Whoopsies surrounding the lethal weapon have nearly brought the world to an end a dozen times since its discovery in the early twentieth Century.

Since its invention in the early 1940s, it has been estimated that there are roughly 13,080 nuclear warheads owned by powerful nations across the globe, with Russia and the United States maintaining more than 90 percent of atomic weapons in their arsenals today.

And with such a large number of highly destructible munitions kept worldwide that could be launched with a single push of a button, there have already been numerous reports of almost incidents throughout the years—hair-trigger alerts and ready-to-launch moments—only to be canceled at last minute.

Quick Nuclear History Recap

The success of the Manhattan Project armed the US, which the country exercised soon after when it dropped two of its atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and ultimately led to the surrender of Japan at the near end of the Second World War.

Despite efforts to keep its new weapon to itself, the blueprint for building a fission-style bomb slipped out of Washington’s hands and into the Soviets four years later, which eventually became the precursor of the Cold War arms race. The United Kingdom, France, and China followed a couple more years later, each having to test and own nuclear weapons in their arsenals by 1952, 1960, and 1964, respectively.

Nuclear Weapons
2021 Estimated Global Nuclear Warhead Inventories (Image source: Arms Control Association)

India, Israel, and Pakistan also discovered and developed their own versions of the highly destructible munitions, while Iraq, Iran, and Libya all pursued secret nuclear programs beginning in the 1990s. Another notorious country to have initiated nuclear activities is North Korea, which claimed to have successfully tested advanced devices equipped with lethal warheads sometime in the mid-2000s to the present.

Noticing the increasing number of nukes being developed, the US sat down and negotiated treaties, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, to prevent further expansion together with other like-minded countries. However, only some nuclear-armed nations signed the pact. North Korea initially signed the NPT but announced its withdrawal from the treaty in January 2003. It forged a denuclearization agreement with its neighboring South, but Pyongyang has openly violated this, particularly in recent years, in order to advance its nuclear program. Today, the North ranks ninth in the world’s nuclear-armed states, with an estimated 50 nuclear warheads in its arsenals, but its actual size is unknown.

Almost Accidental Nuclear War

During the height and heat of the Cold War, there were dozens of reported nuclear close calls that almost triggered Nuclear War and/or World War III, with the majority of these almost being due to nearly unintended detonations caused by accidents or miscalculations, as well as technical errors and misinterpretation of data. Overall, at least 22 declared very narrow misses have been since the lethal weapon was invented. Below are some of the most significant, spine-chilling nuclear close-call moments.