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Scientific advances and political priorities have led to the creation of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The United States and the former Soviet Union (present-day Russia) have led the way, but eight other nations—the United Kingdom, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, and South Africa—have also acquired and tested the atomic bomb. Strategic doctrine; geopolitical rivalry; executive authority; and military, economic, and bureaucratic interests are all intertwined in building this arsenal and have brought the respective countries and their immediate neighbors to the brink of nuclear war. But nuclear weapons have been actually detonated, deliberately, against human beings on two occasions. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the immediate impact on the population itself, the destruction of buildings and other physical ...

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