Home » international news » These numbers prove why nuclear weapons could be the scourge of humanity

These numbers prove why nuclear weapons could be the scourge of humanity

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:32 IST
Eminent scientist Stephen Hawking warned that the biggest threat to human existence is advancement of science and technology. One of the main technological dangers he mentioned were nuclear weapons.Precisely so, as we already know the havoc a nuclear bomb can cause. No one can forget the damage by Fat Man and the Little Boy, the political friction caused when Buddha Smiled or accidental disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima.Significantly, North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test of an explosive device on 6 January, 2015 and has threatened western powers of an attack.But in the post second World War era, having a nuclear arsenal means staying ahead.What can be the magnitude of destruction? Which country has the highest number of nuclear warheads?Also read: Nuclear power: can India keep its tall promisesThese numbers will give you some answers.

  • Number of people who died, due to burns, trauma and radiation, after the Americans dropped two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on 6 and 9 August, 1945.

  • In Hiroshima, the bomb killed 80,000 people or 90% of the city's population immediately; in Nagasaki the bomb killed about 40,000.
  • All multi-story brick buildings in both cities, at an average distance of 5,000 feet, were completely decimated.

  • In terms of long term after effects, the explosions caused radiation, genetic defects and cancer among the residents of the two cities.
  • Such terror struck mankind for the first time. Japan's Emperor Hirohito surrendered unconditionally on 15 August, ascribing the reason to "a new and most cruel bomb".

  • Unexpectedly, Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the bomb, had said "Now, I have become death, the destroyer of worlds", a quote allegedly borrowed from Bhagvad Gita, after the successful test.

The following years were marked by a mad race for nuclear weapons between the USSR and the USA. In 1949, USSR detonated its first atomic bomb, called First Lightning and USA in 1952 detonated the world's first hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb, much powerful than atom bombs.

During the cold war period, the world did come close to a nuclear war but thankfully, it never happened.


  • The number of nuclear warheads with the of five legally recognised nuclear-weapon states as of 2014, according to reports by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

  • Of this, about 95% are under the control of two countries: Russia (8,000) and USA (7,300).
  • France has 300 warheads, China has 250, UK has 225.

  • These countries are legally recognised as per the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, which is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and promote peaceful cooperation of nuclear energy.
  • Apart from these countries, Pakistan has 120 nuclear warheads, India has 110, Israel has 80 and North Korea has about 10.

  • In total, there are 16,395 warheads in the world, of which 4,300 are deployed. This means they are placed on missiles in operational bases and can be launched anytime.
  • There's some good news. As of 2015, all these nine states had about 15,850 nuclear warheads, about 500 warheads lesser than 2014.

  • However, countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria have flouted international nuclear norms and building their own arsenal, which can cause more friction.

But the main threat isn't from nuclear war but from nuclear disasters. Nuclear energy, apart from making bombs, is used for generating electricity.


  • The number of deaths between 1990 and 2004 in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 that caused cancer and genetic deformity due to radiation, according to a report by Greenpeace International.

  • Chernobyl Power Plant, commissioned in 1977, was a nuclear reactor in Ukraine, operated by the erstwhile USSR to generate electricity.
  • On 26 April, 1986 a chemical explosion released 520 dangerous chemicals that contaminated Belarus, Ukraine and Russia that immediately killed 31 people and exposed 600,000 lakh people to radiation.

  • Overall, nearly 8.4 million people across these regions were exposed to radiation, which is more than the population of Austria, about 155,000 sq km (or half of Italy's geographical area) was contaminated, and nearly 404,000 people had to be relocated, according to the United Nations.
  • Millions still live in under continuous exposure to radiation.


  • Number of people displaced due to the Fukushima disaster, after the earthquake of March, 2011 triggered a tsunami and damaged Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power station.

  • It is alleged that the area around Fukushima plant will be uninhabitable for at least two decades as radiation leak went on for six months after the accident.
  • From cancer risks and psychological effects of relocation, the adverse effects of Fukushima will take a long time to reduce.

  • According to Greenpeace, there are about 436 nuclear reactors in the world that are prone to human errors and natural disasters.


  • Is the number of deadly effects that will be caused if a 'small' nuclear war between India and Pakistan takes place, according to a research paper in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, co-authored by Alan Robock and Brian Toon in September 2012.

  • ''As air burst in urban areas would produce so much smoke that temperatures will fall below that of the Little Ice Age of the 14th to 19th centuries."
  • This in turn would 'shorten the agricultural season around the world and reduce global food supply'.

  • Massive ozone depletion, allowing more ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth's surface.
  • The result: Another climatic disaster of epic proportions.

Also read: Is India building a top secret nuclear city to produce Thermonuclear weapons?

First published: 31 January 2016, 2:39 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

Born and raised in Kolkata, Sourjya is all about the numbers. He uses data to contextualise stories on a broad range of topics. Formerly with the Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, any time not spent researching and writing is spent reading non-fiction and tackling his unending collection of films. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, he has a post-grad degree in Political Science from Calcutta University and was actively involved in student politics. He's a fan of Tintin comics, Germany's football team, Mohun Bagan and Old Monk.