July 16, 1945, can be considered the birthday of nuclear weapons. The first nuclear explosive device, “Thing” (also known as “Gadget”), underwent top-secret testing in the desert not far from the American town of Alamogordo (New Mexico). It was produced in a single step using Plutonium. The area’s flora was completely destroyed, a crater with a 370-meter radius formed in the explosion’s centre, and the metal and concrete structures completely disappeared. The explosion produced a cloud that grew to a height of more than 12 kilometres. Despite being 160 kilometres from the test site, radioactive contamination was still found.
The world had entered a new era. And countries that have nuclear weapons have received the unofficial name “Nuclear Club”.
Now it includes the USA (since 1945), Russia (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), Pakistan (1998) and North Korea (since 2006).
With great nuclear power comes even greater responsibility
Five states from the “Nuclear Club” signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
These were the USA, Russia, France, Great Britain and China. Thus, the “Five” assumed the obligation to reduce their weapons – in theory, and they should be eliminated altogether.
India and Pakistan never signed the Treaty, and the DPRK terminated it in 2003 to carry out its first nuclear explosion three years later.
Israel is a contested nuclear entity
According to international organizations, Israel also has nuclear weapons, but the country officially denies this. However, for example, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which brings together non-governmental organizations in 100 countries worldwide, includes Israel in its analytical reviews.
At the same time, several E.U. countries that are members of NATO or are allies of the alliance could host U.S. nuclear weapons.
At the end of June, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that six NATO member states store 200 US tactical nuclear warheads, for which 275 aircraft were allocated. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey are part of the Alliance’s Nuclear Sharing Tactical Bombs Program. There are an estimated 20 B61 tactical nuclear bombs in each country. The bombs are under the control of the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. President permits using these weapons.
Belarus ranked eighth globally in terms of nuclear weapon stockpiles following the fall of the USSR. There were a total of 1,120 warheads deployed on republic’s soil.The grouping of strategic nuclear forces was provided by about 40 thousand people from various formations, units and military institutions.
In July 1993, Belarus officially acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This decision was largely dictated by the mood in society, which, after the Chornobyl disaster, negatively perceived any nuclear technology.
As a result, 584 missiles were destroyed, and the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces took the remaining nuclear warheads.
Together with Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan said goodbye to their nuclear weapons at the same time. There are reports that Ukraine received Plutonium from the U.S., which could be used for making nuclear material.
South Africa is an exception
South Africa became the first and only country so far that independently developed its nuclear weapons and then abandoned them voluntarily.
At the end of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s, South Africa voluntarily destroyed all six nuclear warheads it possessed.
For various reasons, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy and Libya voluntarily abandoned their nuclear programs. Their projects were at different stages but were never completed.
But Iraq had to abandon its developments after the use of military force by Israel.
Over the years, it was suspected that several more countries could develop nuclear weapons. Iran is currently believed to be the closest to building its own nuclear weapons.
Also, according to many experts, Japan and Germany, which do not possess nuclear weapons, are capable of creating them in a short time due to their scientific and production capabilities. All that is needed is a political decision and appropriate funding. Japan is said to have significant stockpiles of weapons-grade Plutonium.
13 thousand warheads for nine
The “Nuclear Club” countries do not provide official information on the number of weapons given national security interests.
There is also no information about the composition of nuclear weapons and the degree of their combat readiness. It’s probable that the overall number also includes weapons that need to be destroyed since they have already been deactivated.
It remains unknown how many strategic nuclear weapons, that is, missiles for delivering a nuclear charge over long distances, are in these volumes.
At the same time, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Russia has 5977 nuclear warheads, NATO states – 5943 (the USA – 5428, France – 290, U.K. – 225), China – 350, Pakistan – 165, India – 160, Israel – 90, North Korea – 20. As per SIPRI 2021 estimates, Israel has 90 nuclear warheads.
Thus, the “Nuclear Club” can have 12,705 nuclear warheads, with 90% of the weapons coming from the United States and Russia. According to ICAN, this figure is slightly higher – 13,080.
Destruction power of the nuclear weapon
The yield of a nuclear weapon depends primarily on the warhead’s weight, the height at which it explodes, and the characteristics of the terrain it is used.
It is known that a nuclear yeild with a capacity of 100 kilotons destroys everything in a zone whose radius is up to 1.8 km.
Very strong destruction from the explosion of such a bomb will occur in a zone up to 3 km, serious destruction – up to 5 km, and “just” destruction – in a zone up to 8 km.
The power of the atomic bomb that the Americans dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II was 15 kilotons. This was enough to kill 146 thousand people.
Modern nuclear warheads can have yields over a thousand kilotons.
Spending on weapons per year and per minute
In mid-June, an ICAN survey was released on how much money is spent in the world on the development and production of nuclear weapons.
As it turns out, nine countries spent $82.4 billion on this last year, while in 2020, their total spending was $76 billion adjusted for inflation.
The United States spent the most money in 2021 at $44 billion, or $84,094 per minute.
In second place is China ($11.7 billion, or $22,325 per minute), and in third place is Russia ($8.6 billion, or $12,873 per minute).
North Korea, which closes the list, spent $642 million, or $1,221 per minute, for these purposes.
ICAN analysts also calculated how much money various companies have earned from nuclear weapons. According to them, the total size of contracts amounted to $151.2 billion.