Nuclear warfare, also known as atomic warfare, is a theoretical military conflict or prepared political strategy that deploys nuclear weaponry. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction; in contrast to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can produce destruction in a much shorter time and can have a long-lasting radiological result. A major nuclear exchange would likely have long-term effects, primarily from the fallout released, and could also lead to secondary effects, such as "nuclear winter", nuclear famine and societal collapse. A global thermonuclear war with Cold War-era stockpiles, or even with the current smaller stockpiles, may lead to various scenarios including the extinction of the human race.
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To date, the only use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict occurred in 1945 with the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, a uranium gun-type device (code name "Little Boy") was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, a plutonium implosion-type device (code name "Fat Man") was detonated over the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Together, these two bombings resulted in the deaths of approximately 200,000 people and contributed to the surrender of Japan, which occurred without any further use of nuclear weapons in the conflict.
After World War II, nuclear weapons were also developed by the Soviet Union (1949), the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and the People's Republic of China (1964), which contributed to the state of conflict and extreme tension that became known as the Cold War. In 1974, India, and in 1998, Pakistan, two countries that were openly hostile toward each other, developed nuclear weapons. Israel (1960s) and North Korea (2006) are also thought to have developed stocks of nuclear weapons, though it is not known how many. The Israeli government has never admitted nor denied having nuclear weapons, although it is known to have constructed the reactor and reprocessing plant necessary for building nuclear weapons. South Africa also manufactured several complete nuclear weapons in the 1980s, but subsequently became the first country to voluntarily destroy their domestically made weapons stocks and abandon further production (1990s). Nuclear weapons have been detonated on over 2,000 occasions for testing purposes and demonstrations.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resultant end of the Cold War, the threat of a major nuclear war between the two nuclear superpowers was generally thought to have declined. Since then, concern over nuclear weapons has shifted to the prevention of localized nuclear conflicts resulting from nuclear proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, the threat of nuclear war is considered to have resurged after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly with regard to Russian threats to use nuclear weapons during the invasion.
Since 1947, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has visualized how close the world is to a nuclear war. The Doomsday Clock reached high points in 1953, when the Clock was set to two minutes until midnight after the U.S. and the Soviet Union began testing hydrogen bombs, and in 2018, following the failure of world leaders to address tensions relating to nuclear weapons and climate change issues. Since 2023, the Clock has been set at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it's ever been. The most recent advance of the Clock's time setting was largely attributed to the risk of nuclear escalation that arose from the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.