Get the Facts
North Korea: <10
United States: 7,200
United Kingdom: 215
China, Vietnam, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Israel, India, Uzbekistan, United States, South Africa, North Korea, Canada, Japan, Russia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Ukraine
In 1954, during the Castle Bravo test of the first deployable hydrogen bomb, a miscalculation resulted in the explosion being over twice as large as predicted, with a total explosive force of 15 megatons of TNT. The unexpectedly large and “dirty” explosion produced a vast amount of fallout that severely contaminated nearby inhabited islands.Close
Sea of Japan
In 1965, a Skyhawk strike aircraft carrying a nuclear bomb rolled off a U.S. aircraft carrier in the sea of Japan. The weapon was never recovered.Close
East China Sea
In 1981, the U.S.S. George Washington, carrying approximately 160 nuclear warheads, collided with a Japanese freighter in the East China Sea.Close
In 1968, the K-219, a Soviet ballistic missile submarine armed with nuclear weapons, sank in the Pacific, about 1,200 kilometers northwest of the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. The weapons were never recovered.Close
In 1999, the Kargil War erupted between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. As hostilities flared, nuclear-armed weapons on both sides were mobilized and officials seriously contemplated their use on the battlefield – to devastating effect on a global scale.Close
In 1956, a B-47 aircraft on a mission from MacDill Air Force Base descended into a cloud formation at 14,000 feet over the Mediterranean, in preparation for an in-air refuelling, and vanished while carrying two nuclear weapon cores. Neither the plane nor its nuclear cores were ever recovered.Close
In 1995, Russian military commanders mistook a U.S. scientific rocket for a nuclear missile – despite advance notice of the launch. Russian military commanders brought out the “nuclear football,” opened the codes and put the button on President Boris Yeltsin’s desk, advising him that a nuclear attack was imminent. Fortunately, President Yeltsin didn’t believe what he was hearing and refused to initiate a devastating nuclear response.Close
In 1966, a B-52 aircraft exploded mid-air during a refueling mission, causing four thermonuclear weapons to fall into Spanish territory and the Mediterranean. The conventional explosives from two of the bombs detonated upon impact, spreading radioactive plutonium over the small Spanish village of Palomares. Although three of the bombs were immediately recovered, one was lost at sea for 81 days. The recovery operation cost more than $10 million.Close
In 2007, a B-52 bomber flying out of North Dakota was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flew for three hours across the United States. Nobody knew – not the aircraft’s crew nor men on the ground – until after the plane landed in Louisiana.Close
A B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed near a U.S. airforce base in Greenland, scattering deadly plutonium over the ice cap.Close
In 1959, a U.S. aircraft crashed near Wimpy Island, Washington. Its nuclear depth charges were never recovered.Close
In 1956, a B-47 bomber crashed into a nuclear weapons storage facility at the Lakenheath air base in the U.K., which contained three nuclear bombs. A bomb disposal expert stated it was a “miracle” that exposed detonators on one bomb did not trigger a nuclear explosion.Close
In 1950, a B-50 aircraft armed with a nuclear weapon crashed into the ground on a training mission, resulting in a massive (but non-nuclear) explosion.Close
In 1950, a B-50 aircraft – returning one of four nuclear bombs secretly deployed in Canada – experienced severe engine trouble and jettisoned the weapon, which was set to self-destruct at 2,500 feet over the St. Lawrence River. The explosion shook area residents and scattered nearly 45 kilograms of uranium over the area.Close
In 1958, during a simulated take-off the tail of a B-47 aircraft carrying an armed nuclear weapon hit the runway, rupturing a fuel tank and sparking a fire.Close
In 1958, a B-47 bomber jettisoned a nuclear weapon over the Atlantic Ocean after a mid-air collision with a U.S. F-86 aircraft during a simulated combat mission. A 8-square-kilometer area near Wassaw Sound was searched for 9 weeks, but the weapon was never recovered.Close
Yuba City, California
In 1961, a B-52 bomber ran out of fuel and crashed near Yuba City, California, with two nuclear bombs, which did not trigger a nuclear explosion.Close
Sahara Desert, French Algeria
In 1962, the second French underground nuclear test – codenamed “Béryl” – took place in a shaft under Mount Taourirt in the Algerian Sahara. Due to improper sealing of the shaft, a massive flame burst through the concrete cap and radioactive gases and dust were vented into the atmosphere. The plume climbed up to 2,600 meters high and radiation was detected hundreds of kilometers away. 100 soldiers and officials, including two ministers, were irradiated. The number of contaminated Algerians is unknown.Close
In 1964, a B-52 bomber armed with nuclear weapons encountered a severe winter storm and extreme turbulence, ultimately disintegrating in mid-air over Pennsylvania. A search for the missing weapons was initiated, and recovery was effected from portions of the wreckage at a farm northwest of Frostburg, Maryland.Close
In 1957, a C-124 aircraft experienced a loss of power over the Atlantic and jettisoned two nuclear bombs, which were never recovered.Close
In 2009, British and French submarines loaded with nuclear weapons collided in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Both submarines were powered by nuclear reactors. According to reports, the French submarine was able to return to its port under its own power; the British submarine was towed back to port.Close
In 1989, a Soviet nuclear-powered attack submarine caught fire and sank approximately 300 miles north of the Norwegian coast. The vessel's two nuclear-armed torpedoes were never recovered.Close
In 1968, the U.S.S. Scorpion sank 400 miles southwest of the Azores. The nuclear weapons on board were never recovered.Close
In June 1960, an air defense missile exploded at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, 18 miles north of Trenton, melting a nuclear warhead and spreading deadly plutonium.Close
In 1962, a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States on the other brought the world to the brink of all-out nuclear war. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. nuclear forces were at their highest state of readiness and Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons to defend the island if it was invaded.Close
In 1983, the Soviet Union’s new early warning system mistook the rising moon for five U.S. nuclear missiles on an attack trajectory. Lt. Col. Stansilav Petrov, the officer on duty at the time, correctly identified the error before triggering a devastating Soviet nuclear response.Close
Republic of Georgia
In 2003, a smuggler heading for Turkey was captured with 180 grams of nuclear material. Three years later, another smuggler nearly escaped Georgia with 5 times that amount.Close
In 1980, a false alarm was caused by a computer chip malfunction that generated indications of a large-scale Soviet nuclear attack. The U.S. raised alert levels, crews took launch codes out of their safes and keys were inserted into nuclear switches. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was woken up in the middle of the night with the assured instruction that a nuclear attack was underway and that he had to wake up President Jimmy Carter. Eight minutes’ worth of nuclear preparations were triggered by a malfunctioning computer chip that cost less than $1.Close
In 1979, a training tape was slipped into the command and control headquarters at NORAD. The simulation showed what the United States feared most: a massive Soviet nuclear strike aimed at destroying the U.S. command system and nuclear forces. A threat assessment conference with senior officers was convened; airborne command posts took off; the President’s “doomsday plane” left its base in preparation for an attack; and launch control centers for Minuteman missiles in the Midwest received preliminary warnings that the U.S. was under a massive nuclear attack. No one realized the mistake until the U.S. had entered a frenzied checklist procedure to prepare for nuclear war.Close
In 1961, a B-52 broke apart in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina, causing two nuclear bombs to fall. One parachute opened normally, and that bomb survived with minor damage. The other parachute failed to open. When that bomb hit, five of six safety devices failed. A single switch prevented a nuclear disaster.Close
There are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons on Earth.
Twenty years after the Cold War, maintaining vast arsenals of mass destruction – at a staggering cost of $1 trillion per decade globally – makes no sense, strategically or financially. Nuclear weapons undermine global stability. We need to reset our priorities, abandon outdated thinking on global security and set the world’s course to global zero.
The world teeters on the brink of unstoppable proliferation.
In addition to the nine nuclear weapons countries, 59 nations possess nuclear materials and the capability to create their own nuclear weapons programs.
Even one new nuclear weapons country could create a catastrophic cascade of proliferation. With each new nuclear country the existing balance of regional and global security would be upset and the world would grow more unsafe. The probability of lost or stolen nuclear material, accidental use of a nuclear weapon, terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon, and full-scale nuclear war would rise as country after country developed the bomb.
Eventually our luck will run out.
World powers have come disastrously close to nuclear exchanges many times before – from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to the 1999 Kargil War. And every day, terrorists are working to build, buy or steal a nuclear weapon: in the last two decades there have been at least 25 instances of nuclear explosive materials being lost or stolen.
The number of instances of lost or stolen weapons-grade nuclear material – “nuclear diversions” – will rise with the addition of each new nuclear country. Terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda have redefined terrorism from limited violence to mass destruction to achieve their ends, as seen in New York, Madrid, London and Mumbai. Whether as a crudely built uranium gun-type design or as a stolen warhead, one "small" 10-kiloton nuclear bomb smuggled into a major city in an ordinary van and detonated could instantly kill hundreds of thousands.
We’ve been lucky so far. We can't afford to keep rolling the dice.
The only sane option is ZERO.
The only way to eliminate the existential nuclear threat is to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons: “global zero.”
We have a plan. It’s backed by political leaders, military commanders and national security experts worldwide. The challenge now is getting world leaders to act, and it’s high time they get to work to make that happen. But not without strong, sustained and urgent support from the public, leaders and the media.