Aug 6, 2020 - World

How the world's nuclear stockpiles have shifted since Hiroshima

Data: Federation of American Scientists; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Federation of American Scientists; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

There are roughly 13,355 nuclear weapons in the world, with 91% of them belonging to Russia (6,370) or the U.S. (5,800), according to estimates from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

What to watch: China’s stockpile of around 290 warheads is “likely to grow further over the next decade” and put it firmly in the third spot among the world’s nuclear powers, according to analysts Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda.

  • France (300) and the U.K. (215) both have significant stockpiles, as do rival nuclear powers Pakistan (150) and India (130).
  • Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons, but is believed to have secured the bomb in 1966 or 1967 and possess around 80 warheads.
  • North Korea, meanwhile, has embraced its status as a new nuclear power since conducting its first test in 2006. In 2019, the analysts put its stockpile at between 20-30 warheads.

Timeline: The U.S. was first to the bomb, conducting its Trinity test 75 years ago last month.

  • The Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test in 1949, far earlier than U.S. officials had expected. President Harry Truman attempted to downplay public fears, saying: “The eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected.”
  • The nuclear club grew as the U.K. (1952) and later France (1960) conducted tests.
  • The Chinese, after initial Soviet help, tested a nuclear weapon in 1964. A wary U.S. considered plans to sabotage China’s nuclear program.

The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) helped drive the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to the nuclear negotiating table, though the U.S. had far more nuclear weapons at that time and the Soviet stockpile continued to grow into the 1980s.

  • The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has helped limit the size of the nuclear club, though India (1974), Pakistan (1998), and North Korea (2006) brought the membership to nine, including Israel.
  • South Africa is the only country to develop nuclear weapons and then dismantle them, in 1989.

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