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Nuclear Weapons 101

Which countries possess nuclear weapons?

Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

How many nuclear weapons are in the world today?

There are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. 9,400 nuclear weapons are active in military arsenals. The rest are retired. 4,000 nuclear weapons are considered "operationally available." 1,800 nuclear weapons are on high alert and can be launched in fifteen minutes or less.

How would people be impacted by a nuclear attack?

A nuclear attack on any city would be a humanitarian catastrophe. One nuclear weapon could potentially wipe out an entire city. The heat and blast effects would indiscriminately kill tens of thousands to tens of millions of civilians depending on the city's density and the explosive power of the warhead.

The 15-kiloton atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima immediately killed 70,000 people and injured approximately 75,000 people. By the end of 1945, 140,000 people in Hiroshima had died. The 21-kiloton atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Nagasaki immediately killed 74,000 people and injured 75,000 people. 90,000 people in Nagasaki were dead by the end of 1945.

Today's strategic nuclear weapons are between 6 to 333 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A PSR study modeled the humanitarian impact of launching 300 Russian nuclear weapons against U.S. cities. The study found 75 to 100 million people would die within 30 minutes.

In the event of a nuclear attack, physicians and health professionals would not be able to deliver medical assistance to immediate survivors. Physicians and relief agencies such as the International Committee on the Red Cross warn that a meaningful emergency response to the use of nuclear weapons on any city is impossible. A nuclear attack would destroy a city's healthcare infrastructure, kill the majority of health professionals, and render transportation and communication systems unusable.

Using nuclear weapons have long-term impacts on global health and the environment. Scientific research shows that a regional war using less than one percent of the global nuclear stockpile would drastically disrupt the climate and put two billion people at risk of severe malnutrition.

Are nuclear weapons legal?

The nuclear-armed countries party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are legally obligated to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament and eliminate their nuclear weapons. However, all nine nuclear-armed countries are working to perpetuate and upgrade their nuclear weapons programs rather than fulfill their existing legal disarmament obligations. The United States plans to spend $1.2 trillion over 30 years to substantially improve the capability of its nuclear arsenal.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017 to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty by comprehensively prohibiting nuclear weapons. The TPNW makes it illegal for parties of the treaty to use, develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, receive, threat to use, station, install, or deploy nuclear weapons. The treaty will officially enter into force after fifty countries sign and ratify the treaty.

Who has control over using nuclear weapons?

Nine individuals have total authority to use nuclear weapons. In the United States, current nuclear launch procedures leave the President's power to use nuclear weapons unchecked. Since 1945, any U.S. President could single-handedly order and execute a nuclear war killing tens of thousands to tens of millions of people in under fifteen minutes.

How much do Americans pay to perpetuate the U.S. nuclear weapon program?

In 2016, total expenditures for the U.S. nuclear weapons program was $57.6 billion. Nuclear weapons cost Americans $6.57 million per hour.

The enormous cost of the nuclear weapons spending risks growing. Congress is debating a $1.2 trillion plan to extensively upgrade the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Page Updated September 14, 2017