U.S. military authorities are unable to find hundreds of nuclear missile components, The Financial Times reported in its online edition Thursday, but the Pentagon shrugged it off as simple record-keeping woes.
The US air force has not located these registered components in its inventories, according to a Pentagon report which, according to some sources, puts the number of missing components at more than 1,000, the FT reported.
The Defense Department acknowledged having inventory problems but without confirming problems with nuclear components.
"A record keeping of components was identified as a weakness, but there is a significant difference between missing items and not having a full, complete paper trail for every component," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
He said the paper trail for components may have become messy because components could have been "destroyed, demilitarized."
A recent inquiry into a mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear weapons to Taiwan "didn't find anything that would affect either the health and safety of the public or the men and women in uniform or call into question the safety and security and reliability of our nuclear arsenal," he stressed.
A high-ranking anonymous source cited by the FT said the report put the spotlight on nuclear component inventory problems, but did not suggest the unaccounted for items were in the hands of anyone who should not have them.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June sacked the air force's civilian secretary and chief of staff, blaming them for two major blunders, including the Taiwan case.
The Taiwan incident, as well as the accidental transfer of nuclear armed cruise missiles from one US air base to another last year, were symptoms of a decline in the air force's standards and focus on the nuclear mission, Gates told reporters.
Four fuses used to trigger nuclear warheads were inadvertently shipped to Taiwan in August 2006 as helicopter batteries.
The loss went undetected until March 2007, when nose cone assemblies containing the fuses were recovered.
The United States had to notify China of the blunder and give assurances that its arms sales policies to Taiwan had not changed.