The weapon of mass destruction of choice in the Atomic Age. So far, in human history, there have only been two recorded uses of nuclear weapons against enemy targets. These two events were Hiroshima (August 6th, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9th, 1945) where the United States of America used atom bombs against the Empire of Japan in what would prove to be the conclusion of World War 2.

Nuclear weapons today have advanced far past the crude fission devices used in 1945 which worked by explosive compression of bits of plutonium or uranium to create a lump which exceeded critical mass. Hydrogen bombs were first developed by the U.S.A. in 1952. These fusion bombs worked by using the explosive power of fission bombs to set off a fusion reaction which fused isotopes of hydrogen to helium, multiplying the yield many times over.

A memorable hydrogen bomb test was done on Bikini atoll in 1954, a momentous event whose media effect was so large that the developer of a new two piece style of swimsuit for women named it the bikini.

Since then, there have not been any quantum leaps in nuclear weapon technology. A possible candidate is the development of the neutron bomb, a device that is designed to kill living organisms via lethal dose of radiation while having such a small explosive effect that it should leave most of the infrastructure intact.

We are, thankfully, still many years from developing even more destructive nuclear weapons which might include things like an anti-matter bomb. A single fusion warhead with enough yield to take out a medium sized city is still too heavy for a single person to carry. All bets are off if someone manages to build an anti-matter bomb.


Rewritten April 5th, 2002.

Categories of Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons (or devices, if they have not been weaponized) can be divided into three currently-existant categories, or generations. They are differentiated by the type of reaction(s) used in the atomic detonation, a difference that is generally correlated to the age of their design. There are, at present, the following nuclear weapon categories available.

For more information on these devices, see the following nodes: fission weapon, boosted fission weapon or hydrogen bomb.

I've been to three nuclear areas, 2 testing sites and one accident site. White Sands NM and Trinity are the testing zones, and both have really interesting tourist traps. The sand at White Sands is from gypsum, and feels slightly different, perhaps stickier. It definitely has a greater tendency to get into clothing and shoes than other large expanses of sand I have visited.

The accident site is Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, though I have no actual proof. Rumors say that a truckload of radioactive cobalt was stolen while the driver went in to a local pub for a bathroom break, and since the cobalt wasn't obviously radioactive it was sold for scrap metal.

Once the theft was discovered, the next step was to trace and recover it. Unfortunately, by that time it was mostly made into chrome furniture. Radioactive table legs and kitchen chairs have been found all over the southwest, and as the rumor goes, this has only accounted for about a tenth of the metal.

With all the talk lately about the United States going to war with Iraq over their suspected arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction”, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what countries actually possess nuclear capabilities. With that being said, here’s a list countries and a brief description. All numbers are best estimates.

Definitely Got ‘Em”

United States – about 12,000 warheads spread throughout 14 states and 7 other countries. The U.S. holds the distinction of being the only country to have ‘em deployed outside its borders. First tested in 1945 and most recently tested in 1992, the U. S has conducted 1,030 nuclear tests.

United Kingdom – about 380 warheads. The Brits are moving towards a single type of weapon – the Trident II missile carried on Vanguard class submarines. First tested in 1952 and most recently tested in 1991, the UK has conducted 45 nuclear tests.

France – about 450 warheads of three different types housed in four undisclosed locations. First tested in 1960 and most recently in 1996, France has conducted 210 nuclear tests.

Pakistan – best guesstimates are between 12 –18 at various locations. First tested in 1998, Pakistan has conducted 6 nuclear tests.

India – thought to be about the same as Pakistan. First tested in 1974 and most recently conducted tests in 1998, India has conducted 5 nuclear tests.

China – about 400 warheads located in 20 sites, submarines included. Of the 400, 250 are thought to be of a “strategic” nature with the remaining missiles being classified as “tactical”. First tested in 1964 and most recently tested in 1996, China has conducted 45 nuclear tests.

Russia – about 22,500 warheads located in about 90 sites. Amazingly, these were consolidated after the break up of the former USSR. First tested in 1949 and most recently tested in 1990, Russia has conducted 715 nuclear tests.

They Ain’t Sayin’

Israel – will neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear capabilities. Estimate are though that they have over 100 warheads.

Can’t Really Be Sure

Iraq – supposedly dismantled under United Nations after the Gulf War in 1991. It’s a hot topic these days.

Iran – pretty much a wild card – nobody knows for sure.

North Korea – recently admitted to strengthening their position in the development of nuclear capabilities.

Couldn’t Be Bothered

Brazil – thought about in the 80’s but the program has been shut down

Argentina – see Brazil

Algeria – built a reactor in 1991 but gave control of it to the International Atomic Energy Agency

Ukraine – former Soviet Republic that gave the warheads back to Russia

Belarus – pretty much the same as the Ukraine

Kazakhstan – same as Belarus and Ukraine

South Africa – had ‘em but voluntarily dismantled both the weapons and the program. The only country to this date ever to do so.

Libya – originally was under the "Can't Really Be Sure" heading but as esteemed user Noung points out, the war in Iraq caused them to re-think their position and they wish to "normalize" relations with the West.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/experience/the.bomb/deployment/

There was a pretty high level of cooperation between South Africa and Israel on their suspected nuclear programs. This cooperation even extends to a suspected joint nuclear test in 1979.

A Russian military satelite in 1979 detected a bright flash over the Indian Ocean, and suspected a South African nuclear test was the culprit. They informed the US, where President Carter initiated a commission to make a finding as to whether this was a nuclear test or not. Unfortunately, there was not enough information gathered to make a solid finding.

Years later, it was learned of the presence of Israeli officials in South Africa at the time of the test, and it is now beleived that the test was a joint effort by the South Africans and the Israrelis. Other levels of cooperation between the two countries on nuclear issues is unclear.

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