It is often said that man is the most violent creature on planet earth. We humans have built some of the most powerful weapons imaginable – even weapons capable of destroying nearly all life on earth. Nuclear weapons, of course, are generally considered the most powerful among the weapons invented by humans. Go through this article to quickly discover the 15 most important facts about nuclear weapons. Do note that some of these facts are outright terrifying and disturbing.
Among the weapons invented by humans, no other weapon has caused as much consternation and fear as nuclear weapons – and rightly so, since no other weapon is anywhere near as destructive. A single nuclear weapon today is capable of easily destroying an entire city – even some of the largest cities in the world can be destroyed by a single nuclear strike. Further, while most weapons only have a short-term impact, nuclear weapons have long-term effects as well. An area targeted by a nuclear attack can suffer from long-term contamination and may be rendered uninhabitable for many years.
In addition to all this, there is also the threat of accidental or unsanctioned use of a nuclear weapon. Due to the fact that nuclear weapons are extremely devastating, it is believed that no country would be able to ignore an accidental or rogue nuclear attack on its territory. Thus, any nuclear attack would result in outright nuclear war with multiple large countries being forced to use their nuclear arsenal. This, it is believed, would inevitably lead to the end of nearly all life on our planet. So, many people, including experts, scientists, and activists, consider nuclear weapons the biggest threat to human life. Let us then quickly learn more about this threat.
15. A Single Nuclear Weapon Could Wipe Out All Life
In 1950, Leo Szilard, the scientist who invented nuclear chain reactions, theorized that a single large thermonuclear bomb – with the proper design – could possibly wipe out all human life. While some scientists had initially dismissed his claims as being overly pessimistic, a study commissioned by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists concluded that his idea was correct and that such a bomb was indeed feasible. Szilard’s idea involved a large thermonuclear bomb, with some other commonly available materials added to it.
The technology behind nuclear weapons has improved massively in the intervening years and the impact of the largest nuclear weapons possible today is simply unimaginable. It is indeed possible that a single nuclear weapon today could wipe out nearly all life on our planet. That is the power of nuclear weapons. Scary, isn’t it! No wonder then that many prominent scientists and other experts have been pushing for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.
14. Smaller Nuclear Weapons Are Potent
Advocates and supporters of nuclear weapons often claim that we need not be afraid of such weapons since a large nuclear weapon capable of destroying all life would never actually be used. They state that the threat of such weapons would ensure that no major power dares to attack another superpower. Some of these supporters also claim that in the worst case, smaller nuclear weapons may be used to quickly turn the course of a war and achieve victory and peace, without in any manner threatening worldwide annihilation.
However, many scientific studies have shown that even a handful of smaller nuclear weapons (of the type available today) could bring about worldwide destruction and may wipe out all life on our planet. These studies assume that if one nuclear power uses a nuclear weapon against another country that has nuclear weapons, then the other country, instead of surrendering immediately, may choose to retaliate with similar-sized nuclear weapons. The use of such a series of nuclear weapons may cause a nuclear winter by sending enough smoke (from fires caused by the nuclear explosions) into the earth’s atmosphere that the sun’s energy does not reach the surface of the earth at all. Such a nuclear winter may completely wipe out all life.
13. Eight Countries Officially Possess Nuclear Weapons
If you think that the chances of a nuclear war – and nuclear winter – are extremely low, then let us take away your peace of mind! Officially, eight countries possess nuclear weapons (these 8 have conducted nuclear tests) and it is suspected that some other countries may also have nuclear weapons. The U.S., UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea – these eight nations have conducted nuclear tests and possess nuclear weapons officially.
Apart from these, Israel is rumored to have nuclear weapons, though it does not officially clarify its position – it maintains a deliberately ambiguous stand. Similarly, it is believed that South Africa had created nuclear weapons at one point of time but later dismantled its program. It is also believed that Iran is working towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Hence, the spread of nuclear weapons is ever increasing.
12. The Vela Incident
On September 22, 1979, there were reports of a double flash of light near the Prince Edward Islands off Antarctica. This double flash of light was detected by an American Vela Hotel satellite. The double flash of light is usually linked to a nuclear explosion. Hence, these reports triggered speculation that a nuclear test had been conducted at this site. Interestingly (and scarily), till date, no country has taken responsibility for this test. It has been widely speculated that this test may have been conducted jointly by Israel and South Africa. Other theories suggest that the Soviet Union, France, India, or Pakistan may have been responsible for this test. Some people also claim that a different country entirely may well have conducted this test. Of course, it is a scary idea that some rogue nation may have nuclear weapons and has managed to hide this fact from the rest of the world.
Do note that some theories claim that some fault in the satellite’s detectors may have resulted in a false report. However, the general consensus tends towards a nuclear test as the cause of the double flash.
11. Guess The Number Of Nuclear Tests Conducted
By now, you must have realized that nuclear weapons are incredibly destructive. Hence, logically, countries should be very cautious in exploding any nuclear weapon. However, in order to verify their weapon designs, countries do have to conduct nuclear weapons tests. So, how many nuclear devices do you think have been exploded as part of various tests?
Officially, the U.S. alone has conducted 1054 nuclear weapons tests. The Soviet Union has conducted 715 tests, France has conducted 210 tests, the UK has conducted 45 tests, and China has conducted 45 tests. Both India and Pakistan have conducted 6 tests each while North Korea has conducted 5 tests. In fact, during the period from 1945 (when the first nuclear test was conducted) till 1998 (when Pakistan conducted its tests), there was no period of two years during which no tests were conducted. Can you imagine the impact of these nuclear tests on our environment? The very thought of over 2000 nuclear weapons tests being conducted is outright scary.
10. Impact Of Nuclear Tests
We have already discussed that over 2000 nuclear tests have officially been conducted across the world. As the Vela Incident shows, there may have been some unofficial (undeclared) tests, in addition to the official figures. Given the destructive effects of these nuclear tests (and especially considering that such tests leave long-term impacts such as radioactive contamination), it is obvious that such tests would have left a large impact on our planet.
A 1961 study led by Dr. Louise Reiss concluded that children born after the first set of nuclear tests in the U.S. had higher levels of strontium 90, a radioactive cancer-causing isotope. It is claimed that this study was one of the key drivers behind the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Other studies in different parts of the world have reportedly shown similar results. Some people claim that higher incidence (due to nuclear testing) of thyroid cancer alone would have caused at least 6000 deaths.
It is also claimed that the effect of nuclear tests is so widespread that art experts use its impact to detect forgeries. Nuclear tests resulted in the creation and spread of artificial isotopes (such as cesium 137) which did not exist in nature before such tests. So, art experts can check whether a painting contains such isotopes and thus, determine whether the painting was made before 1945 or is a later forgery.
9. Nuclear Testing On The Moon
We put a man on the moon, and that was such a blast. So, let us now put a bomb on the moon – a nuclear bomb, to be more precise. The ultimate fireworks display – a nuclear bomb explosion on the moon (such an explosion would have been visible from our planet) – was planned by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
It has been claimed that famed scientist Carl Sagan was involved in the mathematical modeling for the American plan to test a nuclear weapon on the moon. It was believed that this test would yield valuable information about the geology and structure of the moon. Along with this, it was expected that the test would shed light on the impact of a nuclear weapon detonation in a near vacuum environment. Thankfully, the tests were never conducted – either by the U.S. or by the Soviets. It is possible that had such a test been conducted, it would have left radioactive contamination on the moon for all eternity.
8. Tsar Bomba – The Most Powerful Nuclear Weapon Ever Tested
The photo above captures the mushroom cloud created by the testing of the Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested. Reportedly, this cloud was between 56 to 64 kilometers tall. This weapon was tested by the Soviet Union on October 30, 1961. The Tsar Bomba had an estimated yield equivalent to 57,000 kilotons of TNT. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 13 to 18 kilotons of TNT while the bomb dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of about 20 to 22 kilotons. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs together had nearly 246,000 deaths (as per some estimates).
The scale of devastation that the Tsar Bomba would cause, if exploded in a populated area, is unimaginably horrible. Yet, the Tsar Bomba was not the most powerful nuclear bomb designed by the Soviets. It has been claimed that the Soviets had designed a bomb that would have had an expected yield of around 100,000 kilotons of TNT. However, they never got around to testing that weapon.
7. Guess The Total Number Of Nuclear Weapons
We have already seen how deadly and devastating nuclear bombs can be. Considering the destructiveness of these weapons, we would no doubt feel safer if there were few of these weapons available. Unfortunately, that is not actually the case. According to various estimates, Russia alone has about 7300 nuclear weapons while the U.S. has about 6970 nuclear weapons.
France is believed to possess about 300 nuclear weapons, while China is estimated to have about 260 such devices. The UK is expected to hold 215 nuclear weapons. Both India and Pakistan are believed to possess about 120 odd nuclear weapons while North Korea is expected to have less than 10 nuclear weapons. Observers also estimate that Israel may have up to 80 nuclear weapons. The number of nuclear weapons present in the world increases the risk of nuclear war. Not only that, it also increases the chances of an accident involving nuclear weapons.
6. Sorry Mom, I Accidentally Dropped Some Nukes
One would think that accidents involving nuclear weapons could not occur – one would expect that governments would have completely foolproof processes in place in order to ensure that these massively destructive weapons were handled carefully and cautiously. However, the large number of such devices present in the world implies that even the most foolproof processes cannot completely rule out the possibility of an accident involving such weapons.
In 1961, a B 52 Stratofortress aircraft carrying two nuclear weapons broke up in mid-air. As a result, the two bombs (with expected yields of about 3000 to 4000 kilotons) were dropped to the ground. Reportedly, one of these bombs nearly detonated and 3 of its 4 arming mechanisms had activated. Similarly, in 1968, another B 52 bomber carrying 4 nuclear weapons was lost near the coast of Greenland. A 2008 BBC report claimed that at least one of these 4 nuclear weapons was never recovered. That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it!
5. Sorry Mom, I Accidentally Dropped Nukes On Russia (Almost)
Did you think that such accidents were relatively rare? Well, as per documents available in the public domain, there have been over 1000 accidents or near-accidents involving nuclear weapons in the U.S. alone. Some of these accidents resulted in nuclear strikes being ordered on Russia or, in some cases, almost being ordered. Of course, any of these accidents could very well have triggered a nuclear war.
In one such incident, in 1962, at Volk Field Air Base, a guard saw an intruder trying to enter into the base and he sounded the sabotage alarm – which resulted in two U.S. bombers being directed to launch nuclear strikes on the Soviet Union. As the planes started taxiing on the runaway, the commander (reportedly) realized that the intruder had been a black bear. So, he ran to a truck, drove it on the runaway and thus, stopped the planes from taking off. (You may have seen cars and trucks blocking planes from taking off in many Hollywood movies – possibly, those scenes originate from this real life episode.) In those days, U.S. protocols supposedly required planes to maintain radio silence after they were given their mission (in order to maintain stealth). Had the truck not blocked the runway, there was no way to stop the attack and thus, prevent World War III and doomsday.
Several incidents are well-known. Even on the Soviet side, some such incidents have come to light (despite the fact that they are notoriously secretive).
4. Each U.S. Stealth Bomber Can Carry Up To 16 Nuclear Weapons
We have already seen that in older times, the world had come close to an accidental nuclear war on multiple occasions. Today, the situation has not necessarily improved. Older nuclear bombs were often smaller in size than their modern counterparts and they were also less efficient, which would have made them less deadly. Modern nuclear weapons, on the other hand, are more sophisticated, larger in size, and more efficient (and thus, deadlier). This increases the risk of large-scale casualties from even a single nuclear accident or accidental strike.
To add to all this, modern nuclear weapon delivery systems have also become more capable. They can carry more nuclear weapons and can carry heavier nuclear devices, which again means that a single accident might make a nuclear war more likely. A single B2 Spirit stealth bomber, for example, can easily carry up to 16 B83 nuclear weapons (each with a yield of around 75 times the bomb used in Nagasaki). Similarly, a single nuclear submarine is believed to be capable of carrying up to 154 nuclear-armed missiles. In such a situation, an accident involving a single aircraft or submarine can very well cause the end of all life on our planet.
3. Increasing Risk Of Actual Nuclear Weapon Use
One would have thought that over time, the risk of nuclear war would reduce. Unfortunately, the opposite scenario seems to be unfolding today. Consider the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Along with these weapons, North Korea is also working towards acquiring larger missiles with longer range. Some experts estimate that within the next 5 to 10 years, this country is likely to possess missiles capable of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.
Similarly, Pakistan, which is accused of regularly carrying out large terrorist attacks against India, has repeatedly threatened that it would use nuclear weapons against India. Recently, a Pakistani minister even claimed that his country would use nuclear weapons against Israel. Many experts warn that the conflict between India and Pakistan has made that region the most dangerous place on our planet and a nuclear war is very likely to erupt in that region. Similarly, Chinese aggression is also seen as a potential source of nuclear war. Even Russia’s aggressive actions, especially in Eastern Europe, are seen by some experts as a potential source of nuclear war.
2. Nuclear Bomb Designs Are Available On Wikipedia
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But, the modern girl is not easily satisfied. So, if you want to make a bold impression, why not head over to Wikipedia, check out a nuclear bomb design, and build one for your girl. You would think that nuclear bomb designs must be the world’s best-kept secret. Unfortunately, Coca Cola’s formula is probably the most closely guarded secret in the world today.
Nuclear bomb designs, on the other hand, are easily available. You don’t even need to access the dark web in order to get hold of such designs. A quick Google search will throw up thousands of pages with various types of nuclear weapon designs. And if Google is not your cup of tea, just head over to your local library and you may find dozens of books with detailed designs and descriptions. So, when are you building your very own DIY nuclear weapon?
1. Terrorists May Soon Get Their Hands On Nuclear Weapons
Many experts point out that the next nuclear war or nuclear attack need not be triggered by any country. Rogue elements, such as terrorist organizations or disgruntled military personnel, could very well be the cause of the next nuclear attack. According to various experts, many large terrorist organizations, including ISIS, have repeatedly been trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons. These experts claim that terrorists need not even design a nuclear bomb in order to cause massive casualties – even a dirty bomb (in which conventional explosives mixed with radioactive substances are used) could easily cause up to 4000 to 5000 deaths and innumerable injuries.
Many experts also point out that Pakistan’s nuclear handling is extremely vulnerable to sabotage. Pakistan has seen numerous coups over the years and it is claimed that rogue military personnel could easily seize and use nuclear weapons to gain power. Pakistan also has a policy of regularly relocating its nuclear weapons in order to avoid their detection. During the relocation process, Pakistan reportedly transfers its nuclear weapons in a single truck with minimal additional security layers. It is claimed that Pakistan suspects that if a heavily guarded convoy moved through its territory, it would be more likely to attract a terrorist attack. So, in order to keep a low profile, Pakistani nuclear devices are moved around with extremely low levels of security! Doesn’t that give us greater peace of mind?