Timelines :: Atomic Age


Physicist Albert Einstein developed a theory about the relationship of mass and energy. The formula, E=mc[2], is clearly the most famous outcome from his special theory of relativity.

December 1938
Enrico Fermi becomes the first physicist to split the atom and his research pioneers the nuclear age.

August 1939
Albert Einstein sends a letter to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him that German researchers are working on an atomic bomb. Roosevelt forms a special committee to consider the military implications of atomic research.

September 1942
The Manhattan Project is formed to secretly build the atomic bomb before the Germans do. The Army appoints General Leslie Groves, the engineer responsible for building the Pentagon, to head the effort. At first, the research takes place at several university laboratories.

December 1942
Enrico Fermi demonstrates the first nuclear chain reaction in a lab under the squash court at the University of Chicago. In a nuclear chain reaction, a neutron splits one uranium atom into two smaller atoms, which in turn release energy and neutrons; these neutrons split other uranium atoms, releasing more energy and neutrons.

July 1945
The United States explodes the first atomic device at a site near Alamogordo, New Mexico. At 5:30 a.m., July 16, scientists from Los Alamos, watching from observation bunkers ten thousand yards away, explode an atomic device with a plutonium core, releasing a blast equivalent to 18,600 tons of TNT.

August 1945
On August 6, an American B-29 bomber—the Enola Gay—releases a 9,700-pound uranium bomb nicknamed Little Boy over the city of Hiroshima in southern Japan. On August 9, another B-29 bomber—Bock’s Car—heads to bomb the Kokura arsenal; however, the pilot switches to his secondary target, Nagasaki (the home of a Mitsubishi torpedo-manufacturing plant), because of the weather over Kokura. Bock’s Car drops a 10,000-pound plutonium bomb nicknamed Fat Man over the slopes of Nagasaki, killing forty thousand people, injuring sixty thousand, and destroying three square miles of the city.

August 1949
The Soviet Union detonates its first atomic device on August 29, surprising American nuclear scientists, who hadn’t expected it so soon, and shaking the American public’s sense of security.

December 1949
The United States now has two hundred atomic bombs (A-bombs) in its arsenal.

October 1952
England becomes the third nuclear power when it tests an atomic bomb code-named Hurricane at Monte Bello Islands, West Australia.

November 1952
The United States tests its first hydrogen bomb on Elugelap Island. The blast is equal to 10.4 megatons, seven hundred times the power of Little Boy.

January 1954
The first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, is launched at Groton, Connecticut.

December 1958
Atlas rocket is developed using a stainless steel tank for liquid oxygen + kerosene. The Atlas rocket will become the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) armed with nuclear weapons.

February 1960
France joins the atomic club by testing a plutonium implosion bomb in the Sahara desert,.

October 1961
The Soviet Union detonates a nuclear device estimated at fifty-eight megatons, the equivalent of more than fifty million tons of TNT (or more than all the explosives used during World War II). It remains the largest nuclear weapon the world has ever seen.

October 1962
The Soviet Union ships nuclear missiles to Cuba. Upon discovery of the missiles, the United States demands they be removed. For two weeks, the world is thrust to the brink of nuclear war, until Moscow agrees to remove the missiles.

October 1964
The People’s Republic of China explodes its first nuclear bomb.

May 1974
India detonates its first nuclear device, a ten- to fifteen-kiloton bomb, under the Rajasthan Desert.

April 1986
A meltdown and fire occur at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Soviet Ukraine. Massive quantities of radioactive materials are released, affecting much of Europe.

March 1993
South Africa confirms that, in the late 1980s, it manufactured six nuclear bombs.

August 1995
The “Jason Report” proposes that nuclear tests can be conducted on computers without the need for nuclear explosions.

October 1995
The US nuclear warhead stockpile totals nine thousand: 7000 in the continental U.S.; 480 in Europe; and 1500 with submarines.

May 1998
India conducts five underground nuclear tests; several days later, Pakistan responds with its own series of nuclear tests.

May—Nuclear nations India and Pakistan become involved in a nuclear standoff. The outbreak of war is largely prevented by the common knowledge that a nuclear exchange would kill millions of people on both sides. There is no way of knowing how long the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) will maintain the peace.

August—The giant Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, carrying a crew of 118, sinks in the icy waters of the Barents Sea after what Russian officials describe as a “catastrophe that developed at lightning speed.” More than a week later, divers open the rear hatch of the sub but find no survivors.

September—Russia begins preparations for a reactor worth $800 million near Iran’s southwestern port of Bushehr. The plan at this stage is to have the plant up and running by the end of 2003.

October—North Korea admits to having nuclear weapons.

December—The US accuses Iran of seeking to develop a secret nuclear weapons program and publishes satellite images of two nuclear sites under construction at Natanz and Arak.

IAEA head Mohammed El Baradei states that inspections show that Iran didn’t report having certain nuclear materials and activities, and urges that nation to take cooperative actions.

October—Russia says it has delayed plans to start a nuclear reactor in Iran by a year, but stresses this is for technical reasons, not because of external political pressure. Also, Pyongyang says it has reprocessed eight thousand nuclear fuel rods, obtaining enough material to make up to six nuclear bombs.

November—Iran says it is suspending uranium enrichment and will allow tougher UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In June, the third round of six-nation talks on the nuclear program ends inconclusively. North Korea pulls out of the scheduled September round.

February—Pyongyang says it has built nuclear weapons for self-defense.

September—The fourth round of six-nation talks on nuclear program concludes. North Korea agrees to give up its weapons in return for aid and security guarantees, but it later demands a civilian nuclear reactor.

February—The International Atomic Energy Agency votes to report Iran to the UN Security Council over concerns that the country is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Also, Iran warns that it may reconsider nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty membership.

March—The IAEA discusses Iran’s nuclear program. Iran threatens the US with “harm and pain” for its role in bringing the country before the UN Security Council. Also, Russia’s foreign minister firmly rejects a draft UN Security Council statement aimed at pressuring Iran to stop enriching uranium, despite a new offer of amendments by Western powers.

April—US intelligence experts believe Iran would respond to American military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide, the Washington Post reports. Ahmadinejad again lashes out at Israel, saying it is “heading toward annihilation.”

July—North Korea test-fires a long-range missile and some medium-range ones to an international outcry. Despite reportedly having the capability to hit the US, the long-range Taepodong-2 crashes shortly after takeoff.

October—North Korea claims to test a nuclear weapon for the first time.

January—Iran says the UN sanctions will not halt its uranium enrichment.

February—Six-nation talks on the nuclear program resume in Beijing. North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid.

April—Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki says Iran won’t accept any suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities and urges world powers to accept the “new reality” of the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

May—The International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment and has in fact expanded such work. The IAEA adds that the UN nuclear agency’s ability to monitor nuclear activities in Iran has declined due to lack of access to sites. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei estimates that Iran could build a nuclear weapon within “three to eight years.”

June—International inspectors visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea for the first time since being kicked out of the country in 2002.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz says that if Israel, the United States, or Europe learns that Iran has successfully developed nuclear weapons technology, Israel “will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon.” (AP)

December—The generals in charge of the military operations in India and Pakistan have an “unscheduled” conversation over the Cold-War style hotline that was set up to help prevent an accidental nuclear war. Tension between the two countries increases since the November terror attacks on India.

Existence of an unfinished Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEB) near the city of Qom in Iran is disclosed. Western officials strongly condemn Iran for not disclosing the site earlier; although some reports claim that it had been under US surveillance.

March—The head of Russia’s state nuclear power corporation, Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, announces that his country has completed the construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (Iran). A series of pre-launch tests are conducted after the announcement.

September—Saudi Arabia is set to build its first nuclear power plant; Israeli defense officials say that Riyadh’s interest in nuclear power is connected to Iran’s nuclear program, according to the Jerusalem Post (September 21, 2009). Also this month, Resolution 1887 is passed by the UN Security Council during the first-ever session chaired by a US president. The resolution says that its main aim is eventually “to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”

November—Iran rejects an offer that would have resulted in the shipment of about 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia and France and delayed Iran’s ability to fuel a nuclear weapon by about a year. Iran counteroffers, saying it will consider other options in regard to its uranium, as long as the supply remains in the country. (CBN and other major news agencies)

January—Iran announces that the Bushehr reactor will be opening in the near future, and an official launch ceremony is held on August 21 as Iran begins loading the plant with fuel. Western governments now stress that they have no objection to the demonstrably peaceful aspects of Iran’s nuclear program such as Bushehr, according to the BBC. Spokesman of the United States Department of State, Darby Holladay, states that the US believes the reactor is designed to produce civilian nuclear power and does not view it as a proliferation risk.

November—Islamists rejoice over Iran’s nuclear advancements, with former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence hailing Iran’s launch as a positive move in the Muslim world; he also says that anti-Iran campaigns by the US and Israel stem from Iran’s Islamic status.

Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant reaches 75 percent of its power-generation capacity, and Reuters reports that North Korea is digging at the site where it has launched two nuclear tests, suggesting that North Korea is preparing a third test.

March—Tensions rise when forty-six sailors are killed in an attack on a South Korean naval vessel.

June—CNN reports that Iran has been carrying out covert tests of missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload, in contravention of a UN resolution. Iran’s development of missile and nuclear fuel technology leads to UN sanctions and accusations from the United States that the clerical regime is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

August—Bushehr nuclear power plant’s power unit 1 is brought to 100 percent of its power generation capacity.

September—The Bushehr nuclear plant starts adding electricity to the national grid and the official inauguration is held; by this time, the plant is operating at 40 percent capacity, while the full projected capacity of the first unit is 1,000 megawatts. Under the terms of Russia-Iran agreement, approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Russia is responsible for operating the plant, supplying the nuclear fuel, and managing the spent fuel for the next two or three years before passing full control to Iran.

November—North Korea, which denies responsibility for the March attack on the south Korean naval vessel, shells the southern island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people and sparking fears of possible all-out war. Later this month, a top Israeli security official says that a deadly explosion at an Iranian missile base near Tehran could delay or stop further Iranian surface-to-surface missile development.

North Korea is supplying prohibited nuclear technology to Syria and Iran, according to the German newspaper Die Welt, which reports that Pyongyang has provided the countries with “maraging steel,” used to upgrade missiles and centrifuges.

December—Footage of WMD stockpiles, including mustard gas and nerve gas, is uncovered in the Al-Rawagha and Sokna regions of Libya.

July—Syria admits to manufacturing and possessing a stockpile of chemical weapons, which it claims is reserved for national defense against foreign countries. Western nongovernmental organizations state they believe Syria has an active chemical weapons program. Syria is one of seven non-signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.

August—Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity is surging, according to a report that the nation has significantly expanded its uranium enrichment capability at its Fordow facility. The move could shorten the time Tehran would need to build a nuclear weapon. Also, UN inspectors report that Iran has taken new efforts to produce enriched uranium.

Decontamination problems persist at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant, with tons of contaminated soil being stored temporarily in huge lots.

Following a typhoon, record levels of highly toxic nuclear material are found near the Fukushima reactor.

Seventy-year anniversary of the United States’ atomic bomb drops on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and  Nagasaki.

The remote-controlled robots sent into the site of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan reportedly have “died,” thanks to incredibly high amounts of leaked radioactive materials destroying their wiring. The robots, which take years to manufacture, were designed to swim through the underwater tunnels of the now-defunct cooling pools and remove hundreds of extremely dangerous blobs of melted fuel rods. But it now looks like that’s not going to happen anytime soon.


July—Ninety countries ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally-binding international nuclear weapons ban.

SeptemberNorth Korea conducts its seventh nuclear test with a yield between 50 and 250 kilotons, putting the global community on edge. US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric becomes more bellicose towards the country.


February—US Department of Defense announces its first expansion of America’s nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War.

May—President Vladimir Putin announces Russia will undertake a modernization of its nuclear forces.

June—President Trump and Kim become the first American and North Korean heads of state to meet; they issue a joint declaration pledging a denuclearized Korea.


As of early this year, there are more than 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world’s combined inventory, with the Federation of American Sciences estimating that the US and Russia own a combined 93 percent of the total number of nuclear warheads. (https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/) In America, the US military deploys a new “submarine-launched low-yield nuclear weapon” to counter “the threat posed by Russia’s arsenal of smaller tactical nukes.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/04/politics/us-nuclear-weapon-submarine/index.html)