US officials admitted today that "nose cone assemblies" for nuclear missiles had been mistakenly sent to Taiwan in 2006, but sought to calm fears by saying that they had now "regained control" of the bits.
AP quoted US Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne as saying "we're very concerned".
It appears that Taiwan had actually ordered a number of batteries for use in US-supplied helicopters, but instead received electrical fuse assemblies for use in the noses of Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"This could not be construed as being nuclear material. It is a component for the fuse in the nosecone for a nuclear system," said Wynne at a press briefing this afternoon.
Pentagon and White House officials told reporters that America had learned of the problem after the Taiwanese recipients of the nuke fuses told them. US investigators have thus far established that the items were shipped from a US airbase in Wyoming to a warehouse in Utah during 2005, and then on to Taiwan in 2006. The sequence of events after that was "unclear".
There seems to be no suggestion that the nosecone assemblies were radiological or nuclear materials as such. Even so, their export by mistake is plainly a matter of concern to a government with strict rules for overseas sales of military or dual-use technologies.
However, officials did say that the Minuteman missile - of 1960s vintage - was "quite dated". ®