The world’s nuclear powers have nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads in their arsenals. These weapons have the capacity to kill millions directly and through their impact on agriculture have likely the potential to kill billions.
Nuclear weapons technology was developed during the 1930s and 1940s. The first nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Since then, controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons has been an important issue in international relations.
On this page you find several charts with the most important metrics. For an overview of the risks from nuclear weapons – and how they can be reduced – read the following essay:
Interactive charts on Nuclear Weapons
The states with nuclear capabilities now includes the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. It is a common misconception though that more and more countries are exploring and pursuing nuclear weapons since the Second World War. As the charts demonstrate, nuclear weapons peaked in the 1980, and has remained steady since the early 1990s.
One way of quantifying the proliferation of nuclear weapons is to look at the stockpiles countries have. The total inventories of nuclear warheads are even larger, as stockpiles do not include retired warheads queued for dismantlement.
This chart shows that the total number of stockpiled nuclear weapons in the world peaked in 1986. It should be remembered that the destructive power of nuclear warheads differs very significantly.
A look at the full inventories of the states with nuclear weapons shows that the warheads differ in how and how quickly they can be used.
Strategic warheads are designed for use away from the battlefield, such as against arms industries or infrastructure, while nonstrategic are for battlefield use.
A substantial share of warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles or bomber bases and can be used quickly. Others are in reserve, and some are even queued for dismantlement.
This interactive chart shows the number of nuclear weapons tests conducted since 1945.
We can see that the Cold War was a very active period of nuclear weapons development. Although nuclear weapons were only ever used in warfare during the Second World War, there have been many tests conducted since then.