Doomsday Testing: These 6 Huge Nuclear Weapons Tests Changed The World

Zachary Keck

Key point: These enormous explosions are no longer needed, if they ever were,

These days, the phrase nuclear test is almost synonymous with North Korea. After all, Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests since its first one in 2006. No other country has conducted a single test this century.

In the grand scheme of things, however, North Korea is barely a blimp on the map. Between America’s first nuclear test in 1945 and North Korea’s last denotation in September of last year, the world has witnessed at least 2,056 nuclear tests. Nearly 85 percent of these were conducted by the United States and the Soviet Union, but the three other recognized nuclear powers (the United Kingdom, France and China) have also conducted a significant amount of their own. Israel has never officially tested a nuclear weapon, although there is strong evidence that it secretly tested some in South Africa in 1979. India conducted a “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974, followed by a series of five nuclear blasts in May 1998. Later that same month, Pakistan responded with six nuclear tests on two seperate days.

Not all nuclear tests are created equal though. Some blasts produce yields of tens or hundreds of tons of TNT equivalent, while others have measured in the tens of megatons (a megaton is equal to a million of tons). Variance is greatest among the two Cold War superpowers, but the United Kingdom, France, China and North Korea have also had some significantly different yields in their nuclear tests. With that in mind, let’s look at the biggest nuclear blasts of each of these countries.

The United States

The United States has the distinction of both conducting the first and most nuclear weapons tests in history. Washington memorably conducted its first nuclear test, the Trinity, in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. Upon witnessing the blast, which measured in at twenty kilotons (20,000 tons of TNT equivalent), Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer famously declared, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

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