Page 3: World Overview

130 tests were conducted by the USSR on the Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic Ocean. The United States’ testing in the Pacific totaled over 100, including the Marshall Islands’ Eniwetok Atoll (43), Bikini Atoll (23), Christmas Island (33 including nine tests conducted by the United Kingdom) and Johnston Atoll (12). Lop Nur Test Site in Western China has been the site of some 45 tests.

France conducted 17 tests in Regaane and near In Ekker in Algeria while the United Kingdom conducted 12 nuclear tests in mainland South Australia at Maralinga and Emu field, and in the Monte Bello Islands off the western coast of Australia.

World view of former and inactive nuclear test sites. Click the image to visit our fullscreen interactive map.

Why test?

The purpose of nuclear testing for military purposes is multifaceted. From a technical point of view, nuclear testing provides information on how well nuclear weapons work, how they behave under various conditions and how adjacent structures react to nuclear explosions. However, there is also the political aspect: that is, the importance of making a political statement of national, scientific and military preeminence.

Different testing purposes

Nuclear tests have been categorized by the purpose of the test itself. Tests designed to glean information about how well the weapons work were called weapons-related tests, while those conducted to gain information about the weapons’ effects on structures or organisms were known as weapons effects tests. Additional types of nuclear tests have been considered possible as well (e.g. nuclear tests as part of anti-ballistic missile testing).

Nuclear-weapons-related testing which purposely results in no yield is known as sub-critical testing, referring to the absence of a critical mass of fissile material. Such a test is not considered a nuclear test.

To read more about the discussion about sub-critical testing in the CTBT negotiations, see Treaty: 1994-96: Debating the Basic Issues, Banning nuclear test explosions.


Next chapter: Types of Nuclear Weapons Tests