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The unmarked 18-wheelers ply the nation’s interstates and two-lane highways, logging 3 million miles a year hauling the most lethal cargo there is: nuclear bombs.The covert fleet, which shuttles warheads from missile silos, bomber bases and submarine docks to nuclear weapons labs across the country, is operated by the Office of Secure Transportation, a troubled agency within the U.S. Department of Energy so cloaked in secrecy that few people outside the government know it exists.
The $237-million-a-year agency operates a fleet of 42 tractor-trailers, staffed by highly armed couriers, many of them veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, responsible for making sure nuclear weapons and components pass through foggy mountain passes and urban traffic jams without incident.
The transportation office is about to become more crucial than ever as the U.S. embarks on a $1-trillion upgrade of the nuclear arsenal that will require thousands of additional warhead shipments over the next 15 years.