Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Testing

Jun 17, 2020

Nuclear weapons tests are those experiments that are usually performed in order to regulate the efficiency, yield, and volatile capability of those nuclear weapons. When engineering a new nuclear weapon or even making an advancement to an existing one, it becomes important to know the functioning of the same. Through these testing activities, Countries have been able to derive about their functioning in different environments and as well as to find how the nature reacts to these weapons. Also, it is a way to prove scientific strength to the entire world. There are tests done in various environments like- underground, atmospheric, underwater which in turn have their own effects in nature. 

Atmospheric testing is performed by discharging nuclear devices from high towers or by dropping nuclear bombs from aeroplanes or from a certain altitude which is usually very high. It is considered as the easiest and cheapest technique to perform and research on the same but, however, it involves relatively large amounts of radioactive particles that spread and release radiation.

While, the underwater testing involves nuclear devices being set off under the water, usually attached to a ship. These tests have usually been steered in order to evaluate the implications of nuclear weapons against naval vessels, or to evaluate potential sea-based nuclear weapons like submarines or underwater torpedoes. Underwater tests can even radiate large amounts of dangerous particles in the water thereby not only polluting the water but also tainting nearby ships or structures.

Underground testing are basically those nuclear tests which are conducted under the surface of the earth at erratic depths. However, underground nuclear tests can sometimes escape to the surface thereby forming considerable amounts of radioactive remains. Underground testing can result in activity which causes shakiness or vibrations which further depends on the magnitude of the nuclear device and the structure of the medium it is detonated in, and generally result in the creation of depressions on the ground.

Activities like these can have severe environmental effects as well which are mentioned below

  • Extinction

These tests kill many life forms due to radiation emerging from them. For example, when Hiroshima had the effect of severe explosions. People and animals surviving the same suffered from radiation poisoning, severe burns and injuries. Similarly, when Nagasaki was bombed, human beings were harmed and trees were uprooted, snapped off, scorched and stripped of leaves.

  • Contamination of water bodies

Radioactive particles contaminate bodies of water, including aquatic life like fish. In addition, it would result in the contamination of berries and other plant life found in the surrounding areas and forests. These affected water bodies and fishes would enter into the systems of human beings and further, harm them.

  • Air pollution 

Exploding weapons produces massive quantities of harmful particles causing pollution in the air and when inhaled by living organisms, it can even cause deadly diseases like cancer. 

Therefore, “Nuclear Power” is a diverse term. Its use is associated with production of electricity, medical purposes as well as a potential weapon of war. The term ‘nuclear power’ is quite an ambiguous term as it is used to refer to both civilian and military purposes. 

India has till date conducted two nuclear tests which are Pokhran I and Pokhran II. India’s participation in the nuclear testing was when these weapons experiments became legitimized. There was a rising tendency in the involvement of technological advanced nations in the developing nature that made India involved in this matter. It became necessary for India to protect itself. India has its own nuclear doctrines as well. 

The three major nuclear doctrines of India are:

  1. No first use.
  2. Credible minimum deterrence.
  3. Civilian control (NCA).


1. No-first–use

Soon after India conducted nuclear tests which compelled Pakistan to do the same, India came out with a peaceful doctrine in 1999 known as ‘no first use’ policy. It means that India will not be the first country to promote or ignite a nuclear weapon but also at the same time stated that it will have the right to launch the same if there is any attack against India. Through this doctrine, India basically took an oath to not initiate a nuclear strike first.  


2. Credible minimum deterrence

The concept of minimum nuclear deterrent will include sufficient survivable and operationally prepared nuclear and comprehensive planning. This concept is the basis of India’s nuclear doctrine. It clearly specifies that India visualizes its weapons as a warning only for defensive purposes and not as a means to threaten others and therefore, not engaging in a war. 

3. Nuclear command authority (NCA)

India launched a three-tier nuclear command authority (NCA) on January 4th,2003 to manage its nuclear weapons. It is the body which approves the use of nuclear weapons. The agency is controlled and regulated by two units called the Political Council and the Executive Council.


Apart from the above doctrines, some landmarks of India’s nuclear doctrines are-

  • Nuclear revenge to a first strike will be immense and intended to impose undesirable damage.
  • Not using nuclear weapons against that state which does not possess any nuclear weapon. 
  • There shall be stringent rules in order to control the export of nuclear and missile related materials and technology.
  • Continued assurance to the goal of a nuclear-free world through global certifiable and no discriminatory nuclear disarmament.

But India’s opinion on the role of nuclear weapons is quite clear. It is evident that India is not competing with any other nuclear power country. Comparing India’s nuclear doctrine there are other countries who are still following the first strike option in its nuclear doctrine and have refused to sign an agreement with respect to no first use.