Nuclear States

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From a high of 65,000 active weapons in 1985, there were about 12,000 active nuclear weapons in the world in 2005. Many of the "decommissioned" weapons were simply stored or partially dismantled, not destroyed so the figure is not significant.

Ninety-five percent of these weapons are in the United States and Russia, and more than 10,000 are operationally deployed. Even if the United States and Russia complete their recently announced arms reductions over the next 10 years, they will continue to target thousands of nuclear weapons against each other. Nuclear war seems unlikely today, but a dozen years ago the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed rather unlikely. Political situations evolve as well as technology and if East-West tensions have soften, there is now the increasing possibility of nuclear use by a rogue state or fanatical extremists.

The Bush administration, with the support of some in Congress, asked U.S. national weapons laboratories, to refine existing warheads and design entirely new weapons, with a special emphasis on those able to attack and destroy hardened and deeply buried targets. The US also refuses to recognize the overwhelming international support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and refuses to participate in international meetings to discuss implementing the treaty.

In his State of the Union message, President George W. Bush lumped all three countries together as an "axis of evil," warning that, "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." The preference implicit in this statement for preemptive force over diplomacy, and for unilateral action rather than international cooperation, is likely to complicate efforts to defeat terrorism and strengthen global security.

Russia and the United States continue to maintain enormous stockpiles of fissile material. Russia has more than 1,000 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and about 140 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium, and the United States has nearly 750 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and 85 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. (Just 55 pounds--25 kilograms--of weapon-grade uranium, or 17.6 pounds of plutonium--8 kilograms--are needed to construct a rudimentary nuclear weapon.) Given the numerous defeated smuggling attempts, it is more than likely that small groups like terrorists have now the capacity to supply nuclear material to manufacture a medium-grade bomb able to blast a big city.

They would not even need not manufacture or purchase fissile materials to fashion a crude nuclear weapon or release dangerous amounts of radiation. They need only attack poorly guarded nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons facilities, which contain sizable quantities of these materials. Significantly, President Bush acknowledged on January 29, 2002, that diagrams of U.S. nuclear power plants were found among Al Qaeda materials in Afghanistan.

Declared nuclear states in order of total number of warheads (1998)

These figures represent total warheads possessed, rather than deployed. In particular, under the SORT treaty thousands of Russian and US warheads are in inactive stockpiles awaiting destruction.



 Year of first test

United States





















North Korea



There are 8 countries that are known to possess nuclear weapons, only 5 of which are members of the NPT.

There are currently five states considered to be "nuclear weapons states", an internationally recognized status conferred by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In order of acquisition of nuclear weapons these are: the United States of America, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China. Since the signing of the NPT, two other states have conducted nuclear tests: India and Pakistan.


The United States developed the first atomic weapons during World War II out of the fear that Nazi Germany would first develop them. It tested its first nuclear weapon in 1945 ("Trinity"), and remains the only country to have used nuclear weapons against another nation in war, during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see: Manhattan Project). It was the first nation to develop the hydrogen bomb, testing it ("Ivy Mike") in 1952 and a deployable version in 1954 ("Castle Bravo").


The USSR tested its first nuclear weapon ("Joe-1") in 1949, in a crash project developed partially with espionage obtained during and after World War II (see: Soviet atomic bomb project). The direct motivation for their weapons development was the development of a balance of power during the Cold War. It tested a primitive hydrogen bomb in 1953 ("Joe-4") and a megaton-range hydrogen bomb in 1955 ("RDS-37"). After its dissolution in 1991, its weapons entered officially into the possession of Russia.


The United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon ("Hurricane") in 1952, drawing largely on data gained while collaborating with the United States during the Manhattan Project. Its program was motivated to have an independent deterrence against the USSR, while also remaining relevant in Cold War Europe. It tested its first hydrogen bomb in 1957.


France tested its first nuclear weapon in 1960, also as an independent deterrence and to retain perceived Cold War relevance (see: Force de frappe). It tested its first hydrogen bomb in 1968.


China tested its first nuclear weapon in 1964, much to the surprise of Western intelligence agencies. It had long sought assistance in becoming a nuclear power from an uneasy USSR, and developed them both as a deterrence against the USA, but also against the USSR as their relations began to sour. It tested its first hydrogen bomb in 1967.


India tested a "peaceful nuclear device", as it was described by their government, in 1974 ("Smiling Buddha"), the first test developed after the creation of the NPT, and created new questions about how civilian nuclear technology could be diverted secretly to weapons purposes (dual-use technology). It seems to have been motivated as a deterrence against China. It tested weaponized nuclear warheads in 1998 ("Operation Shakti"), and claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb.


Pakistan covertly developed its nuclear weapons over many decades, and tested its first fission devices in 1998. It detonated its first nuclear weapon in 2001, and has since been a source of national pride, the nuclear weapon program's father, Abdul Qadeer Khan, a hero. It seems to have been motivated primarily in creating a deterrence against India. A chief scientist who worked on the Pakistani bomb, A.Q. Khan, confessed in 2004 to illicitly distributing nuclear-enabling technology to many other countries.


States currently suspected of possessing and developing nuclear capabilities include: Israel; Iran; and North Korea.


It is questionable whether Israel should be classed as a "suspected state" at this point. Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to officially admit or deny having a nuclear arsenal, or to having developed nuclear weapons, or even to having a nuclear weapons program. Although former Prime Minister Shimon Peres unofficially acknowledged this last fact in the summer of 1998, extensive information about this program in Dimona was disclosed by technician Mordechai Vanunu in 1986, and imagery analysts can identify weapon bunkers, mobile missile launchers, and launch sites in satellite photographs. It is clear that Israel can deploy or employ nuclear weapons at will, and it is suspected to possess nuclear weapons by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel may have tested a nuclear weapon along with South Africa in 1979 (see Vela Incident). According to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists, they may possess 300-400 weapons, a figure which would put them above the median in the declared list. However until it admits to having an actual stockpile of weapons, it will be retained on the "suspect" list for the present time.

Under the pretense of building a nuclear reactor for much-needed electrical power, Iran built a major reactor with the help of Russian technology and technicians. Intelligence reports indicate Iran also has two other reactors and facilities to convert uranium for use in nuclear weapons of mass-destruction. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and says its interest in nuclear technology, including enrichment, was for civilian purposes only, but the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency claims to have found evidence of a nuclear weapons program during several of its inspections, and the CIA also claim this to be a cover for a nuclear weapons program. The Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stated on the intentions of his country's nuclear ambitions: "Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path.".

North Korea

On January 10, 2003 North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In February 2005 they claimed to possess functional nuclear weapons.
North Korea has publicly declared itself to possess nuclear weapons though it has not conducted any confirmed tests. Israel is strongly suspected to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons though it has never confirmed or denied this. There have been reports that over 100 nuclear weapons might be in their inventory. This status is not formally recognized by international bodies; none of these countries are currently signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is some speculation that Iran has, or is preparing for, a secret nuclear weapons program.


Countries believed to have or sometimes suspected of having at least one unconfirmed nuclear weapon currently, or at some point in history, or research programs with a realistic chance of producing a nuclear weapon in the near future:



signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Inherited about 5,000 nuclear weapons when it became independent in 1991, making its nuclear arsenal the third-largest in the world. It transferred all of these to Russia by 1996. However recent news has surfaced that due to a clerical error, Ukraine may still possess several hundred warheads which were not accounted for in the armaments repatriation move 14 years ago. In any case, even if Ukraine does possess these weapons, they are technically missing and not in a deployed state or any part of Ukraine's defense posture.


Conducted a nuclear weapon research program, under military rule in 1978. This program was abandoned after returning to civilian rule in 1983. Later Argentina signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

From 1950 to the early 1970s Australia first attempted to gain access to British nuclear technology, then investigated a fully indigenous nuclear program on a number of occasions, going so far as to plan and begin clearing a site for a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Jervis Bay (A.C.T.) in 1969, but abandoned its efforts at that time. Australia has large indigenous supplies of uranium. Currently Australia's uranium exports policy prevents export for military purposes, but there have been allegations about Australian uranium ending up in nuclear weapons. Curiously for an industrialized nation that is also a major uranium supplier, Australia has no nuclear power plants. There have however, been two research reactors in Australia that produce radioactive materials mainly for medical purposes. However, since mid-1995, only one has remained in service. Australia has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is now one of the strongest supporters of anti-proliferation efforts.


A few Eastern European countries inherited whatever nuclear stockpiles happened to be stationed in their territory after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Belarus had 81 single warhead missiles which it returned to Russia by 1996. Belarus signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Conducted a nuclear weapon research program to acquire nuclear weapons code-named "Solimões" in 1978 under military rule. On July 13, 1998 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed and ratified both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), denying that Brazil had developed nuclear weapons

Had a nuclear weapon research program 1954-1967. Egypt signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


During World War II, Nazi Germany researched possibilities to develop a nuclear weapon. However adequate resources were not invested into the effort and the project was found to be many years from completion by the end of the war. The research site was also sabotaged by the British spies which slowed down their reseach. Historian Ranier Karlschin his book Hitler's Bomb suggests that the Nazis may have tested an atom bomb in Thuringia in the last year of the war. (See: German nuclear energy project) Germany now is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Although it has an advanced science and technology infrastructure and would be capable of creating a nuclear weapons program, the government has decided to decrease even the civil use of nuclear energy.


Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Had a nuclear weapon research program during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraqi nuclear reactor Osiraq. In 1996, the UN's Hans Blix reported that Iraq had dismantled or destroyed all of their nuclear capabilities. Exact dates remain disputed. In 2003, the United States attacked Iraq, charging "evidence of weapons of mass destruction"; as of 2005, no such weapons have been reportedly found.


Japan conducted research into nuclear weapons during World War II though made little headway (see Japanese atomic program). Japan signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. While Japan has the technological capabilities to develop nuclear weapons in a short time there is no evidence they are doing so. Japan's constitution forbids it from producing nuclear weapons and the country has been active in promoting non-proliferation treaties. There exists some suspicion that there may exist nuclear weapons located in US bases in Japan.


Inherited 1,400 nuclear weapons from Soviet Union, returned them all to Russia by 1995. Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On December 19, 2003, Libya admitted having had a nuclear weapon programme and simultaneously announced its intention to end it and dismantle all existing Weapons of Mass Destruction to be verified by unconditional inspections.


Nuclear research began in Poland in the early 1960s, with the first controlled nuclear fission reaction being achieved in late 1960s. During the 1970s further research resulted in the generation of fusion neutrons through convergent shockwaves. In the 1980s research focused on the development of micro-nuclear reactions, and was under military control. Currently Poland operates the MARIA nuclear research reactor under the control of the Institute of Atomic Energy, in Swierk near Warsaw. Poland signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and officially posses no nuclear weapons.


Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In spite of this, under Nicolae Ceauşescu, in the 1980s, Romania had a secret nuclear-weapons development program, that was stopped after the overthrow of Ceauşescu in 1989.

South Africa

South Africa declared after its transition from an apartheid regime that it had in fact produced about six crude nuclear weapons as a 'last-resort' weapon against an envisioned race war, but that they have now been destroyed. In fact the development laboratories and storage facilities have now become a sight-seeing tour Produced 6 nuclear weapons in the 1980s but disassembled them in the early 1990s. Possibly tested a low yield device in 1979, perhaps with Israel, over the southern oceans in the Vela Incident. Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

South Korea

Began a nuclear weapons program in the early 1970s, which was believed abandoned after signing NPT in 1975. However there have been allegations that program may have been continued after this date by the military government.[24] In late 2004, the South Korean government disclosed to the IAEA that scientists in South Korea had extracted plutonium in 1982 and enriched uranium to near-weapons grade in 2000. (see South Korean nuclear research programs)


During the 1950s and 1960s, Sweden seriously investigated nuclear weapons, intended to be deployed over costal facilities of an invading enemy (read: the Soviet Union). A very substantial research effort of weapon design and manufacture was conducted resulting in enough knowledge to allow Sweden to manufacture nuclear weapons. A weapon research facility was to be built in Studsvik. Saab made plans for a supersonic nuclear bomber, the A36. However Sweden decided not to pursue a weapon production program and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


During 1946-1969 Switzerland had a secret nuclear program that came into light in 1995. By 1963 theoretical basics with detailed technical proposals, specific arsenals, and cost estimates for Swiss nuclear armaments were made. This program was, however, abandoned partly because of financial costs and by signing the NPT on November 27, 1969.


Conducted a nuclear weapon research program in the 1970s. [25] Signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Yugoslavia's nuclear ambitions began as early as 1950s when scientists considered both uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. In 1956, the Vinca fuel reprocessing site was constructed, followed by research reactors in 1958 and 1959, for which the Soviets provided heavy water and enriched uranium. In 1966, plutonium reprocessing tests began in Vinca laboratories, resulting in gram quantities of reprocessed plutonium. During the 1950s and 1960s there was also cooperation in plutonium processing between Yugoslavia and Norway. In the year 1960 Tito froze the nuclear programme for unknown reasons, but restarted it, after India's first nuclear tests, in 1974. The programme continued even after Tito's death in 1980, divided into two components - for weapons design and civilian nuclear energy, until a decision to stop all nuclear weapons research was made in July 1987. The civilian nuclear programme however resulted in the Krško nuclear power plant in Slovenia, built in 1983, now co-owned by Croatia. During the NATO raids, Vinca has never been hit - Americans were aware of 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium stored at the site - it may have been a reason for the NATO intervention. After the end of NATO bombings the U.S. government and the Nuclear Threat Initiative transported the HEU to Russia - the place from which Yugoslavia originally acquired it.


Other nuclear capable states

Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those of the states that already have nuclear weapons. This list below mentions some notable capabilities possessed by certain states that could potentially be turned to the development of nuclear arsenals. It should also be noted that this list represents only strong nuclear capability, not that any political will to develop such weapon would exist. All of the listed countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Canada has a well developed nuclear technology base and large uranium reserves. While Canada has the technological capabilities to develop nuclear weapons, there is no hard evidence they are or have ever done so, nor has Canada ever shown the intention to join the nuclear club outright. In the early 1960s, Canada purchased Bomarc missiles from the United States (although to keep Canada a nuclear weapon free zone the plan was to keep the warheads in the US, although even this was too much for the Canadian public and government to agree on, thus the bomarcs were never used nor ever had the intention of being used for nuclear warheads while in Canada)


Nuclear power reactors produces 77% of energy, has 2 of the world's most powerful reactors in its territory, although one was shut down recently. Due to this, has means of legally acquiring radioacive materials for power plants. Lithuania has former launch sites for Soviet Union missiles in its territory, and possibly people who had jobs related to Soviet nuclear facilities. However, there is no political will to develop nuclear weapons in Lithuania. And the capability might be lost because of EU pressure for the closure of nuclear power plants and the aging of scientists with nuclear knowledge.
Netherlands - Operates a power reactor at Borsele, producing 452 MW electrical, 5% of its electrical needs. Several Dutch companies are key participants in the tri-national Urenco uranium enrichment consortium. By the year 2000 the Netherlands had about 2 tonnes of separated reactor grade plutonium. There is no evidence about past or present nuclear weapon program in the Netherlands.

Saudi Arabia

In 2003 members of the government stated that due to the worsening relations with the USA, Saudi Arabia was being forced to consider the development of nuclear weapons. However, so far they have denied that they are making any attempt to produce them. Rumor has it that Pakistan has transferred several nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia, but this is unconfirmed.

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