandum for General Goodpaster, "Bonin Islands," 19 June 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Ann Whitman File, International Series, box 34, file "Japan 1957-59."

In a memorandum to President Eisenhower's staff secretary, the Joint Chiefs presented their case for continued U.S. control of the Bonins, although they made no mention of current nuclear deployments there. President Eisenhower's initials indicated that he read this document.


Document 5: "Background Papers on Bonins," Item 3, "American Military Bases in the Bonin and Volcano Islands," [n.d., circa 1957], RG 59, Subject Files Relating to the Ryukyus Islands, 1952-58, box 14, file "Bonin Islands 6.4, Compensation Proposals for Islanders, 1957."

Apparently prepared for an unclassified setting, this description of military bases on Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima does not even hint at the presence of  nuclear weapons on the islands.


Document 6: Briefing Paper for Visit of Prime Minister Ikeda to Washington, 20-23 June 1961, "United States Administration of the Bonin Islands," 14 June 1961, RG 59, Executive Secretariat Conference Files, 1949-63, box 256, file "CF 1915."

This review of U.S. control of the Bonin and Volcano Islands and the plans to compensate former Japanese residents discloses the little that could be told to Japanese officials about U.S. military facilities on the islands.


Document 7: State Department cable 371 to U.S. Embassy Tokyo, 6 August 1964, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1964-66, file "POL 19 Bonin Is."

Inquiries by Chicago Tribune reporter Samuel Jameson prompted the State Department to inform the Tokyo embassy what could be said publicly about the Bonins and what remained classified, including their role in "special weapons storage."


Document 8: Memorandum of conversation between Japanese Foreign Minister Takeo Miki and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, "Ryukyu Islands," 16 September 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1967-69, file "POL 19 Ryu."

Rusk cautioned Miki that Washington might try to retain control of Iwo Jima while returning the rest of the islands to Japan. Concern about the reactions of U.S. veterans groups to returning Iwo Jima to Japan may have influenced Rusk's thinking.  NODIS" means "no distribution" to other officials in the State Department without the approval of the Executive Secretary.


Document 9: State Department cable 65120 to U.S. embassy Tokyo, 5 November 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

The State Department informed the Tokyo embassy that the Joint Chiefs wanted the option to store nuclear weapons on the Bonins in the event of a military confrontation in the region.  The communique mentioned in the text refers to the U.S.-Japense statement, then undergoing negotiation, that would be issued at the conclusion of Prime Minister Eisaku's talks with President Johnson.  The text released on 15 November disclosed the plans for the "early restoration" of the Bonins to Japanese administration.


Document 10: Memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, William P. Bundy to the Secretary, "Congressional Consultation on the Ryukus and the Bonins -- Briefing Memorandum," 6 November 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Ryu Isl."

Bundy reviewed State Department perspectives on the reversion of the Bonins and the Ryukyus. The background papers listed at the end of this document were not in the file. "EXDIS" means "exclusive distribution" to those officials with an essential "need to know."


Document 11: Memorandum of conversation between Prime Minister Sato and Secretary of State Rusk, "Ryukyus and Bonins," 15 November 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Ryu Isl."

During Sato's visit, Rusk assured the Japanese that the administration was prepared to work out the details for returning the Bonins to Japan.


Document 12: State Department cable 83547 to U.S. embassy Tokyo, "Bonins Fact Sheet," 12 December 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

This description of U.S. installations refered to "munitions storage facilities" on Chichi Jima.


Document 13: Tokyo embassy cable 4333 to State Department, "Nuclear Weapons and Bonin Negotiations," 29 December 1967, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

Ambassador U.Alexis Johnson's review of the problems in reaching a nuclear storage agreement with Tokyo.


Document 14: State Department cable 93485, "Nuclear Weapons and Bonins Negotiations," 4 January 1968, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

The State Department's views on how a nuclear storage agreement could be recorded.


Document 15: State Department cable 141066 to U.S. Embassy Tokyo, 3 April 1968, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, file "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

Responding to a still classified message from ambassador Johnson, the State Department expressed its dismay over foreign minister Miki's "last minute efforts" to change the nuclear weapons storage features of the agreement on the Bonins.


Document 16: U.S. embassy Tokyo airgram 2370, "Bonin Agreement Nuclear Storage," 30 December 1968, RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, "POL 19 Bonin Islands."

This document confirms that Johnson and Miki signed an agreement on nuclear weapons storage in April 1968.


For additional material, including information on the presence of a nuclear weapons storage detachment on Iwo Jima, see documentation posted on the Nautilus Institute world wide web site:



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