The oceans were nuclearized shortly after the era of nuclear weapons began in 1945. On July 1, 1946, while still negotiating the internationalization of atomic energy at the United Nations, the United States began testing nuclear weapons at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific continued through January 1996, when French President Jacques Chirac announced an end to French testing in the region.

In the 1950s, the United States again led the way in nuclearizing the oceans with the launching of a nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus. The Nautilus and other nuclear submarines could stay submerged for long periods of time without refueling and cruise throughout the world. During the Cold War the U.S., former USSR, UK, France, and China developed nuclear submarine fleets carrying ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Some of these nuclear powered submarines with their multiple-independently-targeted nuclear warheads were and remain capable of single-handedly attacking and destroying more than one hundred major cities. These shadowy creatures of mankind’s darkest inventiveness remain silently on alert in the depths of the world’s oceans, presumably ready and capable, upon command, of destroying the Earth.

Our oceans are a precious resource to be shared by all humanity and preserved for future generations. It carries the concept of “freedom of the seas” to absurd lengths to allow those nations with the technological capacity to destroy the Earth to use the world’s oceans in so callous a manner.

Accidents aboard nuclear submarines have caused a number of them to sink with long-term adverse environmental consequences for the oceans. In addition to accidents, many countries have purposefully dumped radioactive wastes in the oceans.

With regard to proper stewardship of the planet, it is time to raise the issue of denuclearizing the world’s oceans. To fail to raise the issue and to achieve the denuclearization of the oceans is to abdicate our responsibility for the health and well-being of the oceans and the planet.

Nuclearization of the Oceans

Nuclearization of the oceans has taken a variety of forms. The primary ones are:

1. the oceans have served as a medium for hiding nuclear deterrent forces located on submarines;

2. nuclear reactors have been used to power ships, primarily submarines, some of which have gone down at sea with their nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons aboard;

3. increasing use is being made of the oceans for the transportation of nuclear wastes and reprocessed nuclear fuels;

4. the oceans have been used as a dumping ground for nuclear wastes;

5. atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, particularly in the Pacific, has been a source of nuclear pollution to the oceans as well as the land; and

6. underground nuclear weapons testing, such as that conducted by France in the South Pacific, has endangered fragile Pacific atolls and caused actual nuclear contamination to the oceans as well as risking a much greater contamination should the atolls crack due to testing or future geological activity.

The problems arising from nuclearization of the oceans can be viewed from several perspectives.

From an environmental perspective, issues arise with regard to nuclear contamination in the oceans working its way up through the food chain. The biological resources of the oceans will eventually affect human populations which are reliant upon these resources.

The threat of nuclear contamination has diminished with regard to nuclear testing, which has not taken place in the atmosphere since 1980. Moreover, the nuclear weapons states have committed themselves to a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which they have promised to conclude by 1996. This treaty, if concluded, will end all underground nuclear testing.

The dumping of high-level radioactive waste material was curtailed by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by the Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, which entered into force in 1975. A later amendment to this Convention prohibited ocean dumping of all radioactive wastes or other radioactive matter. However, exemptions authorized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and non-compliance remain a concern. Problems can be anticipated in the future when radioactive contaminants already dumped in canisters or contained in fuel or weapons aboard sunken submarines breach their containment.

Increased use of the oceans to transport nuclear wastes and reprocessed nuclear fuel (between Japan and France, for example) has substantially increased the risk of contamination. Coastal and island states that are on the route of the transportation of nuclear materials stand high risks of contamination in the event of an accident at sea. International law regarding the transportation of hazardous material must be strengthened and strictly enforced by the international community to prevent catastrophic accidents in the future.

From a human rights perspective, inhabitants of island states in the Pacific have suffered serious health effects and dislocation as a result of atmospheric and underground nuclear weapons testing. In response to assurances by France that their underground testing in the South Pacific is entirely safe, the islanders in Polynesia and throughout the Pacific have retorted: If it is so safe, why isn’t it being done in France itself? The response of the French government has been that French Polynesia is French territory, highlighting the arrogance and abuse that accompanies colonialism.

Human rights issues also arise with regard to maintaining a nuclear deterrent force that threatens the annihilation of much of humanity. The Human Rights Committee stated in November 1984 in their general comments on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, i.e., the right to life, that “the production, testing, possession, deployment and use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited and recognized as crimes against humanity.” The deployment of nuclear weapons on submarines, therefore, arguably constitutes a crime against humanity, and thus a violation of the most fundamental human right, the right to life.

From a security perspective, the nuclear weapons states argue that having a submarine-based deterrent force assures their security. Thus, to varying degrees, each of the nuclear weapons states maintains strategic submarines capable of causing unthinkable destruction if their missiles were ever launched. (See Appendix.) Viewed from the self-interests of nearly all the world’s population-except the nuclear weapons states whose leaders appear addicted to maintaining their nuclear arsenals -the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence, at sea or on land, poses a frightening threat to continued human existence.

In 1972 the Seabed Agreement prohibited the emplacement of nuclear weapons on the seabed, ocean floor, or subsoil thereof. This agreement prohibited what was already deemed unnecessary by the nuclear weapons states; placing nuclear weapons on submarines made them less vulnerable to detection and destruction than placing them on or beneath the seabed or ocean floor. The oceans continue to be used by the nuclear weapons states as an underwater shadow world for their missile carrying submarines.

The United States alone currently has 16 Trident submarines, each carrying some 100 independently targeted nuclear warheads. Each Trident submarine has a total explosive force greater than all the explosive force used in World War II, including at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Britain, with the help of the United States, is replacing its older class of Polaris SSBNs with a fleet of four Trident submarines. France currently has five strategic missile submarines with four more of a superior class to be commissioned by 2005. Russia has over 35 strategic missile submarines with an estimated capacity of 2,350 nuclear warheads. China has two modern ballistic missile submarines. Its Xia class submarine carries twelve 200 kiloton nuclear warheads.

The total destructive force that day and night lurks beneath the oceans is a chilling reminder of our technological capacity to destroy ourselves. That this threat was created and is maintained in the name of national security suggests a collective madness that must be opposed and overcome if, for no other reason, we are to fulfill our obligation to posterity to preserve human life.

An ongoing responsibility resides with the nuclear weapons states to fulfill the obligations set forth in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” At the NPT Review and Extension Conference in April and May 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely after extensive lobbying by the nuclear weapons states. At the same time the nuclear weapons states promised to enter into a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 1996, and to engage in a “determined pursuit” of the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

Protecting the Common Heritage

The Law of the Sea Treaty enshrines the concept of the oceans as the common heritage of [hu]mankind. Maintaining the oceans as a common heritage demands that the oceans be protected from contamination by nuclear pollutants; that they not be used in a manner to undermine basic human rights, particularly the rights to life and to a healthy environment; and that the oceans not be allowed to serve as a public preserve for those states that believe their own security interests demand the endangerment of global human survival.

It is unreasonable to allow our common heritage to be used to threaten our common future. Deterrence is an unproven and unstable concept that is being tested on humanity by a small number of powerful and arrogant states that have turned nuclear technology to its ultimate destructive end. In order to link the common heritage with our common future, the large majority of the world’s nations advocating an end to the threat of nuclear annihilation should seek to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention by the year 2000 that eliminates all nuclear weapons in a time-bound framework. The prohibition and conversion of strategic ballistic missile submarines must be part of this accord. Perhaps this will be the final step in achieving a nuclear weapons free world.

Life began in the oceans and eventually migrated to land. We must not allow the oceans to continue to provide a secure hiding place for nuclear forces capable of causing irreparable damage to all life. This is an inescapable responsibility of accepting the proposition that life itself, like the oceans, is a common heritage that must be protected for future generations.




A. Nuclear Weapons


Strategic Missile Submarines (SSBN)

Active: 16 Building: 2

Trident: 16 + 2

There are presently 16 Trident submarines in operation, eight at Sub-Base Bangor and eight at Sub-Base Kings Bay. The schedule is to complete one submarine per year for a total of 18 with the final one becoming operational in 1997.

In September 1994 it was announced in the Pentagon’s “Nuclear Posture Review” that the Trident force would be cut from 18 to 14. The submarines to be retired are still under review but are believed to be the four oldest in the fleet. They will be preserved, however, in mothballs until the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) II Treaty is fully implemented in 2003.

These submarines carry 24 missiles each. The submarines are armed with Trident-1 missiles (C-4) and the Trident-2 (D-5). In 1991 all strategic cruise missiles (Tomahawks) were removed from surface ships and submarines.

The C-4 can carry up to eight 100 kiloton Mark-4/W-76 Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRV). There are currently 192 Trident-1 missiles deployed in eight Trident submarines based at Bangor, Washington with a total of 1,152 Mk-4 warheads. Four of these submarines are to be deactivated and the remaining four are to be converted to carry Trident-2 missiles. Plans are to then base seven of the 14 submarines on each coast.

The D-4 can carry up to 12 MIRV with Mark-4/W-76 100-kT warheads, or Mark-5/W-88 300-475-kT warheads each. Under START counting rules, a limit of 8 reentry vehicles (RV) was set, but this may be further reduced to four or five if START II is implemented. About 400 Mk-5/W-88 warheads for the Trident-2 missiles were produced before they were canceled because of production and safety reasons. Two new Trident subs fitted with D-4 missiles will be delivered by 1997.

Under the START Treaties, warheads that are reduced do not have to be destroyed. According to the Nuclear Posture Review the current plan is to remove three or four warheads per missile from Trident Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) to meet the START II ceiling of 1,750 SLBM warheads. Plans are to reduce the C-4 to 1,280 warheads and the D-4 to 400. These warheads will be kept in storage and if it is determined that the SLBMs need to be uploaded, the Pentagon can reuse them.


Strategic Missile Submarines (SSBN)

Active: 39 Building: 0

The Russian navy is divided into four fleets: the Baltic, Northern, Black Sea and the Pacific. In the Northern and the Pacific fleets, the primary issue is of what to do with the estimated 85 retired nuclear submarines. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is believed that over half of their nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine fleet has been withdrawn from operational service. These ships are currently moored at various bases with their reactors still on board. The number is growing faster than the money available to remove and store the fuel elements and decontaminate the reactor compartments. Since 1991, there has been a lack of funds to operate the fleet. Consequently, few of the submarines listed as active have actually been at sea.

In response to President Bush’s September 27, 1991 decision to remove tactical nuclear missiles from ships, President Gorbachev announced that six SSBNs with 92 SLBMs (presumably five Yankee Is and a single Yankee II) were to be removed from operational forces. Russian Fleet Commander Adm. Oleg Yerofeev reports that as of October 20, 1991 all tactical nuclear weapons were removed from the Northern and Pacific fleet ships and submarines.

The January-February, 1993 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that Russia intends to stop building submarines in its Pacific yards within the next two to three years. Russian President Boris Yeltsin made this announcement during a November 1992 visit to South Korea.

The Russian (CIS) SLBM stockpile is estimated to be at: 224 SS-N-18 Stingray armed with three warheads at 500-kT, 120 SS-N-20 Sturgeon with ten 200-kT warheads, and 112 SS-N-23 Skiff missiles with four 100-kT warheads. Total warheads are believed to be about 2320.

According to Pentagon officials, Russia has already reduced its patrols to a single ballistic missile submarine. In contrast, the U.S. Navy continues to patrol with a dozen or so submarines at a time.

NATO names are used in this listing. Russian names are given in parentheses.

Typhoon (Akula) Class: 6

The Typhoon carries 20 SS-N-20 Sturgeon missiles, with six to nine MIRV 200-kT nuclear warheads. The Typhoon can hit strategic targets from anywhere in the world. There are plans to modernize the Typhoons to carry an SS-N-20 follow-on missile which would have improved accuracy. All the Typhoons are stationed in the Northern Fleet at Nerpichya. One was damaged by fire during a missile loading accident in 1992, but has since been repaired.

Delta IV (Delfin) Class: 7

The Delta IV carries 16 SS-N-23 Skiff missiles, with four to ten MIRV 100-kT nuclear warheads. These ships are based in the Northern Fleet at Olenya.

Delta III (Kalmar) Class: 14

The Delta III is armed with 16 SS-N-18 Stingray missiles. There are three possible modifications for the Stingray. (1) three MIRV at 200-kT, (2) a single 450-kT, (3) seven MIRV at 100-kT. Nine ships are in the Northern Fleet and five are in the Pacific Fleet.

Delta II (Murena-M) Class: 4

The Delta II has 16 SS-N8 Sawfly missiles with two possible modifications. The first is with a single 1.2 MT nuclear warhead, the other is with two MIRV at 800-kT. This class of submarine is no longer in production. All four are stationed in the Northern fleet at Yagelnaya and are believed to have been taken off active duty.

Delta I (Murena) Class: 8

The Delta I carries 12 SS-N-8 Sawfly missiles, armed with either a single 1.2 MT nuclear warhead or two MIRV 800-kT. Three ships are stationed in the North and the other five are in the Pacific. One of these ships may be converted into a rescue submarine. As with the Delta II’s, all of these ships are believed to have been taken off active duty.


Strategic Missile Submarines (SSBN)

Active: 4 Building: 2

Vanguard Class: 2 + 2

The Vanguard-class is modeled on the United States Trident submarine. It carries 16 Trident II (D-5) missiles with up to eight MIRV of 100-120-kT nuclear warheads. The D-5 can carry up to 12 MIRV but under plans announced in November 1993 each submarine will carry a maximum of 96 warheads. The U.K. has stated that it has no plans to refit their Tridents with conventional warheads, insisting on the nuclear deterrent.

Resolution Class: 2

The Resolution-class was initially fitted with 16 Polaris A3 missiles with three multiple reentry vehicles of 200-kT each. Beginning in 1982, the warheads were replaced under the “Chevaline Program.” The Chevaline is a similar warhead, but contains a variety of anti-ballistic missile defenses. The two remaining submarines in this class are both scheduled for decommission.


Strategic Missile Submarines (SSBN)

Active: 1 Projected: 1

Intelligence on Chinese nuclear submarines is extremely limited. Experts disagree on whether there is one or two SSBNs in the Chinese fleet. A new class of SSBN is expected to begin construction in 1996 or 1997.

Xia Class: 1 or 2

The Xia carries 12 Julang or “Giant Wave” CSS-N-3 missiles armed with a single 200-300-kT nuclear warhead. Approximately 24 of these missiles have been deployed. An improved version of this missile is currently being developed.

Golf Class (SSB): 1

Although the Golf is not nuclear driven, it is armed with ballistic missiles. The submarine is outfitted with two Julang missiles.


Strategic Missile Submarines (SSBN)

Active: 5 Building: 3 Projected: 1

In 1992 France announced that it would cut the number of new Triomphant-class SSBNs under construction from 6 to 4. Robert Norris and William Arkin of the Natural Resource Defense Council estimate that France will produce 288 warheads for the fleet of four submarines, but with only enough missiles and warheads to fully arm three boats. It is estimated that France has 64 SLBMs with 384 warheads.

Triomphant Class: 0 + 3(1)

The first submarine of its class, Le Triomphant, recently began conducting trials in the sea and is scheduled to depart on its first patrol in March 1996. The other ships are expected to be operational by 2005. The Triomphant-class is armed with 16 M45 missiles with 6 multiple reentry vehicles (MRV) at 150-kT. There are plans to later refit the submarines with the more powerful M5 with 10-12 MRV around 2010. Testing for these new missiles were recently conducted at the Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls.

L’Inflexible Class: 5

L’Inflexible is armed with 16 Aerospatiale M4B missiles with six MRV at 150-kT. The French navy has 80 SLBMs deployed on its five submarines. This class of ships is based at Brest and commanded from Houilles. They patrol in the Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian and Mediterranean Seas. The minimum number of submarines always at sea has been reduced from three to two.



Attack Submarines (SSN)

Active: 86 Building: 4 Projected: 1

Permit Class: 1
Benjamin Franklin Class: 2
Narwhal Class: 1
Los Angeles Class: 57 + 2
Sturgeon Class: 25
Seawolf Class: 0 + 2(1)

The Seawolf was launched in July 1995, and is scheduled to be commissioned in May 1996.

Aircraft Carriers (CVN )

Active: 6 Building: 3

Nimitz Class: 6 + 3

Guided Missile Cruisers (CGN)

Active: 5

Virginia Class: 2
California Class: 2
Brainbridge Class: 1


Cruise Missile Submarines (SSGN)

Active: 19 Building: 1 Projected: 1

Echo II Class (Type 675M): 3
Oscar I (Granit) Classes: 2
Oscar II (Antyey): 10 + 1(1)
Charlie II (Skat M) Class: 3
Yankee Sidecar (Andromeda) Class: 1

Attack Submarines (SSN)

Active: 51 Building: 6 Projected: 1

Severodvinsk Class: 0 + 3(1)
Sierra II (Baracuda) Class: 2
Akula I (Bars) Class: 4
Akula II (Bars) Class: 8 + 3
Sierra I (Baracuda I) Class: 2
Alfa (Alpha) Class: 1
Victor III (Shuka) Class: 26
Victor II (Kefal II) Class: 3
Victor I (Kefal I) Class: 2
Yankee Notch (Grosha) Class: 3

Battle Cruisers (CGN)
Active: 4

Kirov Class: 4


Attack Submarines (SSN)

Active: 12 Projected: 5

Trafalgar Class: 7 + (5)
Swiftsure Class: 5


Attack Submarines (SSN)

Active: 5 Building: 1
Han Class: 5

Nuclear attack submarines are believed to be a high priority for the Chinese, but due to high internal radiation levels, production has been suspended.


Attack Submarines (SSN)

Active: 6 Projected: 1

Rubis Class: 6 + (1)

The nuclear attack submarine Rubis collided with a tanker on July 17, 1993 and has had to undergo extensive repairs. On March 30, 1994 the Emeraude had a bad steam leak which caused casualties amongst the crew.

Aircraft Carriers (CVN)

Active: 0 Building: 1 Projected: 1

The nuclear powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was launched in 1994, it is expected to be commissioned in July 1999.