About 14,525 nuclear weapons exist today in the arsenals of these 9 nations

  • Nuclear weapons have been around since World War II and used twice in combat.
  • However, thousands of nuclear test devices have been exploded over the decades.
  • Modern stockpiles are smaller in number than the height of the Cold War, but eminently more deadly.
  • Nine nations around the world possess a total of roughly 14,525 nuclear warheads.

On August 6, 1945, a US aircraft opened its bomb bay, dropped a car-size weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and almost instantly killed tens of thousands of civilians. Many more people became sick or died in the weeks that followed.

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a similar fate befell Nagasaki, Japan. It was the last time a nuclear weapon was used to attack people.

Yet despite nuclear weapons' terrifying effects and their proclivity for instant and sometimes accidentalcatastrophes, the world has amassed thousands of the devices since World War II.

A handful of countries, primarily Russia and the US but also newcomers like North Korea, have detonatedthousands of nuclear devices in test explosions over the decades. By the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, humanity had stockpiled more than 70,000 usable nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

The FAS and other organizations keep track of nuclear weapons stockpiles and regularly release updated weapons counts.

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How to survive a nuclear attack
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How to survive a nuclear attack

What should you do in the event of a nearby nuclear attack? Click through to learn more. 

(Photo by Lambert/Getty Images)

Seek shelter immediately, towards the center of a building or -- preferably -- a basement. Aim for the same type of shelter you would utilize in the event of a tornado. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

The next three slides are examples of nuclear shelters that exist around the world. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

The entrance of Shelter Co.'s nuclear shelter model room, which is placed in the basement of the company's CEO Seiichiro Nishimoto's house, is pictured in Osaka, Japan April 26, 2017. (Photo via REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
A fallout shelter sign hangs on the Mount Rona Baptist Church, on August 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. In the early 60's Washington was at the center of civil defense preparations in case of a nuclear blast, with over one thousand dedicated public fallout shelters in schools, churches and government buildings. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A 'shelter' sign is displayed at the entrance to a subway station in Seoul on July 6, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the metropolitan government, South Korea's city subway stations serve a dual purpose with over 3,300 designated as shelters in case of aerial bombardment including any threat from North Korea. The U.S. said that it will use military force if needed to stop North Korea's nuclear missile program after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday into Japanese waters. The latest launch have drawn strong criticism from the U.S. as experts believe the ICBM has the range to reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. Pacific Northwest. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Dense materials, including dirt or thick walls, provide the best defense to fallout radiation.

(Photo via Getty Images)

If possible, take a warm shower -- but do not use conditioner, as it can bond to nuclear particles. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Do not seek shelter in a car, as they won't provide adequate protection, and you should not attempt to outrun nuclear fallout. 

(Photo by Noel Hendrickson via Getty Images)

The nuclear fallout zone shrinks quickly after an attack, but the less dangerous "hot zone" still grows. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Once you are sheltered, do not leave. Listen to a radio or other announcements. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

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Today's global stockpile is dramatically lower but no less alarming in its size, spread, and capability for devastation. Scientists estimate that 100 Hiroshima-size explosions in one war may be all it takes to trigger nuclear winters and global famines.

"[C]omparing today's inventory with that of the 1950s is like comparing apples and oranges; today's forces are vastly more capable," weapons experts Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris wrote for the FAS in June. "The pace of reduction has slowed significantly. Instead of planning for nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-armed states appear to plan to retain large arsenals for the indefinite future."

Below is a map that shows the best, most current estimates of the nine countries with nukes and how many they possess.

Map: Where and how many nuclear weapons exist around the world

All the World's NukesSamantha Lee/Skye Gould/Business Insider

With some exceptions, the tally above counts viable, deliverable warheads.

The numbers do not count the roughly 20,000 plutonium pits — the vital cores of atomic bombs — stored at the Pantex Plant, a US government facility in Texas that assembles, maintains, and dismantles nuclear weapons.

The count is bound to change subtly yet vitally in the coming years.

For example, North Korea recently increased the pace of its nuclear and missile tests, and in 2017 threatened to detonate a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean — despite roughly $1 billion worth of international economic sanctions.

The isolated nation is also suspected of having built as many as 60 nuclear weapons, a miniaturized a thermonuclear warhead, and long-range missiles capable of striking cities deep within the US. Despite efforts by President Donald Trump's administration and an initial agreement to "denuclearize," North Korea appears to be continuing its weapons development program.

Meanwhile, Trump has inherited a potentially $1.7-trillion program to expand and modernize the US nuclear arsenal. Russia is now straining its budget to do the same. (In regard to Russia's nuclear modernization, Trump once said, "let it be an arms race.")

The Trump administration has edited the US nuclear posture to push for smaller, so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons, which may encourage the spread of more nukes around the globe.

There is some hope for those who wish to abolish nuclear weapons. The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a group dedicated to ridding the world of the dangerous arms technology.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its decision that ICAN "works vigorously to achieve nuclear disarmament" and noted the organization's progress in getting 122 UN member states to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

This story has been revised and updated with new information. It was originally published on Oct. 6, 2017.

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