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Can nuclear weapons be intercepted?

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As it stands, there are currently around 13,080 nuclear weapons in circulation and according to Statista, almost 90 percent of them are split between two countries, Russia and the United States. Although deemed not irrational enough to “intentionally use nuclear weapons against the west” by former Russian minister Andrei Kozyrev, Russian president Vladimir Putin has posed what has been interpreted as threats to do so, if interception continues to his invasion of Ukraine.

Nuclear weapons are described as the most dangerous weapons on earth, causing mass destruction and long-term environmental effects when detonated, due to the sheer volume of heat and radiation emitted.

Just one bomb can destroy an entire city, and depending on the size of the bomb, populations up to 53 miles away can feel the effects – including temporary blindness if in direct view of the blast.

Nuclear bombs have only been used once in history when the United States detonated two over Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The recorded death tolls are estimates, but it is thought around 140,000 were killed in the blast in Hiroshima, and at least 74,000 people died in Nagasaki.

The nuclear radiation released by the bombs caused thousands more people to die from radiation sickness in the weeks, months, and years afterwards.

The development of these weapons of mass destruction triggered the Nuclear Arms Race, a competition for supremacy in nuclear warfare between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies in the years after.

This competition lasted the rest of the Cold War, peaking in 1986, with an estimated total of more than 64,000 nuclear warheads in circulation across countries.

However, as the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War drew to a close, tensions between the east and west de-escalated and nuclear disarmament began.

Since the 1980s, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is reported to have decreased by a factor of nine, and the U.S. arsenal is now six times smaller.

However, nine countries are still in possession of nuclear weapons, with the U.S. and Russia in possession of several thousand each.

Knowing how deadly these weapons are, countries in possession maintain that their nuclear stockpiles are kept simply in the interests of self-defence.

Although, mobilisation of nuclear forces, as Russia ordered last week, is generally interpreted as a sign of international aggression.

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Can nuclear bombs be intercepted?

The short answer is yes, nuclear bombs can be intercepted, albeit it is quite difficult to do.

Ballistic missiles are used to deliver nuclear bombs in a flight trajectory.

To counter ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union developed anti-ballistic missiles in the 1960s in the thick of the Nuclear Arms Race to protect the USSR.

Anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) are believed to be capable of destroying the deadly nuclear missiles before they hit target.

ABMs are designed to identify and track the incoming ballistic missile, to which an interceptor is launched to destroy the missile.

This is usually carried out by a booster rocket that can either crash into the missile, destroying it on impact, or use a blast fragmentation warhead to detonate the payload in the missile without causing a nuclear explosion.

However, even if the ABM is successful, there is still a possibility the event could result in a scattering of plutonium or uranium core over the area it has been destroyed, which could consequently cause a radiation hazard.

Although, this is arguably a better result than the destruction of an entire city.

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