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Soviet Nuclear Test Summary

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The Soviet Union became the second nation in the world to detonate a nuclear device on 29 August 1949 (the U.S. had previously exploded eight devices). Between that date, and 24 October 1990 (the date of the last Soviet, or Russian, test) the Soviet Union conducted 715 nuclear tests, by official count. As with the U.S., the term "test" may indicate the near simultaneous detonation of more than one nuclear exposive device, so the actual number of devices exploded is 969 (for comparison, the U.S. has conducted 1056 tests/explosions using at least 1151 devices).

Not included are "hydronuclear tests", what are tests involving fissile material with yields (by design) of less than 1 ton. The Soviet Union conducted about 100 of these tests, with the yields remaining below 100 kg. Explosive device fizzles with yields of less than 1 ton are included however.

The Soviet Union conducted 124 "peaceful nuclear explosions" compared to 35 such tests in the U.S Plowshare program.

From first to last test, the Soviet test program lasted 41 years, 1 month, and 26 days. During this period testing activity was not continuous. A gap of 2 years and 26 days separated the first and second tests, due to the problems experienced in developing the nuclear weapons infrastructure. Four voluntary moratoriums were observed. The first was from November 1958 to August 1961, when the U.S. and the U.K. also abstained form any testing. This moratorium was abrogated on 31 August 1961 by Khruschev, with nuclear testing commencing the next day. This test series was the largest in world history, as measured by explosive yield. The second moratorium lasted from 26 December 1962 to 14 March 1964, while the Atmospheric Test Ban was being negotiated (signed 5 August 1963), and to prepare the test program for large scale underground testing. The third and fourth moratoriums extended from August 1985 to October 1987, and from November 1989 to October 1990, as the Soviet Union under Gorbachev sought to reach accomodation with the U.S. The test program was terminated by a fifth moratorium, which has now been made permanent with the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

For a complete list of all Soviet nuclear tests conducted during the era of atmospheric testing see Soviet Atmospheric Tests

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  • FMS = fundamental and methodical studies of the phenomena of a nuclear explosion
  • IE = industrial underground peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE)
  • ME = military exercise with a real nuclear detonation
  • MT = Moscow Time
  • MTR = Missile Testing Range (near Kapustin Yar, Astrakhan region, Russian Federation)
  • NTSNZ = Northern Test Site Novaya Zemlya (Arctic Ocean, Russian Federation)
  • NWR = Nuclear Weapons Related (weapon development or modification)
  • SAM = studies of accident modes and emergencies (i.e. safety tests)
  • STS = Semipalatinsk Test Site (Kazakhstan)
  • TIC = testing of industrial nuclear charges for peaceful activities
  • WIE = Weapons Effects Tests ("weapon injurious effects" studies)
Nuclear Tests and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions by Calendar Year
Year Number Year Number
1949 1 1970 16
1950 0 1971 23
1951 2 1972 24
1952 0 1973 17
1953 5 1974 21
1954 10 1975 19
1955 6 1976 21
1956 9 1977 24
1957 16 1978 31
1958 34 1979 31
1959 0 1980 24
1960 0 1981 21
1961 59 1982 19
1962 79 1983 25
1963 0 1984 27
1964 9 1985 10
1965 14 1986 0
1966 18 1987 23
1967 17 1988 16
1968 17 1989 7
1969 19 1990 1
Total Number of Nuclear Tests and PNEs: 715

Nuclear Tests and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions by Location
Semipalatinsk Test Site456
Northern Test Site, Novaya Zemlya130
Total at Nuclear Test Sites:586
Russian Federation
   European Part
   Asian Part
Kazakhstan (excluding STS)33
Total Outside Nuclear Test Sites:129

Nuclear Tests and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions by Type
Air explosions177
Surface explosions32
Underwater and water surface explosions5
High-altitude explosions1
Space explosions4
Total at atmospheric, underwater, and space explosions:219
Tunnel tests245
Shaft tests
including cratering explosions
Total number of underground tests:496
Total number of tests:715

Nuclear Tests and Exploded Nuclear Devices by Purpose
Purpose Number of Tests Number of Exploded Nuclear Devices
Total for military purposes:559796
Total for peaceful purposes:156173

Source: USSR Nuclear Weapons Tests and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions: 1949 through 1990; The Ministry of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy, and Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation; ed. V. N. Mikhailov; 1996