Testing Times

Before the CTBT opened for signature in 1996, a nuclear test shook and often irradiated the Earth on average every nine days, while only a handful of tests were conducted after. Here is a selection of the lowlights of an era that will be confined to the history books once the CTBT has entered into force.

The 'Trinity' test on 16 July 1945 at 0.016 seconds after detonation.
It was the first-ever nuclear explosion and the first of 1,032
U.S. nuclear tests.

The Soviet Union carried out 715 nuclear tests,
starting with the ‘RDS-1’ test on 29 August 1949
in Semipalatinsk in today’s Kazakhstan.

‘Hurricane’ was the first of 45 UK nuclear tests,
conducted on 3 October 1952 at the Montebello
Islands in Western Australia.

The first of 210 nuclear tests by France was carried
out on 13 February 1960 in the Sahara Desert of Algeria.

Monument for victims of nuclear testing in Algeria (source: AVEN)

China conducted its first of 45 nuclear tests
on 16 October 1964 at the Lop Nur test site.

India conducted its first nuclear explosion of a total
of three on 18 May 1974 in the Pokhran desert.

Pakistan conducted its first of two nuclear tests on 28 May 1998.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
conducted one test in 2006, 2009 and 2013 each.

Testing Times

6 January: fourth DPRK announced nuclear test

In the early morning hours of 6 January 2016, the Democratic People's Republic (DPRK) announced that it had conducted an h-bomb test. Twenty-seven primary seismic stations reported an unusual seismic event at the DPRK's test site, which was identified as man-made with a magnitude of 4.85, slightly less than the 2013 announced nuclear test.

Read more here.

 

 

27 January: first nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site

The air-dropped Able test on 27 January 1951 was the first U.S. nuclear test conducted at the Nevada Test Site - the first of 928 nuclear tests, more than at any other test site in the world. Since 2011, 27 January is National Day of Remembrance for the victims of the fallout from nuclear testing in the United States.

Read more here.

 

12 February: Third DPRK announced nuclear test

On 12 February 2013, no less than 94 seismic and two infrasound stations detected a suspicious event at the nuclear test site of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Member States received the information before the country announced that it had conducted a nuclear test shortly after.

Read more here.



13 February: First French nuclear test

With video: On 13 February 1960, France conducted its first nuclear test 'Gerboise Bleue' in the Algerian Sahara desert. With 70 kilotons, the test was unusually large for a first nuclear test. France conducted a total of 210 nuclear tests, of which 17 took place in Algeria between 1960 and 1967.

Read more here.

 

1 March: Castle Bravo

With video: On 1 March 1954, the United States conducted the 'Castle Bravo' thermonuclear test at the Bikini Atoll. Its yield had been underestimated - at 15 megatons, it was the largest U.S. nuclear test ever. Islanders, U.S. personnel and the crew of a Japanese fishing boat were exposed to fallout. Bikini is uninhabitable to this day.

Read more here.

 

18 April: Badger

With video: The U.S. Badger test was conducted on 18 April 1953 at the Nevada Test Site. The tower shot was part of the Upshot-Knothole series, involving some 2,800 troops. The series was one of the most fallout-intensive for the servicemen involved and populations downwind.

Read more here.

 

 

9 May: George, stepping stone to the H-bomb

With video: In 1951, the United States conducted its first experimental thermonuclear test explosion, known as "Test George" At the time, this test established a sad record with a yield of 225 kilotons, over 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Hiroshima at the end of the World War Two. This record was to be broken only 17 months later by the U.S. "Ivy Mike" test with over 10 megatons.

Read more here.

 

11 May: Pokhran-II nuclear test series by India

From 11 to 13 May 1998, India conducted a series of nuclear explosions which it openly declared as nuclear weapon tests. It had termed its previous nuclear explosion in 1974 as “peaceful” – naming it “Smiling Buddha” accordingly. The 1998 test series consisted of a number of underground explosions at the Pokhran test site.

Read more here.

 

14 May: ‘Wigwam’, first deep water nuclear test

On 14 May 1955, the United States conducted the ‘Operation Wigwam’ nuclear test, the first of its kind to be carried out in deep water at a depth of around 660 metres. With a yield of about 30 kilotons, it was around twice the size of the Hiroshima bomb. The test was conducted in the Pacific Ocean, some 800 kilometres from the coast of California.

Read more here.

 

18 May: "Smiling Buddha", India's first nuclear test

On 18 May 1974, India conducted its first nuclear explosion. The Indian government claimed the test was for peaceful purposes only. The explosion, which yielded 12 kilotons according to Indian authorities, involved a fission device using plutonium. The test prompted the establishment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group with the aim to curb the spread of nuclear weapon technology.

Read more here.

 

19 May: Massive fallout from "Dirty Harry"

On 19 May 1953, the United States conducted the "Harry" nuclear test. Due to miscalculation and an unanticipated change in wind direction, this test generated more radioactive fallout than any other continental U.S. test, eventually leading the test to be nicknamed "Dirty Harry".

Read more here.

 

25 May: Second announced DPRK nuclear test


During the night of 25 May 2009, at 00:54:43 GMT to be precise, the CTBTO's global alarm system located a seismic event in the north east of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Twenty-three seismic stations had picked up unambiguous explosion-like signals. The first automatic estimation of time, location and magnitude of the event was made available to CTBTO Member States at 02:24 GMT.

Read more here.

 

28 May: Pakistan nuclear tests

Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests on 28 May 1998 at the Chagai test site, Balochistan, in the eastern part of the country. The testing of a single nuclear device followed on 30 May. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later acknowledged that the tests had been carried out in reaction to the Indian nuclear tests earlier that month: "If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so."

Read more here.

 

17 June: China's first thermonuclear test


With video: On 17 June 1967, the People's Republic of China conducted its first thermonuclear test, codenamed 'Test No. 6'. The explosion took place in the atmosphere over the Lop Nor Test Site, in the northwest of the country, with a yield of 3.3 megatons. It was carried out only 32 months after the country’s first nuclear explosion on 16 October 1964.

Read more here.

 

24 June: 'Huron King' test on a satellite

On 24 June 1980, the United States conducted the underground ‘Huron King’ nuclear test. This unusual nuclear test, involving the 50 ton 'Tinderbox' mobile test chamber, aimed at testing the effects of an electromagnetic impulse (EMP) on a military satellite.

Read more here.


1 July: U.S. 'Able' Test, Bikini Atoll

With video: On 1 July 1946, the United States conducted the first nuclear test after World War II. The explosion took place at the Bikini Atoll lagoon, situated in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Its aim was to test the effects of a nuclear explosion on a fleet of ships and on living beings. Test Able was to be the first of a series of 67 tests in the atoll and the second U.S. nuclear test of over a thousand to follow.

Read more here.

6 July: 'Sedan' - Massive crater, massive contamination

With video: On 6 July 1962, the United States conducted the Sedan nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. This “peaceful” nuclear explosion created the largest U.S. man-made crater and was the second most fallout-intensive of all U.S. continental tests.

Read more here.

 

9 July: 'Starfish Prime' test in outer space

With video: On 9 July 1962, the United States conducted the ‘Starfish Prime’ nuclear test, one of a series of five aimed at testing the effects of nuclear weapons in high altitudes / lower outer space. The explosion took place 400 kilometres above the Johnston Atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean. It had an explosive yield of 1.45 megatons - approximately a hundred times that of the Hiroshima bomb (around 13 kilotons).

Read more here.

 

16 July: 'Trinity' first-ever nuclear test

With video: On 16 July 1945, the ‘Trinity’ nuclear test plunged humanity into the so-called Atomic Age. The first-ever nuclear bomb was detonated in New Mexico, at the Alamogordo Test Range. Nicknamed the “gadget”, the plutonium-based implosion-type device yielded 19 kilotons, creating a crater over 300 metres wide. The United States had invested enormous manpower and industrial resources to become the world's first nuclear weapon possessor.

Read more here.

 

19 July: Five Men at Ground Zero

With video: On 19 July 1957, the United States conducted the 'John' nuclear test involving a nuclear air-to-air missile. As part of a public advertisement campaign to show that nuclear air defense posed minimal risk to those on the ground, five U.S. servicemen volunteered to observe the effects right underneath the blast.

Read more here.

25 July: 'Baker', first underwater test

With video: On 25 July 1946, the United States conducted the first-ever underwater nuclear explosion. Test Baker, detonated at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, was the fifth of over 2,000 nuclear explosions conducted to date. This test followed Test Able on 1 July 1946 and had the same objective: to assess the effects of a nuclear explosion on a fleet of ships and on animals.

Read more here.

6 and 9 August: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Over 100,000 died immediately, tens of thousands slowly when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed on 6 and 9 August 1945. While the effects on the population were well documented, including through extensive colour film and photo material, the U.S. government kept the information classified for decades. The official justifications for the bombings were later increasingly questioned.

Read more here.

12 August: Soviet 'RDS-6' test

With video: On 12 August 1953, the Soviet Union conducted the 'RDS-6' nuclear test in Semipalatinsk in modern-day Kazakhstan. Although only its fifth nuclear test, it reached a yield of 400 kilotons, around 30 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. The so-called Sloika design was nonetheless abandoned as it could not be scaled up to megaton-level. The nuclear arms race further escalated.

Read more here.

24 August: France goes thermonuclear

With video: On 24 August 1968, France conducted the 'Canopus' nuclear test, the country’s first multi-stage thermonuclear test, at Fangataufa atoll (image) in the South Pacific Ocean. It was France’s highest yielding test, with a 2.6 megatons or 200 times the Hiroshima bomb's explosive power. The fallout contaminated the atoll for years. France conducted 193 (of a total of 210) nuclear tests in the South Pacific.

Read more here.

 

29 August: First Soviet nuclear test

With video: On 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, code-named ‘RDS-1′, at the Semipalatinsk test site in modern-day Kazakhstan. The device had a yield of 22 kilotons. Its design resembled that of the first U.S. nuclear bombs, following highly successful Soviet espionage on the U.S. Manhattan Project. 29 August is also the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Read more here.

 

23 September: Last U.S. nuclear test

The 'Divider' test on 23 September 1992 was the last of 1,032 nuclear tests conducted by the United States. Ninety percent of these tests had been carried out at the Nevada Test Site. The increasingly evident effects for downwinders fueled protests that eventually led to the adoption - with bipartisan support - of legislation on a moratorium by the U.S. Congress that was signed by U.S. President George Bush (Rep.).

Read more here.

 

3 October: First British nuclear test

With video: On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom became the third country to test nuclear weapons after the United States and the Soviet Union. The first British test, code-named ‘Hurricane’, was conducted at the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. The UK conducted 12 atmospheric nuclear tests in Australia, with severe effects for the indigenous population and the many of the service personnel involved.

Read more here.

 

9 October: First North Korean nuclear test

With video: On 9 October 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, triggering universal condemnation and unanimously adopted UN Security Council sanctions. For the CTBTO it was the first time that the emerging monitoring system was put to the test. Although still incomplete, the system detected the test quickly, reliably and precisely.

Read more here.

 

16 October: First Chinese nuclear test

With video: On 16 October 1964, the People’s Republic of China conducted its first nuclear test, becoming the fifth nuclear-armed state. ‘Operation 596′ was carried out at the Lop Nur test site, and was the first of a total of 45 Chinese nuclear tests. The last test took place on 29 July 1996, only two months before China signed the CTBT. China has yet to ratify.

Read more here.

 

30 October: Tsar Bomba - the largest test ever

With video: On 30 October 1961, the largest nuclear weapon ever constructed was set off over Novaya Zemlya Island in the Russian Arctic Sea. The Soviet ‘Tsar Bomba’ had a yield of 50 megatons, or the power of around 3,800 Hiroshima bombs detonated simultaneously. The mushroom cloud reached a height of 60 kilometres.

Read more here.

 

1 November - Ivy Mike

With video: On 1 November 1952, the United States conducted the world's first full-scale hydrogen bomb test. With an explosive yield of 10.4 megatons, Ivy Mike had around 700 times the explosive power of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima seven years earlier. The island of Elugelap was vaporized.

Read more here.

 

8 November: Grapple X - Britain goes thermonuclear

With video: On 8 November 1957, the United Kingdom conducted its first thermonuclear test ‘Grapple X’. The 1.8 megaton bomb was detonated over Christmas Island in the central Pacific Ocean.

Read more here.


22 November: First Soviet thermonuclear test

With video: On 22 November 1955, the Soviet Union conducted its first hydrogen bomb test, code-named RDS-37, at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in modern day Kazakhstan. The shockwave of the 1.6 megaton explosion killed two and injured dozens.

Read more here.

 

26 November: Last British nuclear test

On 26 November 1991, the last British nuclear test Julin Bristol took place at the Nevada Test Site in the United States. The explosion had a yield below 20 kilotons and was part of the development of the most recent generation of UK nuclear warheads.

Read more here.



18 December: the Baneberry incident

On 18 December 1970, the United States conducted the 'Baneberry' nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. Although the explosion was set off 270 metres below the surface, a large cloud of radioactive dust was released into the atmosphere, affecting test site workers and spreading to other U.S. states.

Read more here.