FWS Topics: Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War (Part 1)
On July 16th, 1945, the first atomic bomb, "the Gadget", lit up the early morning New Mexico sky with a man-made sun during the Trinity Test. In that one moment, the world would change forever with some repercussions being positive and some being negative. Once other nations became part of the "Nuclear Club", the atomic domination by the United States was ended and a new terrifying prospect was raised: nuclear warfare. For nearly three generations, the possibility of nuclear war loomed overhead, and we all grew up under the shadow of the mushroom cloud. However, once the Cold War thawed, we falsely believed the chance of an thermonuclear holocaust was nearly extinct. During the recent American presidential election and cooling relations between the US and Russia, there is rising talk of nuclear weapons, nuclear war, and how these weapons of mass destruction relate to geopolitical situations. In this first blogpost of three concerning nuclear warfare and weapons, FWS will explore nuclear, atomic, hydrogen, and neutron weapon along with the nuclear club of nine and the almost members.
The Power of the Modern Nuclear Weapons and the Effect of Nuclear War
In the common portrayal of nuclear weapons, there is this flash of intense white light, the nuclear bomb explodes in the iconic mushroom cloud with the power to wipe out cities, millions of lives, and burn shadows of objects and people into walls as a silent testament to those last moments. This encompasses the three element of the power of modern nuclear weapons, but there are more ways that the nuclear weapon deals it massive energy upon its target. About 50% of the power of the thermonuclear weapon is the initial blast energy that products a massive shock blast that knocks down structures (static over-pressure and dynamic pressure) over. 15% is the radiation in the form of gamma rays and neutrons that are an enduring legacy of the exchange than the initial blast yield. The rest of the energy is the 35% composed of thermal energy that is in the range of millions of degrees that can inflict 3rd burns over miles, set massive fires over miles, vaporize or melt matter of all types.
Then there are the secondary after effects of a nuclear weapon detonation that can present just as many issues and effects as the initial blast. One of most well known is nuclear fallout. This is the raining down of the radioactive particles and material tossed up into the atmosphere during the initial explosion that is mostly comprised of ash and dust. One infamous example of fallout was the black rain that fell on Nagasaki and Hiroshima causing burns, sickness, and even death. Some have stated that nuclear fall could be more dangerous than the explosion across a greater area, effecting the biosphere on a wide geographic scale. So much so, that there is concern that animal and plant life would die off leading to the dreaded "nuclear famine".
Added to the nuclear fallout is that all of that material thrown into the atmosphere coupled with massive out-of-control fires could alter the weather patterns of the globe causing an nuclear winter and long-term temperature alternations that would hamper recovery efforts. Computer models suggest that smoke and soot would remain in the atmosphere for years. All of this adds up to continued death and crumbling on the foundations of civilization. Some have also concluded that there would bean greater risk of earthquakes as well resulting from an all out nuclear exchange.
One of the most discussed and debated effects of a full scale nuclear exchange is that the bulk of life on planet Earth would be destroyed. Would nuclear war led to the end of life as we know it? Yes. Nuclear war would alter everyone's lives in every way from economic, social, political, ecological, and biological. Those not directly killed by the strike, would be faced with a very different world and society, but there would be certainly survivors. The unknown portion of the equation is how many survivors there would be in the aftermath and how severe the nuclear winter/famine would be (some estimates place the nuclear winter at lasting 20 years).
Best guess? In 1979, during one of apex in nuclear arsenal inventories, an US government department estimated that about 35% to 77% of the US population would be killed outright by the nuclear exchange combined with the secondary effects. In the former Soviet Union, the number would be lower, due to less major urban population centers (20% to 40%). Given the reduction of the nuclear stockpile, it is likely effect of nuclear would be less than those grim statistics, however, the long-term effects of the nuclear winter, society breakdown, and the nuclear famine are unknown on the total survivor population or their level of society.
In a 2003 report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility estimated that if just 300 nuclear warheads hit the United States that about 75-100 million Americans would die in the first 30 minutes alone with all elements of our modern society wiped out the moment the bombs exploded. This complete breakdown of services and basic care needs would cause secondary causalities resulting from lack of food, medical care, and radiation sickness for weeks after the nuclear holocaust. The report goes to detail the horror of an post-nuclear holocaust world that will keep you up at night with figures of infant mortality, low-yield farming, and the death of species on a scale not seen in thousands of years. The lucky might be the dead that fell in the white flash.
The Current Status of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War
At best count, there are about 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world with the Russia and the United States have the lion share of the nuclear weapons with about 6,970 verse 7,300 receptivity. The actually deployed nuclear devices is 1.796 for Russian and 1,367 for the USA. Lower down on the number count is France, the United Kingdom, and China with about 200 a piece roughly. The other two nation-states with nuclear arsenals pointed at one another is Pakistan and India with about 100 each. The lowest number of nuclear weapons is North Korea with anywhere between 3 to 10 atomic or hydrogen weapons. It is unknown the number of nuclear weapons possessed by Israel...which unofficial figures hovered around 80.
What is unknown about every member of the Nuclear Club is how many are produced per year by each state. It is likely that Russia, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea are still involved in production of nuclear weapons. Regarding the possibility of an nuclear exchange, the risk is greater than at any other point since the fall of the Soviet Union given the chilly relations between the two superpowers along with the war in Syria. It is unknown how the Trump presidency will effect conditions and the possibility of nuclear Armageddon. The failing relations between the US and Russia are not the only nuclear hot spot. Pakistan and India always seem on tension and then there is situations with North Korea and Iran.
For the record, "atomic" and "hydrogen" weapons are all nuclear weapons. The first nuclear weapon constructed by most of the Nuclear Club members is the atomic bomb. The term “atomic bomb” has been thrown around in the public imagination since 1945; however what is an atomic bomb? The more correct term associated with these WMD is “fission bomb" and there are two ways to generate the fearsome power: gun method and implosion method. The first atomic bomb used in the history of warfare, "Little Boy", was an gun-method atomic bomb. In the second method, the bomb uses the splitting of an neutron nuclei followed by the chain reaction of other splitting nuclei to force a massive explosion using the implosion method.
This was the type of atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki and used in the Trinity atomic test. The US and the USSR both used atomic bombs up until the 1960's with some of the smaller atomic devices, like the US W54 and the Russian RA-115 compact atomic devices being used until the late 1970's. Why are atomic weapons no longer used by the Nuclear Club in most cases? They are under-powered when compared to modern nuclear weapons with yields of thermonuclear weapons. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan were 13 to 21 kilotons of yield, while the first United States H-bomb was 10.4 megatons of yield with more modern nuclear weapon be variable and more compact.
Thermonuclear (Hydrogen) Weapons
On the heels of the development of atomic (fission) weaponry is the most common and destructive nuclear weapons in service at present is the thermonuclear weapon first tested by the United States in 1952 with the "Ivy Mike" 10.4mT bomb at Enewetak Atoll. The design of the H-Bomb was developed by Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam. Technically, the H-Bomb used an implosion fission explosion to set off fusion explosion of hydrogen isotopes. This stage or chained nuclear device that much like a rocket, uses stages to achieve the objective. It is believed that every member of the Nuclear club of nine uses thermonuclear weapons. The majority of most nuclear weapons in service at around 25mT are deployed via ICBM MIRVs.
One of the most misunderstood weapons-of-mass-destruction is the Neutron bomb, or more properly: "enhanced radiation weapon (ERW)". When it comes to this specialized variant of the thermonuclear weapon, there is widely held believe that neutron bombs could be dropped onto an enemy city and only the living are killed, protecting the infrastructure. It is true that 80% of the ERW energy is expressed as neutron radiation, while the rest of the 20% is the blast/thermal energy that would expressed like a typical thermonuclear explosion that was smaller than a typical tactical nuke. Seemingly, the neutron bomb could render a major city into a ghost town right for occupation by the victor. Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, this is not the truth of the neutron bomb and it is not the “safe sex option” of the nuclear weapons world.
ERWs were developed by the United States for two original roles: missile defense and tactical battlefield use. It was envisioned that ERWs could defend in-the-ground missile silos and cities from incoming Soviet nukes by using the blast of neutron radiation to damage the computer chips or making the warhead “fizzle”. During the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact has sizable numerical advantage in conventional forces, and the US believed that ERWs could be used to take out this advantage by assaulting the Soviet tank crews with lethal doses of radiation. Another version of this plan had some have believed that neutron bombs could be used as area denial weapon, making an area a “no-go zone” for enemy units.
This idea was floated around during the heady days of when NATO planners envisioned Warsaw Pact conventional forces storming into West Germany and during the recent Afghanistan war. The truth of the ERW is that are not as effective as believed by the general public and even at ground zero, some shielding from damp soil or even thick concrete would reduce the lethal effects by a healthy margin. It was even worse when it came to effectiveness against armored vehicle crews in modern main battle tanks. By 2011, the United States had dismantled all of their ERWs due to the lack of effectiveness against modern main battle tanks, reduced effectiveness in some climates, political fallout, and the high maintenance costs. From time-to-time, there have been rumors that neutron bombs have been used in combat zones. It has been "claimed" that the Americans used an ERW during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the Saudis used an neutron bomb in Yemen. There is no hard evidence of this.
Cobalt "Salted" Bomb
The Cobalt or "Salted" bomb is an fission-fusion-fission that uses cobalt-59 blanket that harness the power of nuclear fallout greater than the standard "city-killer" nuclear weapons. It was dreamed up in 1950, but has never been tested or constructed on more than a experimental level. While this is radioactive weapon, it is not the same as a dirty bomb, some sci-fi sources have claimed this is the Doomsday weapon that could wiped out all life on Earth.
Nuclear Weapon Blast Yields
When it comes to the destructive power of nuclear weapons it is often divided up into kilotons (kT) and megatons (mT). The majority of the time, kT nuclear weapons fall under the "atomic" heading and mT weapon fall under thermonuclear weapons. For example: the bomb that hit Hiroshima was 15kt and the first American H-bomb was Ivy Mike and it was 10.4mT. How does that compare? If we use the FWS hometown of Dallas, Texas as the bombsite, the 15kT atomic bomb kills 63,000 and injuries about the same amount with the blast radius at 0.4 of a mile with radiation effect at a little over a mile in the center of downtown. If we set off an 10.4mT H-bomb in downtown Dallas, the damage goes way up. 912,000 killed outright and 1.6 million injured with the blast radius being 1.53 miles and the radiation zone being 14 miles. If we use the largest H-bomb ever built, the Soviet Tsar Bomba (100mT), it kills 2 million, injures 2.4 million and its blast radius is over 45 miles with radiation being 45 miles as well. The familiar Star Trek torpedo is equal to about 64.3mT. To see the effect of various nuclear blast yields on your hometown, check here.
The Nuclear Weapon Generations
These are the original atomic (fission) based nuclear weapons. These are the gateway technology for most nuclear armed nations to move onward towards the second generation of nuclear weapons, which is fusion-based nuclear weapons AKA the H-Bomb.
These are the beginning of fusion based nuclear weapons, so-called Hydrogen bombs that are fusion weapons triggered by fission reactions and they represent a major shift in the lethality of nuclear weaponry to the degree that any massive exchange of second generation thermonuclear weapons could result in global environment change
This is our current state of nuclear weapons with smaller devices coupled with control over the explosive yield of the nuclear weapon.
Current thermonuclear weapons rely on the Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam design of a fission explosive trigger causing a fusion explosion. Fourth generation nuclear weapons theoretically would be a pure fusion bomb with the need for an initial fission trigger explosion. The advantage of pure fusion weapons is the lack of nasty radioactive fallout associated with the fission trigger bomb. These clean nukes could be more compact as well. Some believe that another type of trigger could be used like lasers, antimatter, and chemicals, but fourth generation nukes are still beyond our technological understanding.
First Strike Capability vs. Second Strike Capability vs. Decapitation Strike
When it comes to nuclear weaponry terminology, two terms emerges: First Strike and Second Strike Capabilities. These were vital components of nuclear policy during the Cold War despite the US and USSR denying that they would launch a preemptive nuclear first strike on one another. The goal of an nation’s First Strike Capability is launch first and assault the enemy with enough nuclear force to such a degree of destructive capability and effectiveness that when the other side launches their nukes in an Second Strike or retaliatory strike manner it is weakened allowing the First Strike nation to survive with less death and destruction.
The goal of First Strike Capability is to launch either without the target nation detecting the launch or shorten the time-to-impact via improved speed or launching from another location to shorten the distance, from a ballistic missile submarine like the Soviet Typhoon class for example. Often one of the goals of a pre-emptive nuclear attack is to eliminate the enemy’s command-and-control centers either diminishing or halting the target nation’s retaliatory strike capability. This can be military or political centers of power. This would target for example the US Strategic Command NORAD in Colorado or SAC Command in Nebraska or even the Washington D.C. Decapitation strikes do not have to be an nuclear assault.
They could be political assassination, cyberwarfare attack, conventional sabotage followed by a nuclear strike. After the aggressor nation launches their nukes, they will await the response via their enemy’s retaliatory strike capability. This will before the aggressor’s missiles and bombs have transformed cities and people into ashes. Often in flight, the other nation will launch and only minutes separate the first and secondary strikes. The goal of secondary strike capability is for enough of the nuclear stockpile to survive to allow for a payback strike that will destroy them as much as they have destroyed us. Depending on the scale of the nuclear exchange, there could be waves of incoming bombers and missiles, and then it is critical for the two nations to have a means of launching a counterstrike. This is why nuclear weapons are underground and C2 centers are in mountains or deep underground.
The Nuclear Club of Nine
At present at the latter end of 2016 there are eight confirmed nations with nuclear weapons and one, Israel, is widely assumed to possess them as well. In addition to the Nuclear Club of 9, there are nations that "host" nuclear weapons owned and constructed by members of the nine. In Europe, there are five nations (Germany, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Belgium) that share these weapons of mass destruction. This is also true in North America, with Canada hosting/sharing United States nukes. For awhile after the breakup of the Soviet Union, there were several now independent nations that possessed some of the old USSR nuclear weapons. All are either destroyed or transferred back to Russia for a fee. The primary goal of the present Nuclear Club of Nine has been to prevent nuclear proliferation which failed with North Korea and the jury is still out with Iran.
The United States
Despite other atomic programs undergoing at around the same time, the USA was the first to develop and deploy atomic weaponry. At the moment, the United States is the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons in war. For a very brief amount of time, the US was the only member of the Nuclear Club...that changed on August 29, 1949, when the USSR detonated their RDS-1 atomic bomb. For the early years of the American atomic/nuclear program, the atomic bombs were delivered via bombers. That changed in early 1950's when first surface-to-surface missile, the "Honest John" was developed, for the specific purpose of carrying a nuclear payload. By 1950, America was developing an Hydrogen thermonuclear bomb. In 1951, the "Ivy Mike" Hydrogen bomb was tested in the south pacific, ushering in the era of nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1960's-1980's, the US was in a head-to-hand arms race with their Soviet counterparts spending over $8.8 trillion dollars in total on their nuclear arsenal with the US nuclear arms inventory spiking at around 32,000 in the mid-1960's. At present, the US maintains a stockpile of about 5,0000 nuclear weapons.
The attempt to use the emerging understanding of radioactivity goes back even before the Communist Revolution, but it would be1943 when Stalin to funded a project that mirrored the United States' program which was known to Soviet intelligence. After the Trinity Test, Stalin pushed the scientists' hard to the US advantage and this only increased with the dropping of the bombs on Japan. Helping with the accelerated timeline was the NKVD human intelligence sources, namely traitor Klaus Fuchs. On August 29th, 1949, the RDS-1 "Fat Man" type atomic bomb was tested in present day Kazakhstan followed in 1953 by the USSR's first H-Bomb. Much like the United States, the Soviets assisted other nations with nuclear development, this includes Red China. The Former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal peaked at around 45,000 weapons in 1988 and today has dropped down to about 1790 deployed nuclear weapons.
The year that the 2nd World War ended, France was undertaking the development of nuclear weapons to prevent the same kind of defeat they had suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. The climate was also tense in Europe in the 1950’s, especially an traditional colonial power that was losing its colonial holdings. The majority of French nuclear testing, along with the first in 1960 were conducted in Algeria, even after they gained independence in 1962. France was not as careful as they needed to be when it came to nuclear test above or below ground. Native desert tribesmen were exposed to radiation along with an accident that exposed nine French troops to dangerous levels of radiation in 1962. During the Cold War, there was concern by Europe that America may not use its nuclear weapons to defend them if not directly threatened by the USSR and this was why France felt it needed to develop a vast nuclear stockpile. The primary method of French nuclear delivery is via submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and fighter delivery nuclear bombs. It is estimated that France has around 300 nuclear weapons. An odd story came out recently that during the French-Indochina War, it was reported that the US Ambassador asked the French if they would like two atomic bombs to deal with the situation in Dien Bien Phu. How nice of us.
In October of 1952, the UK became a nuclear power, the 3rd after the US and USSR with the Operation Hurricane project. The first atomic bomb test on an island off the NE Australian coast called Trimouille. Thermonuclear weapons were achieved in 1957 with some issues with the technology and funding. There was a debate within the British government about the development of thermonuclear weapons given the cost and the capability of the US nuclear force. For much of the history of British nuclear weapons, they were based around naval power with SLBMs and carrier-based nuclear bombs. Today, the UK maintains a nuclear force of about 215 weapons with about 120 operational, which the majority of those are with the Royal Navy submarine force functioning as SLBMs. There has been talk for years about the British government completely disarming, but that may change with recent developments.
In 1974, India became a member of the nuclear club and the second Asian country to do so. The weapon program has been undergoing since 1944 and its first thermonuclear bomb test called "Smiling Buddha" due to it being detonated on the Buddha's birthday was conducted in the Thar desert Indian army base located in the state of Rajasthan. While some might believe that India developed the nuclear bomb due to their long-standing enemy Pakistan, but it was an nuclear armed Red China that pushed India into nuclear development and the 1962 Indian defeat in the border conflict. The nuclear dick measuring contest between China and India was a result of which nation would control the destiny of Asia. India, like its nuclear armed neighbor China, possesses nuclear capability on land, sea, and air with work processing on ICBM/MIRV technology. At present, the Indian nuclear stockpile sits at around between 100-120 various nuclear armaments with short range and long range missile technology.
After the crushing loss to India in their 1971 war, Pakistan began to lay the groundwork for a military nuclear program in winter of 1972, but was slowed due to internal political issues as well as trouble gathering needed supplies and equipment causing Pakistan to only achieve nuclear status towards the end of the 1990's. In May of 1998, Pakistan joined the nuclear club via an five underground atomic tests at the same time one kilometer under the Koh Kambaran mountain in the Ras Koh Hills that lays in a isolated, dry portion of western Pakistan. The tests were collectively called Chagai-I. The possible reason behind the use of five smaller atomic devices was due to Pakistan wanting smaller tactical nuclear weapons not massive city killers.
The stockpile of Pakistan is estimated to be at around 70-90 warheads divided among air, land, and sea applications. The majority of land-based systems are medium range (2500kms) nuclear missiles fired from trucks all the way to micro-nukes, like the US “Davey Crockett”. Air application is via the familiar fighter-based delivery system with a nuclear tipped cruise missile system with a limited range of less than 400 kilometers. Naval based nuclear applications range from nuclear sea mines, missiles, along with development of a nuclear-powered and armed submarine in response to India's own.
One of the most mysterious, elusive, and interesting nuclear programs is Israel. While most can safely assume that Israel possess a nuclear arsenal, nearly everything else is unknown about it. The number, type (atomic or hydrogen), range, or even manufacturing capability of their rumored nuclear program is a mystery. We do not even know if Israel has ever even tested one of their purported nuclear weapon or the location of that testing site. It is also unknown how Israel developed their rumored nuclear technology. Some believe that France or the United States aided in the development of their bomb program. Some, like my father, assumed that the United States gave Israel the bulk of their nuclear knowledge or even a bomb. Others say that Israel developed their nuclear capability completely in-house. Rumor say that each of Israeli nuclear bombs are stamped with the phase "never again" in Hebrew. The assumed Israeli nuclear weapon program has been a political football in international diplomatic circles, and there was fear of nuclear retaliation if Iraq had launched chemical weapon strikes on Israel during the 1st Gulf War.
One of the most interesting and confusing nuclear possessing nations is North Korea. There is some debate about the true power, size, and ability of the North Korean nuclear program with the first "nuclear" test in 2006 being described as being “sub-nuclear”. This testing site was conducted in an underground facility in the far north of the country. Since that original test, their weapons program has tested atomic and hydrogen devices four separate times along with corresponding rocketry program that works to develop range, capability, and reliability.
While intelligence agencies estimates place the North Korean nuclear program with less than 10 bombs, it is actually unknown how many bombs they have ready or their production rate since the hermit kingdom is not in an sharing mood with the UN or IAEA. Unlike other members of the Nuclear Club, North Korea often rattles their nuclear sabers to remind the world that they exist and they will destroy the United States and/or South Korea. These threats and the unstable nature of the hermit kingdom have caused the US to develop an Alaskan based missile interceptor program. It is likely if the North Koreans decided to launch a nuclear missile at Japan, South Korea, or the US; there would be several hours of advanced notice and interception is more likely. If or when the North Koreans launched their nukes, it would be the death sentence for the entire regime. Such is the peril with nuclear weapons.
While the Americans and the Russians made much of their nuclear stockpiles and the world was more forced on those nations’ nuclear arsenals, the Chinese nuclear program was never discussed much when I was kid growing up during the Cold War. The genesis behind the Chinese nuclear program was during the 1st Taiwan Strait Crisis from 1954-1955 and it was believed by the PRC leadership that being an nuclear power would allow them more say and influence on international relations. Being communist, the Soviet Union gave technical assistance to the Chinese nuclear program up until 1960. On October 16th, 1964, the Chinese became a nuclear state with the “596” 22 kiloton atomic bomb explosion in the Lop Nur, a former salt lake in Mongolia. China was able to test their first thermonuclear bomb just 32 months after their first atomic bomb, the fastest development cycle in nuclear history. When it comes to modern numbers of the Chinese nuclear stockpile, there numbers are mostly likely 190 operational with a total of about 260 overall and it has been reported that only 10 are ICBMs. However, there is great mystery surrounding the Chinese nuclear arsenal. What is interesting about those numbers of the Chinese nuclear program is given the size of the Chinese nation, its deep desire to be a key world player, its military, and its economy; their nuclear arsenal is less than the size of France. Some believe that is due to China not possess a natural nuclear armed rival enemy, like the US had with the USSR, or that given the lackluster state of Chinese military technology, the nuclear program does not have the room to grow. There is also the fact that Asia is not a hotbed of possible conflicts for China, and India and Pakistan are more interested in nuking each other. Much like the US and Russia, the Chinese will modernize their nuclear force with likely attention paid to submarine capability, but the raw number of the Chinese stockpile will remain at the same level.
Abandoned or Rumored Nuclear Programs
The 3rd Reich (1939-1945)
There is little doubt that the 3rd Reich utilized science to advance their imperial desires on Europe and their vision of a 1,000 reign of a Nazi Germany. By the end of the war, the Nazi war-machine had advanced the fields of rocketry, jet propulsion, and weapons design. In addition to these more mainstream projects were the “Wonder Weapons” (Wunderwaffe), and given what the Alsos Mission found after the war, it begs the question: why did the Nazis never get the atomic bomb? The short answer is they nearly did. Fears of a Nazi atomic bomb fueled the US government efforts to beat the Nazis to the punch by committing massive resources to the Manhattan Project (thousands of personnel and billions of dollars).
Despite early successes in achieving the science and techniques behind nuclear weaponry, like the discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn in 1938 and a experimental nuclear pile; the 3rd Reich simply lacked the commitment, resources, and money to undertaken their own Manhattan Project. During the Nazivictories across the globe, there did not seem to be a need for an atomic bomb in conjunction with the other Wunderwaffe projects already underway. When the German Army Ordinance took stock of their various projects in 1942 that could be achieved by 1944, the nuclear program was low on the list, giving it fewer resources to work with. By the time the situation was critical and German forces were being rolled back towards the heart of the Fatherland, Germany lacked the economic and industrial foundations to field a nuclear weapons program. This did not prevent them from trying though, but time had run out.
According to some claims, the Nazis did in fact test an atomic bomb on March 4th, 1945 at Thuringia. Others claim that the Nazi atomic bomb test site was at Rugen Island in 1944. Of course, if the German military had an atomic bomb in their hands, they would have used it to stop the allies. We have to remember that the Americans had crossed the Rhine just after the rumored atomic test at Thuringia, and that would have been the time to use and halt the advance of the Allies. It is also believed that the Nazis scientists had delivered a “dirty bomb” and that what was tested in the Thuringia with POWs being the test subjects on the grim effectiveness of this bomb.
These claims of a Nazi nuclear bomb are much the claims of those that say that the Nazis escaped to their Arctic base and where the US evicted them during Operation HIGHJUMP. Or the story switches to the escaping Nazis fleeing to their lunar base on the dark side or even through the veils of time via the "Die Glocken" time pod program. Most of the theories rely on the Nazis having access to reverse engineered UFO technology. If the Nazis did indeed recover an crashed UFO in 1936 or 1937 in the Black Forest, why did they not developed nuclear weapons from that alien technology?
Imperial Japan (1941-1945)
While the Nazi atomic project is more well known, it is not well known that the Imperial Japanese government was also invested into the development of an atomic bomb. In some ways, the Imperial Japanese was closer than their German allies, but it suffered similar handicaps: lack of resources and running out of time. There were two nuclear projects untaken by Imperial Japanese government for the army (Ni-Go) and one for the navy (F-Go) with the father of the Japanese nuclear arms program being under the direction of Dr. Yoshio Nishina. The simple lack of uranium ore caused both projects unable to produce an atomic bomb coupled with damage from US air raids that destroyed the centrifuge separator. Japan called on her ally German for raw material to produce their atomic bomb. Submarine U-234 was tasked with shuttling uranium oxide to Japan, but was located and seized by the US Navy. Time had run out for the Imperial Japanese atomic weapons program to create a weapon to prevent the United States and the Soviet Union from invading the mainland. Much like the alternative history theories on the Nazi atomic bomb, there is also one for the Japanese atomic bomb. According to rumor, the F-Go project was successful in testing an atomic device on occupied Korea at Hungnam (present day North Korea). Today, modern Japan could be able, if willing, to produce a nuclear weapon inside of a year.
South Africa (1967-1991)
My first hint that the old racist government of South Africa had developed nuclear weapons was the fake news broadcast in 1987's Robocop, and upon some research, I was shocked to realize that South Africa did indeed have a fully developed and active nuclear weapons program before they did something unprecedented: they destroyed their own bombs. Why did South Africa become the only government in the world to willingly destroy their own nukes? There are two answers to this. The official reason being the outgoing white government wanted Africa to be a nuclear-free continent and South Africa should lead the way.
The truth is that former racist white government wanted to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the incoming black government with the end of apartheid in sight. This is the only nation in Africa that has achieved nuclear weapons, and most likely be the only for the foreseeable future. Beginning when South Africa felt threatened by Cuban intervention into Africa and issues within Rhodesia, the nuclear program was able to produce about 4 atomic bombs that could be air dropped with three more nearly ready. One of the great mysteries of the South African nuclear program was the September 22nd, 1979 powerful double flash in the Indian Ocean picked up by the American Vela satellite designed to monitor nuclear activity on the planet. While no direct evidence exist for it being a nuclear weapons test, it is believed that it was a joint South African-Israel nuclear weapons test or even a neutron bomb test.
Argentina and Brazil (1970's-1980's
South America is a continent without the specter of nuclear weapons, but it was nearly not that way. After the 1976 Argentine military coup, the military junta government began an nuclear weapons program. Odd, I know. Even odder was that Brazil and Argentina cooperated on a more or less a joint nuclear program that was a direct reaction to the Carter administration attempt to block nuclear proliferation in South America. While American Intelligence pointed to both nations be closer than they really were to a full scale nuclear program, the return of civilian governments to civilian leaderships preventing any further development. This was fortunate, due to the fact that if both possessed nuclear weapon programs, it could have led to an South American arms race. Both nations developed nuclear reactors for power generation, and it is believed that Brazil continued a secret nuclear weapon program throughout the 1980's.
In 1957, the Iranian nuclear program began with the original aim of developing nuclear energy under the “atoms for peace” program and the battle over if that that is their true intention is playing on the world stage in recent history. Iran does have a major investment in its nuclear in terms of economics, mining, and construction that dates back to when the Shah planning on 20 nuclear reactors with western assistance. That ended during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the era of mistrust by the America government and much of the international community.
In 1992, the CIA warned of the Iranian government capability to produce nuclear weapons and fears of a nuclear standoff between Israel and Iran emergence along with Iran allowing nuclear technology to fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. It was believed by global intelligence services that Iran was within one year of the ability to produce nuclear weapons with their enrichment capabilities. Reports stated that Iran had been hiring nuclear experts from Russia and South Africa to help with their program and there were intel reports of nuclear materials being obtained via Russian mob connections.
This fear and distrusted of a nuclear armed Iran fueled international sanctions that has cost the Iranian economy billions and may have been the primary trigger of Iran dismantling their nuclear program. If the international community had not forced a halt on their nuclear program with inspectors, it is likely that Israeli military would have intervened as they did with Iraq in 1988. Given the heated debate surrounding the Iranian nuclear program, there have been Iranian government accusations of the west murdering five nuclear scientists and cyberwarfare attacks on Iranian equipment all intended to disturb the nuclear program. Whatever the truth is, this is certain, the Iranian nuclear program is a glowing hot spot for the world and it is likely to determine the future of halting nuclear proliferation.
At one time, Iraq was heavily pursuing weapons of mass destruction and up until the 1st Gulf War, the Baathist state was classified "weapons developing state". They did achieve chemical weapons which were used on the Kurds in the Halabja attack of 1988 and throughout the Iran-Iraq War. The dream of Saddam Hussein’s regime was to possess nuclear weapons and this was the nightmare for Israel. So much so, that Israel launched Operation OPERA in 1981 to take out Iraq’s nuclear reactor. With this attack, Israeli intelligence believed that they had delayed the Iraqi nuclear program by a decade or more.
However, the Baathist government responded with ramping up their nuclear program. From a post-mortem 1992 IAEA assessment on the Iraqi nuclear program if the stars had aligned properly, Hussein was about 6 to 24 months for a workable device. It is certain that he did not possess a working device or else he would have most likely used it against Israel or the Coalition Forces. The full scope and progress of the Iraqi nuclear program was not known by the international community until after the 1st Gulf War. With this knowledge, the UN set about dismantling the Iraqi nuclear program. This is the only nuclear weapons program forcible halted by the international community. In 2003, much was made about "intelligence" provided by former Iraqi citizen Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi (AKA “Curveball”) pointing to a restarted WMD program under the nose of the international community. This evidence was used by the US and British governments to construct an case against the Baathist government leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the successful invasion, no evidence of WMD was found other than some missed pre-1991 stock nor the restarted nuclear program claimed by Curveball.
For many years, the Libyan government under Muammar Gaddafi was the international shit list and like many other nations, Libyan desired a nuclear reactor for peaceful power production. This presented a real issue for the international community, who felt that if Libya was able to gain nuclear capability, these Libyan nukes would find its way into the hands of terrorists. Citing the Israeli nuclear program as their response behind starting their own, the Libyan program attempted to use the dissolving of the Soviet Union to obtain nuclear material and resources via the black market during the 1990’s. Then there was a turnaround in 2003, when Gaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions when the United States directly informed Libya that if it did not give up its nuclear program with supervised dismantlement, the US would do to him what the US did to Iraq. Noticing the way the wind was blowing, Gaddafi wisely chose to stay in power and dismantle his long held nuclear program with was still in its initial stages.
From 1979 through 2007, it is believed that the Syrian government, despite being a signer of the NPT, engaged in a low-profile program to acquire nuclear weapons while cloaking it in the civilian nuclear power reactor project. During a clandestine operation with North Korea, the Syrian government was being assisted by the communist government for their nuclear program. Israeli intelligence kept close tabs on the movements of North Korean and Syrian players and gathered the intelligence on the possible nuclear development sites in Syria. On September 17, 2007, the IDF bombed the suspected site during Operation: Orchard using both F-16 and F16 fighter aircraft along with Sayeret Matkal Special Operations Commandos. The Syrian government has denied that the site in Al Kibar was a secret nuclear laboratory due to the lack of air defenses. It is rumored that an underground nuclear facility near Qusayr is still working on the project as reported by Spiegel Online.
Oddly, Sweden was very invested in developing the atomic bomb just after the 2nd World War and this program was ramped up when the Soviet Union achieved the bomb in 1949. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Swedish government worked on a nuclear weapons program as well as a nuclear power reactor. This was the coldest portion of the Cold War, and it appeared that war in Europe could erupt into a “hot war” between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and the government still favored the continuation of their “defensive” nuclear program. However, by the time of the 1960’s, Sweden had to make a choice: develop the bomb or abandon it. The United States, the Swedish public, and some of the Swedish government did not support a nuclear armed Sweden
causing the dismantling of the project by 1972.
South Korea (1970-1975?)
With the North Korea nuclear weapons program and testing being headline news for years, I often wondered why their sworn enemies to the South did not develop their own nuclear weapons program as a deterrent? During the 1970’s, South Korea did explore the possible of developing their own nuclear weapon program. The existence of the program became public knowledge when the South Korean prime minister announced the program at a press conference in 1975. With pressure from the US, France did not give the South Korean government reprocessors and it was believed that was the end of the story. Not so, it seems. There two separate enhancement “research” tests in 1982 and 2000. The IAEA investigated these research experiments due to South Korea being a signer to the non-proliferation treaty. At present, while South Korea possess the ability, but not the national will to develop nuclear arms. It is likely that any progress towards nuclear weapons by the South Korean government would cause North Korea to go crazy and they do not need any help with that.
The most shocking abandoned nuclear weapons program that I discovered during the research phase was that my genetic homeland was involved in this most dangerous game. To most of us, the Swiss are an isolationist nation that is known for banking, chocolate, the Alps, and Ricola cough drops. The idea that the Swiss government felt the need to endeavor on the development of nuclear weapons says something about the time. Given Switzerland’s status as being an mountain nation of neutrality and banking, it is surprising that for the bulk of the Cold War, Switzerland was exploring the possibility of building their own nuclear bomb to be delivered via jet fighters. The event that really set the wheels into motion was the Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956 providing the situation and scenario to have nukes as a deterrent and counter-invasion weapon. The original goal of the Swiss nuclear program was to develop 50 nukes at a range from 60-120 kilotons with a large phase II nuclear weapons program to ramp even larger bombs. Underground testing sites were chosen inside Switzerland and it looked likely that Switzerland would join the nuclear club. What stopped the Swiss nuclear weapons program? The general public was against it and funding issues prevented forward development. By 1988, with the Cold War coming to an end, the Swiss abandon the program.
The relationship between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China have been tense since the civil war and as we witnessed recently, there still is much complication with dealing with both on the international stage. Given the prospect of mainland China one day invading and ending the complex song-and-dance relationship between the two, Taiwan has explored the possibility of developing nukes a defensive weapon system. While Taiwan had a power generation nuclear program, its nuclear weapons program was halted under pressure from the United States around the mid-1970’s. There are some rumors that say the program was more than a research and that a nuclear device was tested due to help from South Africa. While the program was officially ended in the 1970’s, there were calls for the weapons program to be restarted in 1995 when China fired missiles during the Taiwan Strait Crisis under the guise of an “missile test”.
The first atomic bomb test by France was conducted in 1963 the Algerian part of the Sahara desert and it seems that the now independent nation has turned its attention to developing a nuclear arms program. The case concerning Algeria’s rumored and suspected nuclear weapons development program highlights the question of civilian nuclear power development verse concerns of those programs’ being used for a nuclear weapons program. This is also the case with Iran and Myanmar. In 1991, there was a leak to the American press of a suspected Algerian nuclear reactor bought from China being also used for nuclear weapons development. The Washington Times published a story that linked Chinese help to the nascent Algerian nuclear weapons program at the nuclear reactor site of Es Salam. Based on the leaked information, there was an international stink over the possibility of Algeria working on an atomic bomb, and the IAEA responded with an inspection. Around this time, Algeria fell into civil war and general disorder and seemingly took their nuclear arms aspirations with them. Currently, Algeria is attempting, with international help, to restart their nuclear power efforts.
Saudi Arabia (Current?)
Close ally of the United States and one of the richest nations in the Middle East could have a deadly dark secret. Rumors have flown around recently that Saudi Arabia may possess nuclear weapons…as many as seven. These were not developed domestically rather acquired on the international market. Some say Britain or Iran were the sources for the nukes, but it has not been confirmed. Video has been floating around the internet on YouTube and various underground media sources that Saudi Arabia has used tactical nuclear or neutron weapons in their military actions in Yemen. Time will tell if Saudi Arabia is one of the only two nuclear-armed states in the Middle East. Myanmar (Current?)
In the nation former known as Burma, there has been an effort to acquire civilian nuclear power and possibly WMD. Intelligence rumors have pointed to relationships with Russia or even North Korea to be an avenue for Myanmar to gain nuclear knowledge and technology. Some high level officers that have fled Myanmar have produced some evidence to corroborate the intel reports of a ongoing nuclear program with assistance from North Korea. The US has not put a great deal of stock into the rumors.
Next Time on FWS...
In the second installment of the three part Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War series, we will be discussing the military role of nuclear weapons and the military's role in the post-nuclear war world, the political and diplomatic effect of nuclear weapons. We will also be discussing the argument for and against the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, if nuclear war is winnable, and if the nuclear weapon could be outdated at some point.