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Who has the most nukes?

April 01, 2016 08:55 IST
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More than two dozen countries in the world have nuclear power, but only a few have nuclear weapons or are suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons, a latest report by the Federation of American Scientists has revealed.

The United States, Russia and the United Kingdom are reducing their warhead inventories, but the pace of reduction is slowing compared to the past 25 years. France and Israel have relatively stable inventories, while China, Pakistan, India and North Korea are increasing their warhead inventories.

We bring forth to our readers the list of nations sitting on a nuclear stockpile, based on the study findings:


IMAGE: Within the next decade, all Soviet-era nuclear weapon systems will be phased out and replaced with new ones. All photographs: Reuters

Estimated warheads: 7,300

Operational: 1,790

Reserve: 2,700

First test: 1949

Last test: 1990

Total tests: 715

In addition to the 4,490 in the military stockpile, an estimated 2,800 retired warheads are estimated to be awaiting dismantlement. Details are scarce, but Russia is dismantling approximately 500 retired warheads per year, according to the report. 

2) United States

IMAGE: In the previous two decades, the US approach to modernisations mainly consisted of upgrading existing weapons instead of fielding new or significantly enhanced types.

Estimated Warheads: 7,650

Operational: 2,150

Reserve: 2,500

First test: 1945

Most recent test: 1992

Total tests: 1,054

The US government declared in April 2015 that its stockpile included 4,717 warheads as of September 2014. Since then, a small number of warheads are thought to have been retired.

In addition to the roughly 4,670 warheads in the military stockpile, the US government in April 2015 announced that approximately 2,500 retired warheads at that time were awaiting dismantlement.

3) France

IMAGE: France is in the final phase of a comprehensive modernisation of its nuclear forces intended to extend the arsenal into the 2050s.

Estimated warheads: 300

Operational: 280

First test: 1960

Most recent test: 1996

Total tests: 210

Only weapons for France’s single aircraft carrier are not considered deployed, although it is possible that warhead loadings on some submarines missiles have been reduced.

It seems likely, however, that in addition to the operational stockpile of warheads deployed on ballistic missiles and in storage facilities with operational forces, a small number of additional warheads are present in the maintenance cycle of the industrial complex either as new warheads, warheads undergoing repairs, or retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, according to the report.

4) China

IMAGE: China is the only member of the P5 that is increasing its nuclear arsenal, albeit slowly.

Estimated warheads: 260

Operational: Unknown

First test: 1964

Most recent test: 1996

Total tests: 45

China is thought to have “several hundred warheads,” far less than the 1,600-3,000 that have been suggested by some. None of the warheads are thought to be fully deployed but kept in storage under central control.

The existence of a Chinese non-strategic nuclear arsenal is uncertain. The Chinese arsenal is increasing with production of new warheads for DF-31/31A and JL-2 missiles.

5) United Kingdom

IMAGE: The current stockpile of approximately 225 British nuclear weapons is scheduled to decline to about 180 by the mid-2020s.  

Estimated Warheads: 215

Operational: 120

Reserve: 95

First test: 1952

Most recent test: 1991

Total Tests: 45

The UK has lowered the number of warheads on submarines from 48 to 40. This has lowered the number of ‘operationally available’ warheads from 160 to 120.

By the mid-2020s, the stockpile will be reduced to ‘not more than 180’. This reduction is already underway.

6) Israel

IMAGE: The Israeli nuclear arsenal appears to be relatively steady in size but is also rumored to be undergoing modernisation.

Estimated Warheads: 80

First test: No confirmed test

Most recent test: No confirmed test

Total tests: No confirmed test

Although the Israeli government neither confirms nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons, it is generally accepted by friend and foe alike that Israel is a nuclear-armed state and has been so for nearly half a century.

Israel has produced enough plutonium for 100-200 warheads, but the number of delivery platforms and estimates made by the US intelligence community suggest that the stockpile might include approximately 80 warheads.

7) Pakistan

IMAGE: Pakistan has, for its size, the world's most quickly expanding nuclear arsenal.

Estimated Warheads: 110-130

Operational: 0

First test: 1998

Most recent test: 1998

Total tests: 6

Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 110 to 130 warheads, an increase from an estimated 90 to 110 warheads in 2011.

With several delivery systems in development, four operating plutonium production reactors, and uranium facilities, the country’s stockpile will likely increase over the next 10 years, but by how much will depend on many things. Two key factors will be how many nuclear-capable launchers Islamabad plans to deploy, and how much the Indian nuclear arsenal grows.

None of Pakistan’s warheads are thought to be deployed but kept in central storage, most in the southern parts of the country. More warheads are in production.

8) India

IMAGE: India is entering an important new phase of its nuclear modernization program with development of longer-range missiles focussed on targetting China.

Estimated Warheads: 100-120

Operational: 0

First test: 1974

Most recent test: 1998

Total tests: 6

With several long-range ballistic missiles in development, the Indian nuclear posture is entering an important new phase. After nearly two decades of focusing on nuclear competition with Pakistan, New Delhi seems to now be paying attention to its future strategic relationship with China.

India is estimated to have produced approximately 540 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium, enough for 135 to 180 nuclear warheads, though not all of that material is being used.

9) North Korea

IMAGE: Little is known about the nuclear capability of North Korea's military forces.

Estimated Warheads: Unknown

First test: 2006

Most recent test: January 6, 2016 (claimed)

Total tests: 3

Despite three North Korean nuclear tests, there is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has miniaturised and operationalised its nuclear weapons capability.

A 2013 world survey by the US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center did not credit any of North Korea’s ballistic missiles with any nuclear capability.

Here's a chart that explains the the estimated nuclear warhead inventories

IMAGE: The nuclear-armed states have large residual nuclear arsenals, and post-Cold War reductions of nuclear weapons have slowed. Graph courtesy: Federation of American Scientists
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