1960 to 1991: The Nuclear Arms Race

1960 to 1991: The Nuclear Arms Race

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Bomb test

June 10, 1963

In his commencement address at American University, President John F. Kennedy announces that "high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty." He declares, "The United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so."

December 8, 1968

The United States conducts the Schooner nuclear test underground at the Nevada Test Site as part of the Operation Bowline series. "Schooner" was also part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes. The test yielded 30 kilotons.

March 12, 1968

The United States conducts the Buggy nuclear test underground at the Nevada Test Site as part of the Operation Crosstie series. Also part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes, Buggy involved the simultaneous detonation of five nuclear devices to excavate a channel. Each yielded 1.1 kilotons.

April 26, 1986

A catastrophic nuclear accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe.

November 2, 1983

A 10-day NATO training exercise, known as Able Archer 83, begins in Casteau, north of the Belgian city of Mons. The USSR feared that the US would actually launch a preemptive nuclear attack during the exercise.

September 26, 1983

Soviet Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, narrowly averts nuclear war when the system reported a missile being launched from the United States. Petrov judged that the report was a false alarm. This decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States, which could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war. Investigation later confirmed that the satellite warning system had malfunctioned.

September 22, 1979

The US Vela satellite records a "double-flash" characteristic of a nuclear weapons test off the coast of South Africa. The test is believed to be conducted by either South Africa or Israel, however the incident remains a mystery to this day.

March 28, 1979

A partial nuclear meltdown occurs in one of the two United States Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. It was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.

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