Nuclear bomb test anniversary

Publish date: August 29, 1999

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

August 29th marks the 50th anniversary of the first Soviet nuclear bomb test. Modernisation of the demolition weapons continues.

The first Soviet nuclear bomb Josef-1, named after Josef Stalin, was exploded at the Semipalatinsk test-field on August 29th 1949. Since then, a total of 715 nuclear weapon tests have been performed. The last test was at Novaya Zemlya on October 24th 1990. Today, Russia conducts subcritical tests as a part of the program for nuclear arms modernisation.

Attending the anniversary meeting at the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre in Sarov (former Arsamaz-16), Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy, Lev Ryabev, stated that Russia would continue to upgrade its nuclear weapons in conditions of advancing anti-missile defences. Russia has strongly opposed the new U.S. ABM program, the program that Russians say violates the ABM treaty.

Another goal is to improve the weapons’ safety, to extend the service life of the existing nuclear arsenal and to maintain Russia’s research and development potential through laboratory simulation.

President Boris Yeltsin also sent a message of greeting to the builders and testers of the first Soviet nuclear bomb. "At present, the nuclear arms complex continues to work effectively, remaining a reliable guarantor of the country’s security," Yeltsin writes.

Russian NGOs sent a message as well. Alexey Yablokov, former Yeltsin’s environmental adviser and now the chairman of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy, writes in his statement that on this day one has to remember those who perished in prison camps and at the test fields creating the "nuclear shield."

Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has slashed more than 90 percent of the production of nuclear weapons. It is planed to reduce the staff at the nuclear weapons industry from today’s 75,000 down to 35,000 by the year 2005. The number of facilities making nuclear weapons will be reduced from four to two.

Facts about Soviet nuclear bomb testing:

  • 715 nuclear tests between 1949 and 1990.
  • Of these, 215 were detonated in the atmosphere between 1949 and 1962.
  • 500 underground nuclear test explosions have been performed between 1963 and 1990.
  • 115 of the underground tests were a part of the peaceful use of nuclear weapons, including bombs used in oil and gas industry, ore-mines and geological research.
  • The two major test-sites were Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan and Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic.
  • The world’s most powerful hydrogen bomb (58 Mt) was detonated at Novaya Zemlya on October 30th 1961.