Columbus, OH (TFC)—On August 2, 1939 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging that the US government begin taking interest in nuclear science because Hitler’s Germany was already in the process of developing the capabilities to build a weapon the world had never seen—the result would come to be known as “The Manhattan Project”—America’s pursuit of developing the world’s first atomic bomb.
Nearly six years to the day, August 6, 1945, a B-29 Super fortress Enola Gay piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets, dropped Little Boy—a 15 Kiloton atomic bomb—on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a B-29 Bock scar piloted by Maj. Charles Sweeney dropped Fat Man—a 21 Kiloton atomic bomb—on the city of Nagasaki.
The estimated death toll for both cities is approximately 102,000 deaths out of an estimated 199,000 total casualties.
Following the end of the Pacific Theatre multiple treaties were signed which banned the development, testing, import and export of materials that are used to make nuclear weapons. The treaties also prohibited the testing of weapons carrying a nuclear payload in hopes of preventing more catastrophes. One of the most significant signed, and ratified, is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was opened to signatures in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The treaty has 190 signatories. In May 1995 the treaty was extended indefinitely.
By the end of the twenty first century there have been an estimated 2,053 test explosions by eight countries:
United States: 1,030
United Kingdom: 45
On October 31, 1961 the Soviet Union tested a 50,000 kiloton nuclear bomb codenamed Big Ivan (Tsar Bomba, King of Bombs) over the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea west of Siberia. The explosion created a mushroom cloud 64 kilometers (39.77 miles) high and it completely destroyed everything within a 40-mile radius—the light from the explosion was seen from over 2,000 kilometers (1,242.74 miles) away. The event was the largest explosion ever recorded and ultimately led to the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 by the US, USSR and UK, which banned atmospheric testing.
As of September 28, 2015 there are an estimated 15,000 nuclear warheads spread among the six nations listed above as well as Israel and North Korea— Russia has 4,500 warheads and the United States leads with 4,760 warheads.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s 2015 Nuclear Notebook titled ‘U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2015’ states:
“Over the next decade, the US government plans to spend as much as $350 billion on modernizing and maintaining its nuclear forces (US Congressional Budget Office, 2013). This will include designing a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), a new long-range bomber with nuclear capability, and a new air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). Plans also include studying options for the next-generation land-based ICBM; deploying a new nuclear-capable tactical fighter aircraft; completing full-scale production of one nuclear warhead and beginning modernization work on two others, including the first-ever guided nuclear bomb; modernizing nuclear command and control facilities; and building new nuclear weapon production and simulation facilities.”
Plans by the U.S. to modernize its nuclear arsenal is nothing new on the world stage. In another issue of the Nuclear Notebook titled ‘Russian Nuclear Forces, 2015’ Russia is said to be “…in the middle of a broad modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces.” Though both countries signed the NPT, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) (1996) and the most recent New START agreement (2011), a nuclear arms reduction agreement establishing a limit on deployed nuclear warheads, neither appear willing to commit to helping the world become free of the threat of nuclear war.
When one factors in the modernization and advancement of nuclear forces in other nuclear states such as China, the UK and Israel, it becomes clear that the conflict we have inherited may never end. Future generations will continue to carry the weight of the threat unless more is done by each state currently in possession of nuclear arms to bring its arsenal down to zero.