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Will a non-test nuclear weapon be detonated by 2020?

Weapons in which the energy is provided by nuclear fission or fusion have only twice in history been detonated outside of a controlled test environment, in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki events in World War II.

Since then, the world has nearly gone to nuclear war as a result of international conflict (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and by accident. There have also been a number of narrowly-averted accidental nuclear detonations. See this timeline for a sobering look at how close we have come.

This question (which any sane person will hope resolves negatively) regards the probability that a nuclear detonation will occur by Jan 1, 2020, outside of controlled tests. This could include:

  • Deliberate or nuclear attack.

  • Accidental nuclear attack (launched by accident or on the basis of erroneous information.)

  • Accidental detonation of a weapon.

  • Nuclear terrorism.

For these purposes we do not consider a radiological weapon — where any fission/fusion energy is energetically sub-dominant to chemical or other explosives — to be a nuclear attack.


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Predictions are the heart of Metaculus. Predicting is how you contribute to the wisdom of the crowd, and how you earn points and build up your personal Metaculus track record.

The basics of predicting are very simple: move the slider to best match the likelihood of the outcome, and click predict. You can predict as often as you want, and you're encouraged to change your mind when new information becomes available. With tachyons you'll even be able to go back in time and backdate your prediction to maximize your points.

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Metaculus help: Community Stats

Use the community stats to get a better sense of the community consensus (or lack thereof) for this question. Sometimes people have wildly different ideas about the likely outcomes, and sometimes people are in close agreement. There are even times when the community seems very certain of uncertainty, like when everyone agrees that event is only 50% likely to happen.

When you make a prediction, check the community stats to see where you land. If your prediction is an outlier, might there be something you're overlooking that others have seen? Or do you have special insight that others are lacking? Either way, it might be a good idea to join the discussion in the comments.