Nuke Opera 2020: Bomb, Bomb, Who’s Got The Bomb: Members of the Smoking Crater Society

Nuke Opera 2020: Bomb, Bomb, Who’s Got The Bomb: Members of the Smoking Crater Society

Note: This is a bit of a filler; between the changes wrought by the pandemic and by changes in my work schedule, my schedule of articles has been altered. I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things soon. 

When we talk about countries with nuclear weapons, particularly during the Cold War, we’re usually focused on the United States and the Soviet Union.  Which makes sense since they had and continue to have the largest stockpiles. But other countries developed nuclear capabilities between 1945-1991. Here’s a bit about them.

Honorable Mentions:

Germany and Japan both had nuclear weapons programs during World War II, but neither country came close to producing an actual bomb. In fact, the Nazi nuclear weapons program had more of an impact because it sparked the Manhattan Project. Concern over Hitler getting The Bomb was the main reason Szilard and Einstein wrote President Roosevelt and asked him to begin America’s nuclear program. Einstein later said in an interview in 1947 that if he’d known the German program would be a failure, he never would have urged Roosevelt to begin the Manhattan Project.

Post-World War II, Nazi scientists who’d been recruited/conscripted by the Allied Powers would play crucial roles in the US and Soviet Union’s rocketry programs, assisting in both countries’ space and missile programs.

Japan’s nuclear weapons project never amounted to much, though Tohoku University professor Hikosaka Tadayoshi’s “atomic physics theory” published in 1934 pointed out the huge energy contained in atomic nucleus and the possibility that nuclear power and/or weapons could be created using this energy. In 1939, Dr. Yoshio Nishina, became worried that America was working on a nuclear weapon that might be used against Japan. During a chance meeting with Lieutenant-General Takeo Yasuda, Nishina was able to discuss the possibility of Japan building nuclear weapons with him. Japan began its nuclear program in April 1941, with Nishina leading the project at his Nuclear Research Laboratory.

The Imperial Japanese Navy also pursued separate research into nuclear weapons, forming a committee that was chaired by Nishina. This committee determined that while atomic bombs were feasible, they would probably be difficult to create, even for the United States, particularly in the middle of a war. The Japanese Navy therefore switched its focus to radar. The Japanese Army, on the other hand, continued research into atomic weapons, but ultimately this research came to naught. These days, Japan is considered a paranuclear power because while they don’t have nuclear weapons themselves, they could easily produce them if they chose to do so.  For reasons that should be obvious, Japan has opted to restrict their use of nuclear power to peaceful energy production.

Members of the Cold War Nuclear Arms and Marching Society:

United States – the first nation to successfully test a nuclear weapon and the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons during wartime.

  • First nuclear test (A-bomb): Trinity, Trinity Site, near Socorro, New Mexico, July 16, 1945
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • Ivy Mike, Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands on November 1, 1952
    • Castle Bravo, Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954 – first test of a deployable thermonuclear weapon.
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): Possibly at Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in 1963, tested 70 miles north of Las Vegas, also in 1963. First added to US arsenal in 1974. ( The US has never actually deployed a neutron weapon.
  • Last nuclear test: Shot Divider, part of Operation Julin, Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA on September 23, 1992.
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 1,032 tests of 1,132 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 196,514

The United States placed nuclear weapons in allied countries during the Cold War, including at bases in Germany, Italy, Turkey and the UK, among others.

Soviet Union – the second nuclear superpower; had a bit of a leg up due to spies within the Manhattan Project. During the Space Race, the Soviet Union carried a brief early advantage both technologically and psychologically by achieving several firsts. These included th first intercontinental ballistic missile, first artificial satellite, and first human in orbit around the Earth (among others). The Soviet Union holds record for largest nuclear detonation in history, Tsar Bomba, October 30, 1962 with a yield of 50 megatons.

  • First nuclear test: Operation First Lightning/RDS-1 (Joe 1 in the West) at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR (present-day Kazakhstan) on August 29, 1949.
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • RDS-6s (Joe 4 in the West) at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR on August 12, 1953
    • RDS-37 at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR, November 22, 1955 – first “true” Soviet H-bomb
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): 1978 nuclear test series, Kazakhstan on November 17, 1978 (allegedly)
  • Last nuclear test: 715-8 at NZ Area B, Matochkin Shar, Novaya Zemlya, Russia on October 24, 1990
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 727 tests of 981 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 296,837

United Kingdom – Partnered with the United States and Canada during the Manhattan Project, the UK went on to develop its own nuclear program.

  • First nuclear test: Operation Hurricane, at Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia, on October 3, 1952
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Short Granite (part of Grapple 1 series), at Malden Island, Republic of Kiribati
  • Last nuclear test: Julin/Bristol at Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA on November 26, 1991
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 88 tests of 88 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 9,282

France – One of the countries that pioneered nuclear research, thanks to scientists like Marie Sklodowska Curie and Henri Becquerel. Bertrand Goldschmidt, Madame Curie’s last assistant and later father of the French nuclear weapons program, assisted in the Manhattan Project, developing what is now the standard method for extracting plutonium.  France developed its nuclear weapons program almost entirely from scratch, accelerating the program after the Suez Crisis in 1956.

  • First nuclear test: Operation Gerboise Bleue (Blue Jeroboa), at Reggane, Algeria, on February 13, 1960. It was the most powerful and largest first test bomb at that point, at 70 kilotons – more powerful than the US, UK and Soviet Union’s first tests combined.
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Canopus, as part of Operation Aldebaran, at Fangatafua Atoll in French Polynesia on August 28, 1968.
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): Performed an early test of neutron bomb technology in 1967 and tested an actual neutron bomb in 1980.
  • Last nuclear test: Operation Xouthos, at Fangataufa Atoll in French Polynesia on January 27, 1996
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 217 tests of 217 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 9,282

China – The Chinese began their nuclear weapons program after the First Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954-1955. The Soviet Union provided assistance by sending advisors to assist in fissile material production and in 1957, provided prototypes of a bomb, missiles and related technology. Test 27 on October 16, 1980 at Area D (Drop Area), Lop Nur, China was the last atmospheric test in the world.

  • First nuclear test: Project 596, Area D, Lop Nur, China on October 16, 1964
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • CHIC-6, Area D, Lop Nur, China on June 17, 1967
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): 31, at Area C (Beishan), Lop Nur, China on October 3, 1984 – fifth neutron bomb test, first successful test of the principles of the design. The bomb was successfully tested in 1988.
  • Last nuclear test: #45, at Area A (Nanshan), Lop Nur, China on July 29, 1996
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 47 tests, 48 devices fired
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 24,409 – 4.5% of all nuclear testing.

India – India began its nuclear program in March of 1944, when the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was founded. They began investigating nuclear weapons after a brief border war with China in October 1962, in hopes of deterring future Chinese aggression. India rejected the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, stating that they would not accede to international control of their nuclear facilities unless all other countries unilaterally disarmed their own nuclear weapons.

  • First nuclear test: Smiling Buddha, at Pokhran, India on May 18, 1974
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Shakti 1 (first stage), at Pokhran, India on May 11, 1998
  • First nuclear test (neutron bomb): As of August 1999, India disclosed that it was capable of producing a neutron bomb.
  • Last nuclear test:
  • Total nuclear tests by number: Three tests, of six devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 68-70

Pakistan – Developed their own nuclear weapons program due to the fact India had nukes. The rivalry between these two nations has led to fears of a regional nuclear war – which would still potentially be disastrous to the rest of the planet, since the environmental effects of nuclear war don’t give a wet slap about political boundaries.

  • First nuclear test: Chagai-1 at Ras Koh, Pakistan on May 28, 1998
  • Last nuclear test: Chagai-2, at Kharan Desert, Pakistan, on May 30, 1998
  • Total nuclear tests by number: Two tests of six devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 51

Alleged Members:

IsraelIt’s believed that Israel has had nuclear weapons since at least 1967 but officially, Israel will not confirm or deny the existence of their nuclear stockpile. If they have nuclear weapons, they are the only nation in their region that does. Estimates of their stockpile, should it exist, range between 75 to 400 weapons.  Israel assisted France and (allegedly) South Africa with their nuclear programs.

Former Members:

South Africa The only nation to develop nuclear weapons and then abandon them, South Africa assisted with US nuclear weapons production by providing uranium. They developed their first weapons in the early 1980s but ultimately, ended their program in 1989, dismantling their stockpile of seven weapons.

Post-Cold War Members:

North KoreaThe North Korean weapons program began in 1956 when the Soviet Union first began training North Korean scientists and engineers. Their first nuclear weapons test occurred on October 9, 2006 at Hwaderi near Kilju City.