- Join the nuclear club (i.e., acquire nuclear weapons).
"The decision of certain powers to go nuclear would have the effect of making endemic regional conflicts totally insoluble." -- Listener
- Drop all pretense; take the gloves off; deliberately escalate a personal conflict to unprecedented levels of viciousness.
"We're not dumb, and that's why we're not going to let up for a second. We know the other side is going to go nuclear soon, and we know that things are going to change. Things have to tighten up. That's the way presidential races are." -- George Stephanopoulos, about 1 month before his candidate, Bill Clinton, was first elected president.
- Exert an all-out, balls-to-the-wall effort.
"[Let's] look at some possible solutions [to ineffective public schools] ... 2. Go nuclear on early reading. The school has done this somewhat ... it's a good start, but 51 percent of first-grade pupils read below grade level." -- Hinkle
- Become critical; spin out of control.
"What's happened here is that a proud (maybe too proud), sensitive (maybe too sensitive) superstar isn't on the same wavelength as his manager and the situation has been allowed to go nuclear. This is a situation that should have been headed off long ago and now fairly begs for some hands-on executive-suite involvement." -- Rapoport
The phrase "go nuclear [on someone]" can also be applied to personal relationships, especially during an emotional meltdown -- one side goes nuclear when they hit below the belt by dredging up long-forgotten, long-forgiven offenses. Fabricated example: "...and then he insinuated that it was all my fault to begin with. So I went nuclear on him. I said, 'Well, at least I'm not living with my mother AND thinking about her as I jerk off.' He totally lost it then, and called me... well, you can imagine."
- Hinkle, A. Barton. "Now, some possible solutions to problems in the city's schools", Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 4, 2000, p. A11
- [New Zealand?] Listener, May 11, 1967, p. 607 col. 2, cited in the Oxford English Dictionary
- Rapoport, Ron. "MacPhail drops ball on Sosa-Baylor rift", Chicago Sun-Times, June 8, 2000, p. 133
- Stephanopoulos, George. Quoted in "All's Fowl in This Game of Chicken", St. Petersburg Times, October 4, 1992, p. 8A.