Nuclear Weapons – Which countries have them ?


The nuclear weapons race started at the end of World War II when the United States dropped two atomic bombs over Japan. Since then several countries have produced their own nuclear devices and others are working hard on their production.

The United States

Nuclear testing began during World War II and ended in the early 1990s after the collapse of Communism. The United States still has the most operational warheads (over 2000), while there are still thousands that are being dismantled. The Americans also have nuclear weapons stationed in other NATO countries. Together with Russia, the US is the only member of the atomic weapons club that has air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons. For two decades the United States has been working together with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons around the world.


Russia conducted its first nuclear test in 1949, four years after the Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  During the Cold War the arms race led to a proliferation of nuclear weapons. Today, Russia has about 1,700 operational warheads. Nuclear experts , however, are worried that after 1990 some warheads might have fallen into the hands of third parties and are thus, not accounted for.


Great Britain

The UK joined the nuclear club in 1951 and has about 160 warheads that can only be delivered by submarines.



France is the third largest nuclear power after the US and Russia. The country can fire its 300 warheads either from air or sea.


Communist China started a nuclear program in the 1950s after the United States moved some of their own warheads to Asia during the Korean War. Currently China can deploy land- and air-based missiles, and may shortly be able to put them on submarines.


India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 because it saw neighboring China and Pakistan as a major threat to the region. India has land and air based weapons that can be made operational at short notice.


After conflicts and regional wars with India in the last forty years Pakistan tested its first warhead in 1998 and is said to have 100 warheads.


Although Israel has never confirmed the testing of atomic weapons, experts believe that the country has had a nuclear weapons program for decades. Israel probably has at least 80 missiles on land that can deliver nuclear warheads.


North Korea

In the last few years North Korea has been conducting underground tests. Western experts think that the Communist state has enough plutonium to build atomic bombs but they doubt whether it can deliver them on missiles. Sanctions against the country took effect some years ago after talks to stop the program had failed .




The western world is also worried about Iran’s plans to build a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Commission claims it has serious proof that Iran is producing plutonium to build a bomb. Iranian leaders have repeatedly said that they are only enriching uranium for nuclear energy. The United Nations has put sanctions on the country in an attempt to stop Iran’s program.


Several other states at one time had a nuclear weapons program or already had produced warheads.  States of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine and Kazakhstan possessed nuclear warheads when the country broke apart, but returned them to Russia in the following years. South Africa developed nuclear weapons during the Apartheid years but stopped it in the 1990s. Saddam Hussein was thought of developing his own nuclear weapons in Iraq. In 2003 the United States invaded the country because they thought the dictator had weapons of mass destruction. Argentina, Brazil and South Korea stopped their nuclear weapons programs many years ago.


Related Topics



  • account for = here: to say where they are
  • although = while
  • Apartheid = the political and social system of South Africa in the 20th century;  whites had all the power and other groups, especially blacks were forced to live in separate areas, go to separate schools  etc..
  • arms race = when two or more countries compete for the largest number of weapons
  • at short notice = within a short time
  • based = here: to be fired from
  • Cold War = the unfriendly relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States after World War II
  • conduct = carry out
  • confirm = to show that something is true
  • currently = right now
  • decade = ten years
  • deliver = transport
  • deploy = set up; make something work
  • develop = produce , make, plan
  • device = here: bomb
  • dismantle = take apart
  • enrich = here: to increase the number of atoms so that a substance  can produce more power
  • fail = not succeed
  • former = earlier, ex-
  • nuclear weapon = powerful bomb  that uses nuclear energy to kill many people and destroy large areas
  • operational = ready, working
  • plutonium = radioactive metal that is used to produce nuclear weapons
  • possess = own, have
  • proliferation = increase; large number
  • proof = evidence , facts
  • reduce = lower
  • repeatedly = over and over again
  • sanction = order to stop trade or punish a country in  certain ways to force their leaders to change their political opinion
  • serious = real
  • several = many
  • shortly = in the near future
  • threat = danger
  • took effect = start
  • underground = under the surface of the Earth
  • warhead = the front part of a missile that explodes when ti hits something
  • weapons of mass destruction =  chemical, nuclear or biological weapons that are very dangerous and can kill thousands of people