The destructive power of a nuclear weapon is derived from nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or a combination of the two. In addition to atom bombs and atomic bombs, nuclear weapons are also known as nukes, nuclear warheads, nukes, and A-bombs.
All nuclear weapons fall into one of two basic categories: fission and combination weapons, or fusion-based designs, that are technically thermonuclear weapons and may be referred to as thermonuclear bombs, fusion weapons, hydrogen bombs, and H-bombs.
Kilotons (1,000 tons of TNT) and megatons (1,000,000,000 tons of TNT) are the units used to quantify the explosive force released by nuclear bombs, together with heat and radiation. No weapon on the planet can produce as much murder, damage, injury, and illness as these weapons can.
Current nuclear weapon stockpiling
A total of 13,080 nuclear weapons are thought to be in existence today. It’s worth noting, though, that more nations have nuclear weapons now than there were 30-40 years ago. Russia now has the most nuclear warheads, estimated at 6,257.
Some 1,458 are operational, 3039 are dormant but ready to be activated, and 1,760 are awaiting disassembly; the present START II deal restricts the US and Russia to 1550 deployed nuclear weapons.
US nuclear arsenal has 5,550 bombs in total: 1,389 operating, 2,361 dormant but still available, and 1,800 slated for decommissioning.
Which countries possess nuclear weapons?
- Russia — 6,257 (1,458 active, 3039 available, 1,760 retired)
- United States — 5,550 (1,389 active, 2,361 available, 1,800 retired)
- China — 350 available (actively expanding nuclear arsenal)
- France — 290 available
- United Kingdom — 225 available
- Pakistan — 165 available
- India — 156 available
- Israel — 90 available
- North Korea — 40-50 available (estimated)
Nuclear bombs were dropped during World War II
So far, the world has only seen nuclear weapons used twice. On August 6, 1945, the United States launched a nuclear weapon named Little Boy on Hiroshima, Japan, and a second bomb dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki, Japan, marking the conclusion of World War II.
With an explosion of around 15 kilotons, Little Boy demolished most of the structures in the immediate area. Any combustible material was either ignited or burned to the ground by the explosion of heat at 6,000°C (10,830°F) that followed the shock wave.
Lethal ionizing radiation and long-lasting radioactive fallout were the final results of the explosion, which was kept aloft by atmospheric winds and eventually fell to Earth many days after the original detonation.
A government assessment from 1945 claimed that the bombing of Hiroshima had caused 66,000 fatalities and a further 69,000 wounded. The death toll in Nagasaki was lower, at 39,000, but it was nonetheless catastrophic, with 25,000 people injured.
Nuclear escalation during the Cold War
Following the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons became the most powerful weapons of war in the world, leading to a fierce arms race.
The stockpiling of nuclear weapons was a crucial component of the Cold War, in which the United States and the Soviet Union openly contended without technically declaring war on each other.
At its height in 1986, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that the Soviet Union had 40,000 nuclear weapons while the United States had 23,000. (down from more than 31,000 in 1967).
As a result of this proliferation, many countries believed that the best way to avoid nuclear war would be to have so many nuclear weapons that the opponent would not launch an attack because they began to fear they could not destroy enough of the target country’s armory to avoid of been devastated themselves by a retaliatory attack.
Thousands of nuclear weapons were decommissioned when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Treaties limiting nuclear weapons
In light of nuclear weapons’ lethality and destructive power, nations have negotiated arms control treaties such as the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
The goal of the NPT is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Nuclear-weapon states (NWS) are defined as nations possessing nuclear weapons, whereas those that do not possess nuclear weapons are classified as non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS). Nuclear weapons will not be developed or obtained by the NWS or NNWS under the treaty.
Also See: Military Spending by Country 2022
This agreement additionally states that nuclear energy may be used for peaceful reasons, and countries of both classes pledge to assist each other in this endeavor.
As of 2022, the NPT has been ratified by almost all countries, with the notable exception of North Korea, which notoriously withdrew from the agreement in 2003.
Listed below are the top 10 nuclear-armed countries:
- Russia (6,257)
- United States (5,550)
- China (350)
- France (290)
- United Kingdom (225)
- Pakistan (165)
- India (156)
- Israel (90)
- North Korea (50)