Page 4: Nuclear Testing: 1945-2009
India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the first statesman to call for a “stand still” agreement on nuclear testing on 2 April, 1954. However, this did little to stop the extensive nuclear testing that characterized the following 35 years, not subsiding until the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s.
From 1955 to 1989, the average number of nuclear tests conducted every year was 55. Nuclear testing peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The year 1962 alone saw as many as 178 tests: 96 conducted by the United States and 79 by the Soviet Union. This was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the Cold War threatened to become a nuclear war. The preceding year had seen the testing of the largest nuclear weapon ever exploded, the Soviet Union’s “Tsar Bomba” with an estimated yield of 50 megatons. It was tested at the Novaya Zemlya test site near the Arctic Circle.
France and China became nuclear weapon States in 1960 ("Gerboise Bleue") and 1964 ("Operation 596") respectively, with both nuclear programmes intended to provide credible nuclear deterrents. France initially tested in Algeria, and later on in the South Pacific. China conducted all its nuclear tests at Lop Nur in Xinjiang Province.
The 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear testing, including testing for peaceful purposes, in the atmosphere, underwater and in space … but not underground.
The early 1960s also saw the introduction of the only testing limitation effort that had concrete effects on how testing was conducted during the Cold War. The 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear testing for military and for peaceful purposes, in the atmosphere, underwater and in space. The Treaty was important from an environmental point of view, curbing the radioactive fallout closely associated with atmospheric tests, but did little to prevent overall nuclear testing, which largely moved underground.