Documentary: Nuclear Tipping Point

Nuclear Tipping Point

The documentary Nuclear Tipping Point tackles nuclear dangers, featuring Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn.

More than twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia still account for 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons: around 20,000 nuclear weapons total. Thousands of these weapons are on hair trigger status, meaning they can be fired in very little time, and more rogue states and terrorist organizations are looking to acquire the weapons and materials to make bombs.

Nuclear Tipping Point, produced in 2010, follows the work of four prominent Cold Warriors in their fight to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their use and their spread, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn tells the personal stories that led them to writing the January 2007 op-ed by the “four wise men” in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.”

The film is narrated by Michael Douglas and also includes General Colin Powell and Mikhail Gorbachev, among other world leaders. 

The film has been shown coast-to-coast in the United States and globally. The film website at features trailers, the full-length film, an interactive timeline and more. 

The DVD is available in 52-minute and 35-minute lengths online. Now includes subtitles in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

Atomic Pulse

The Beat on WMDD from NTI

Atomic Pulse is edited by NTI Vice President of Communications Mimi Hall, as part of NTI’s mission to educate the public on the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and disruption—and solutions to reduce risks.

The Nuclear Threat

The Nuclear Threat

While it has been more than twenty years since the end of the Cold War, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons continues to pose a serious global threat.

Despite progress, the nuclear threat is more complex and unpredictable than ever.

On this page:

If a nuclear weapon exploded in a major city, the blast center would be hotter than the surface of the sun; tornado-strength winds would spread the flames; and a million or more people could die. Survivors would have no electricity, no transportation, no phones—and hospitals would be overwhelmed … if they were still standing.

Today, nine countries-China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—hold nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons. That’s enough to destroy the planet hundreds of times over.

While it has been more than twenty years since the end of the Cold War, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons continues to pose a serious global threat. The likelihood of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia has decreased, but the continued presence of large stockpiles makes the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons a persistent risk. Many of the countries with smaller nuclear arsenals, such as India and Pakistan, are actively engaged in regional conflicts, making the possibility of regional nuclear war a concern. North Korea illicitly acquired nuclear weapons, and other countries, including Syria, have violated their nuclear safeguards commitments and are suspected of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities.

Two countries—the United States and Russia—hold the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. The former Cold War foes account for 93 percent of the total global stockpile. And more than two decades after the end of the Cold War, the two countries still keep nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert, ready for immediate launch against each other. That leaves both countries too vulnerable to nuclear launch by accident, miscalculation or even cyber attack. 

Continue for more on terrorism, systems vulnerabilities, nuclear proliferation, and regional dangers…

NTI Tutorials

NTI Tutorials

Tutorials cover the basics on nuclear weapons and materials and go deeper into specific aspects of global nuclear security, from missiles and delivery systems to radiological security and more.

NTI, in partnership with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, has developed this set of educational tutorials to build understanding among a new generation of experts and leaders on these often complex issues. The interactive tutorials include overviews of key issues, a glossary, maps, quizzes and more.

Nuclear 101

What does “nuclear” mean? Learn about what a nuclear reaction is, why certain materials are used for nuclear reactions, how we create the reactions, and how nuclear is used for both weapons and power.

Nuclear & Radiological Security

The how and why of nuclear security to keep the world safe from nuclear terrorism.

NPT Tutorial

How the Nonproliferation Treaty works, including a history of country involvement, why and how nuclear power is allowed, and how agencies can verify that countries aren’t developing weapons they shouldn’t be.

US Nuclear Budget

How much money does the US spend on nuclear weapons each year and what is that money used for (e.g. the nuclear triad, maintaining legacy systems, supporting nonproliferation efforts, etc.)

Nuclear Testing

The history of testing nuclear weapons, why nuclear weapons testing is now banned, and how the ban is enforced.

Nonproliferation Regime

How the Nonproliferation Treaty works, including a history of country involvement, why and how nuclear power is allowed, and how agencies can verify that countries aren’t developing weapons they shouldn’t be.

Biden should guide missile defense his own way

Biden should guide missile defense his own way

The Biden administration has begun a review of US missile defense policy. The review is part of a broader effort to align defense strategy and posture with the president’s commitment to lead through diplomacy, repair alliances, and rebuild the American economy.

In 2019, Trump declared the “beginning of a new era” in America’s missile defense program. He envisioned an “unrivaled and unmatched” missile defense system with a “simple goal” to defend against “every type of missile attack against any American target.” This decision reversed longstanding US policy to build defenses against emerging nuclear missile threats from North Korea and Iran but not against established nuclear powers. While Trump’s ambitions did not produce immediate changes to US posture and capabilities, he made one of the biggest—and quietest—changes to US declaratory policy in the last two decades.

This quiet change is facing stormy waters. Moscow and Beijing have long claimed US global missile defense plans, including a NATO system in Europe and defenses in East Asia, will eventually target Russia and China, and thus threaten strategic stability. This year, over 60 American national security experts agreed: America’s missile defense system has “accelerated an arms race with Russia and China, leading both adversaries to expand their offensive nuclear weapons programs to counter US missile defenses.” In an open letter, they urged President Joe Biden to “walk us back from the brink now.”

Read the rest of the article here.

The United States needs to cut military spending and shift money to two pressing threats: pandemics and climate change

The United States needs to cut military spending and shift money to two pressing threats: pandemics and climate change

The last year has made one fact quite clear: Spending huge amounts of money on defense has little to no impact on whether a country will be able to effectively protect its people and its economy from a pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic vividly illuminated the many ways in which the American approach to national security has been fundamentally focused on the wrong threats. As US defense expenditures rose in 2020 to $778 billion—that is, almost 40 percent of total military spending in the world—a third of small US businesses closed either temporarily or forever, and, by June 2021, over 600,000 people in the United States had died from COVID-19.

The Biden administration had an opportunity to redirect the United States’ path away from endless war and all but limitless spending on the Defense Department. That path could and should have centered on the most imminent threats to our security: climate change and potentially pandemic infectious diseases.

But you wouldn’t recognize those as America’s top threats by looking at its spending priorities, which continue to prioritize the best interests of defense contractors over protecting the true national security. For example, the Defense Department has repeatedly accelerated production of weapons systems with immature technology before capabilities have been proven in testing. The end result of this practice included a decade of spending $46 billion on programs that were ultimately canceled. When that immature technology inevitably led to delays and increased costs, those programs took resources from maintaining the weapons and systems the United States already had, contributing, very likely, to preventable accidents. Smart cuts would stop production of major programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter until testing is complete. Proper oversight of the defense budget would also challenge bureaucratic growth that inevitably follows when new entities are created. (One good example is the Space Force, which some in Congress are already criticizing for mismanaging its procurement programs.)

Nuclear spending is another area in which US priorities have flown completely off the rails. Over the course of a single year, the cost estimate for the nuclear weapons activities budget increased by $113 billion. The upcoming Nuclear Posture Review should seriously consider canceling a number of programs. For example, the sea-launched cruise missile is not only destabilizing—an adversary could not tell whether a US submarine-launched cruise missile had a nuclear or conventional warhead—but undermines the Navy’s ability to conduct its conventional missions. Canceling the program would save at least $10 billion over the next 10 years. Plans to modernize land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles could also be curtailed without compromising US national security.

Read the rest of the article here.

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does Pakistan have in 2021?

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does Pakistan have in 2021?

Editor’s note: The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. This issue’s column examines Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which may include approximately 165 warheads. The authors estimate that the country’s stockpile could realistically grow to around 200 by 2025, if the current trend continues. To see all previous Nuclear Notebook columns, click here.

Pakistan continues to expand its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, more delivery systems, and a growing fissile materials production industry. Analysis of a large number of commercial satellite images of Pakistani army garrisons and air force bases shows what appear to be launchers and facilities that might be related to the nuclear forces.

We estimate that Pakistan now has a nuclear weapons stockpile of approximately 165 warheads (See Table 1). The US Defense Intelligence Agency projected in 1999 that Pakistan would have 60 to 80 warheads by 2020 (US Defense Intelligence Agency 1999, 38), but several new weapon systems have been fielded and developed since then, which leads us to the higher estimate.

With several new delivery systems in development, four plutonium production reactors, and an expanding uranium enrichment infrastructure, however, Pakistan’s stockpile has the potential to increase further over the next 10 years. The size of this projected increase will depend on several factors, including how many nuclear-capable launchers Pakistan plans to deploy, how its nuclear strategy evolves, and how much the Indian nuclear arsenal grows. Speculation that Pakistan may become the world’s third-largest nuclear weapon state––with a stockpile of some 350 warheads a decade from now––are, we believe, exaggerated, not least because that would require a buildup two to three times faster than the growth rate over the past two decades. We estimate that the country’s stockpile could more realistically grow to around 200 warheads by 2025, if the current trend continues. But unless India significantly expands its arsenal or further builds up its conventional forces, it seems reasonable to expect that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal will not continue to grow indefinitely but might begin to level off as its current weapons programs are completed.

Analyzing Pakistan’s nuclear forces is fraught with uncertainty, given that the Pakistani government has never publicly disclosed the size of its arsenal and media sources frequently embellish news stories about nuclear weapons. Therefore, the estimates made in the Nuclear Notebook are based on analysis of Pakistan’s nuclear posture, observations via commercial satellite imagery, previous statements by Western officials, and private conversations with officials.

Read the rest of the article here.

The history of nuclear power’s imagined future: Plutonium’s journey from asset to waste

The history of nuclear power’s imagined future: Plutonium’s journey from asset to waste

Two histories of nuclear power can be recounted. The first is the history of the active present.  It tells, amongst other things, of the technology’s evolution and role in electricity production, its military connections, installed types, capacities and performance of reactors, their fuelling and spent fuel discharges, their accidents, the supplying, operating and regulating institutions, and the involvement of states. The second is the history of the imagined future. It tells of how, at particular moments, nuclear power and much connected with it have been imagined playing out in years, decades, and even centuries ahead.

Plutonium’s history, of each kind, and its legacies are the subject of a recent book by Frank von Hippel, Masafumi Takubo and Jungmin Kang.[1] It is an impressive study of technological struggle and ultimate failure, and of plutonium’s journey from regard as a vital energy asset to an eternally troublesome waste.

Toward heaven or hell?  The conflict over plutonium’s future

Read the rest of the article here.

Image by Department of Energy, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons

How to limit presidential authority to order the use of nuclear weapons

How to limit presidential authority to order the use of nuclear weapons

In the United States, the president has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, for any reason and at any time. This arrangement is both risky and unnecessary.

The risks are not hypothetical. During the Watergate scandal, President Nixon was drinking heavily and many advisers considered him unstable. During the 1974 impeachment hearings, Nixon told reporters that “I can go back into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.” Defense Secretary James Schlesinger reportedly instructed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “any emergency order coming from the President”—such as a nuclear launch order—should go through him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger first. But Schlesinger had no legal authority to intervene, and it is not clear what would have happened if Nixon had ordered an attack.

The United States should modify its decision-making procedures to require that one or more officials concur with a presidential order to use nuclear weapons before the military carries it out.

This article, written by UCS members and published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, outlines the steps to take to ensure more leaders are involved in the decision to launch a nuclear attack.

NTI Education Center

NTI Education Center

NTI’s Education Center offers extensive educational content related to nuclear policy, biological weapons, radiological security, and cyber threats for undergraduate and graduate courses in international relations, security studies, diplomacy, nuclear sciences, and more.

New mobile game – Hair Trigger

Challenges players to take nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert before facing catastrophe.

Build Your Own “New Tools” Toolbox

Become an open source detective! Learn from CNS experts who used open source tools to investigate a Middle East missile exercise.


Educational tutorials, covering a comprehensive set of WMD issues, to help you learn the basics of these complex issues.

Radioactive Investigators

Learn about efforts to recover orphan radioactive sources with innovative methods and new tools.

North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan Missile Testing Databases

Comprehensive databases and analysis of missile and space launch vehicle launches by North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan.

Nuclear Materials Security Education Module

A two-session curriculum with slides for professors and a student simulation of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit.

Nuclear Tipping Point

A teacher’s guide and film that follows the work of four prominent “Cold Warriors” in their fight to reduce nuclear risks.