My world is recovering from a period of chaos lasting around 50 years, during which time many things were not maintained, or only sporadically maintained. My story takes place in (what used to be) a large powerful nation-state with the same technology that exists today.

Now there is a looming civil war. I would like nuclear weapons and MAD to be off the table for all participants.

Is 50 years enough time for fission or fusion warheads to no longer be viable, and/or for their delivery systems to fall into disrepair, such that nobody can turn the tables on their opponents by finding one of these devices and threatening to use it?

  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, there are so many possible delivery systems (ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft all the way down to people lugging atomic demolition munitions) that you should look at a separate question for any particular system you are interested in. Note that we have had many questions about "how long would X remain functional after an apocalypse?" so check for existing questions first. $\endgroup$ May 16 at 3:35

1 Answer 1


Maybe five years minimum

At fifty years without a complete refurbishment they won't fire

enter image description here

The EBW detonators have a shelf life of five years. Unless someone can make detonators to replace them, the nuke is a dud.

enter image description here

This is just the detonators. The plastic explosive charges have a shelf life., the wiring, battery and even the circuit boards will eventually become unreliable.

A lot of different countries are already facing a similar problem with the missiles going to Ukraine as they need to be refurbished before they can be used reliably.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer - was going to say something similar - that it is all the supporting components that will probably conk out before the Fissile material. $\endgroup$ May 16 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord The best you could use an old nuke for is a cobbled together dirty bomb $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    May 16 at 3:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also, if it is a tritium-boosted design, the decay of tritium (~12.32 years half-life) will gradually turn the tritium into the nuclear poison helium-3. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    May 16 at 4:28

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .