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A History of Military Nuclear Power

from Trident section

" In August 1945 at the end of World War II the United States of America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. These were the first nuclear weapons to be used. Their destructive power was very much greater than that of any weapon used before.

In the confrontion between Russia and the US which began after World War II, nuclear weapons were manufactured in large numbers.

In the 1970s the US deployed its system of submarine-launched nuclear missiles which it called Trident. "


In 1912 Albert Einstein proposed that mass and energy are equivalent: if a piece of matter could be converted to energy a predictable amount would be released. During World War II research was undertaken in the US to find a way to do this so that an atomic bomb could be made.

In 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on the towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Their destructive power was equal to that of thousands of tons of high explosive. Both towns were destroyed.

It is frequently argued that it was these attacks which brought about the end of the war with Japan. Against this argument is the claim that the cities were bombed to demonstrate to the world, and in particular to the USSR, the military power of the US. One statement of this counter-claim is made in this essay by Brian Quail.

Shortly after the war Britain and Russia also made atomic bombs. In the 1950s all three countries developed the more powerful H-bomb, with the explosive power of millions of tons of chemical explosive.

Date Event

Nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

The (then) Soviet Union tests the first nuclear bomb.

1952 First British nuclear bomb test.
1957 Fire at Sellafield resulting in radioactive discharges.
1960 First French nuclear bomb test.
1961 First US nuclear submarine arrives in the Clyde.
1962 Cuban missile crisis (resolved when USS removed the missiles from Cuba and US removed its missiles from Turkey).
1963 Test Ban Treaty agreed (This included an agreement that there should be one more testing in the atmosphere).
1964 First Chinese nuclear bomb test.
Treaty of Tlatelolco prohibited nuclear weapons in Latin America and in the
1968 First British Polaris submarines in the Clyde.
1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty prohibited anti-missile missiles.
1974 India conducts its first nuclear test.
1979 Accident at the Three Mile Island power plant in the US.
1983 Programme to increase US weapon power.
1986 Major accident at Chernobyl nuclearpower plant in Ukraine.
1992 First British Trident submarine arrives in the Clyde.
1998 India and Pakistan carry out nuclear tests.
1999 US rejects comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
2002 Britain threatens to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. US withdraws
from ABM treaty.
2003 North Korea withdraws from Non-proliferation Treaty
US plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons

Bombs were tested in the atmosphere with the release of radioactive particles which will continue to cause cancer deaths for many years. In 1963 a Test Ban Treaty brought these tests to an end.
(see CND UK's Nuclear testing section.)

A line graph showing the Global Nuclear Stockpiles between the years 1945 and 2000.

The arms race which was part of the Cold War between the USSR and US with its allies brought the accumulation of more and bigger bombs. The state of tension reached a climax in 1962 when the USSR sent nuclear missiles to Cuba. After the missiles were withdrawn a 'hot line' was set up so that the leaders of the US and the USSR could speak directly. In 1972 an Anti-Ballistic Treaty was signed by the which US and USSR agreed to restrict their defences against incoming missiles carrying atom bombs. This was consistent with the US advocacy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). In 1983 President Regan moved against the doctrine by proposing Star Wars which was a plan to equip the US with means to destroy incoming missiles before they reached their targets. (This plan has again been recommended by President George W. Bush.)
(See CND UK's Nuclear Weapons Treaties and International arms control treaties sections.)

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During the military nuclear power era as well as aquiring great quantities of atomic explosive the nuclear powers have equipped their forces with all manner of nuclear weaponry. The US especially made nuclear weapons that could be launched by individual soldiers, from artillery, aircraft, surface vessels, submarines, and sent by missiles - some which kept close to the ground (for example Cruise), and some which travelled into space before returning to earth (for example Trident. The chief nuclear weapons now are nuclear missiles launched from sites in the ground and from submarines.

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The period from World War II till the collapse of the Soviet Union - called the Cold War - has been seen to be dominated by the existence of nuclear weapons. The five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations are the nuclear powers US, Russia, China, France, and UK. The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969 prohibited other countries from joining the club. Israel, India, and Pakistan have not complied. Most countries are opposed to nuclear weapons and to their possession by the nuclear powers who justify holding on to them on the grounds that the other countries have them and because they might be required to control 'rogue' nations - for example Libya and Iraq.

Throughout this time many ordinary people have opposed nuclear weapons and have formed groups to give strength to the opposition. These groups have been supported by people of all races, creeds, and nations. Bonds have been developed with those concerned with the environment. There has been a growth in non-violent direct action (NVDA) where people obstruct with their bodies the actions of the military.

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Chemical and biological weapons are generally regarded as unlawful. Those opposed to nuclear weapons want them treated in the same way. In 1996 the International Court of Justice declared that nuclear weapons are in general illegal.

"...the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law..."

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In 1961 US submarines carrying nuclear missiles (Polaris) were based in Holy Loch on the Clyde where they remained till 1992. Britain had its own Polaris submarines which began to be replaced by Trident submarines in the same year. They continue to be based at Faslane on the Clyde. Trident is now Britain's only nuclear weapon.

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Recent Years

In 1998 the Scottish Courts began a consideration of the legality of nuclear weapons in connection with the trashing of a floating research laboratory in Loch Goil by three women. In 2001 the Scottish High Court said that contrary to the views of the women the government was justified in its nuclear activities.

Direct action has gained increasing support. The Scottish Parliament has recognised a group of anti-Trident MSPs. The intention of George W Bush to proceed with a National Missile Defence which might require the use of facilities in Britain has embarassed the British government. A fault in many of Britain's Trident support submarines has raised environmental concerns.

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Links to related websites

Protect and Survive
A booklet, published in 1980, that told people how to make their home and family as safe as possible under nuclear attack. It was withdrawn around 1987.

Chronological Table of Nuclear Weapons
Compiled by Masaaki Koarashi of the Tokyo Physicians for Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

History of Nuclear Weapons Testing
From the Greenpeace website.

The Nuclear Files
A project of the nuclear age peace foundation. Includes a timeline, glossary and biographies of important people of the nuclear age.

Atomic Archive
A website by AJ Software & Multimedia exploring the complex history surrounding the invention of the atomic bomb. Also has a timeline, glossary and biographies of people who shaped the atomic age.

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