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Nuclear Option

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"We're going over there, and bringing the most lethal killing machine ever devised. We're capable of launching more firepower than has ever been released in the history of war. For one purpose alone: to keep our country safe. We constitute the front line and the last line of defense."
Captain Ramsey, Crimson Tide

Sometimes, the unthinkable becomes a legitimate option. Other times it's downright commonplace.


Nuclear warheads are currently the most powerful weapon in humanity's arsenal. They are the most destructive thing we have the capacity to deploy, and as such are treated as a last resort; a final option when all other possibilities are exhausted. They are to be used only when the consequences of not using them are worse than the consequences of using them. Even now, many years past their only use, the argument about whether that was really necessary still hasn't subsided; in fiction, however, this situation comes up a lot more often.

The Nuclear Option is the well-considered and appropriate use of nuclear weaponry by a legitimate authority. Perhaps the enemy has already launched nukes at allied targets, maybe the target is Nigh-Invulnerable and a nuke is the only way to crack through its protections, or It's the Only Way to Be Sure. It's possible that some Cool Starships are flinging nukes at each other in an otherwise empty space - see Explosions in Space. The situation might already be so bad that the potential for massive collateral damage doesn't matter anymore. In any case, the Nuclear Option is, ultimately, a good idea, or at least reasonable. Differs from an Empty Quiver, as the Nuclear Option is ordered by a legitimate authority. Also, unlike Nuke 'em or Deus ex Nukina, it's neither overkill nor likely to backfire and the nuke does something that actually makes sense.


This trope is likely to be used in works set in World War II, as that war featured the only actual use of nuclear weapons in history.

Also applies to the use of Fantastic Nukes and, if the Nuclear Weapons Taboo is in effect, absolutely-not-a-nuke weapons. Compare to the Godzilla Threshold, when you've become desperate enough to try something that's likely to cause your own side just as much harm as the enemy.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Macross has this in the form of "Reaction" and "Dimension/Fold" weapons.
    • Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Not only are the devices extremely effective in almost every time they're deployed, but the Zentradi are astounded that humans have the technology to make "Reaction Weapons".
    • In both Macross 7, Macross Zero and Macross Frontier, Reaction Weapons are seen as very much "last resort" weapons that are only deployed when it becomes clear that the enemy they're fighting is dangerous enough to warrant such countermeasures.
  • Subverted in the novels of Robotech, where Nukes are part of a set of weapons labeled as "Conventional Weapons" and do little to hurt the enemy. Alien-enhanced "Reflex Missiles" are used instead.
  • Used repeatedly in multiple Gundam series, notable for not only avoiding the Nuclear Weapons Taboo but portraying nukes as dangerous and powerful weapons, but not evil incarnate.
    • The Universal Century timeline has prodigious use of nukes.
      • The Back Story of the One Year War features the One Week Battle that opened the conflict, where nuclear weapons are used by The Federation in a partially-successful attempt to stop a Colony Drop, and then used by both sides during a major fleet battle not long after. The carnage resulting from both of these occasions causes both sides to sign the Antarctic Treaty, banning the use of nukes and chemical weapons (so, naturally, both sides start work on solar-powered death rays instead... those aren't nuclear, and thus are not banned under treaty).
      • Mobile Suit Gundam has M'Quve attempt to launch nuclear weapons when it becomes clear that he's lost the battle, but Amuro in the Gundam manages to destroy the missiles before they can detonate.
      • The 08th MS Team includes a suspiciously powerful explosion attributed to a fuel-air bomb; whether this was an actual fuel-air bomb or an in-universe attempt to circumvent the Antarctic Treaty is a subject of debate.
      • A more blatant attempt to circumvent the treaty took place at the end of the series as the EFF assaulted Ginneas Sakhalin's mountain base by sending waves of GMs into certain death traps. Their hope was that one of the reactors on their doomed mobile suits would happen to melt down.
      • The second half of Gundam 0080 revolves around trying to prevent a neutral colony from being nuked.
      • Gundam 0083 prominently features a nuclear-equipped Gundam, though it's only part of The Plan, and the effects seen when the nuke is eventually used are wildly unrealistic.
      • Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack has the good guys using nuclear missiles in space in an attempt to prevent a Colony Drop; they're portrayed quite accurately, in contrast to the previous example.
      • Nukes feature quite heavily into the Big Bad's plan in Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam (he claims he can ignore the Antarctic Treaty because that was signed between the Federation and Zeon... Jupiter was not present). As such, the heroes are not afraid to bust out tactical nuclear devices against him. In the Steel Seven sequel, the heroes also deploy nukes against the Jovian Colony Laser, Zeus's Wrath.
    • ∀ Gundam also featured nukes as the center of a subplot. Humanity is going around digging up ancient weapons and finds a cache of nukes. The Moonrace is well aware of how powerful they are, but the terrestrial humans (who have no idea) accidentally set a few off, resulting in tragedy. Loran takes it upon himself to carry the remaining two warheads in the Turn A to prevent their misuse, and eventually uses them to stop a Colony Drop on the Moon.
    • The Cosmic Era timeline has more than its share of nukes as well.
      • The conflict in Gundam SEED begins when a space colony is nuked, and late in the series a veritable swarm of nukes are deployed in an attempt to finish the job.
      • Gundam SEED Destiny also features a (completely ineffective) mass nuke attack on the PLANT space colonies.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, terrorists demanding civil rights for the refugees interred in Japan attempt to acquire plutonium and hole themselves up in a refugee camp turned into a fortress, threatening to nuke a city if the military assaults their stronghold. While it is not actually known if the terrorist have enough plutonium or are bluffing, the Powers That Be that actually rule over Japan decide to call in a favor from the Americans and order a nuclear strike on the island. It would then be claimed that the terrorists accidentaly blew up themselves. The uprising would be over, the nuclear threat be removed, and the political establishment emerged greatly strengthed, as the population would accept any curbing of their few remaining rights to prevent that ever happening again.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, "N2 mines" (the N2 stands for Non Nuclear) are the weapons of last resort against the Angels. Of course, given that its a Giant Robot show, they're often completely ineffective, in order to show how awesome the Evas are in comparison.
  • Lyrical Nanoha features the only known deployment of the Arc-En-Ciel. A Wave-Motion Gun and Fantastic Nuke, it is stated that firing it at a target just offshore a Japanese city will destroy not only that city, but a significant portion of Japan. This was considered acceptable because the alternative to using the Arc-En-Ciel was the probable destruction of Earth. It's ultimately arranged to teleport the target into orbit before firing to prevent collateral damage.
  • Surprisingly enough, Dragon Ball has an example, and it's done by the villains: during Goku's assault on the Red Ribbon headquarters Black throws a nuclear missile at him... Because everything else had failed miserably, and he was apparently trying to kill everyone there (he wasn't, but he did give the impression). And the nuke fails too: not because it's not powerful enough, but because Goku kicks the missile into a mountain, destroying it.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd has used it a few times:
    • "The Apocalypse War" storyline had Dredd defeat the Sov Block by nuking them. With their own nukes.
    • During the "Judgement Day" arc, Dredd had several cities nuked that had been overrun by zombies.
  • There is a scene in one of the Marvel Zombies issues where Director Fury was deliberating whether or not to resort to this while New York was rapidly being devoured. Unfortunately, before it could be implemented, Quicksilver was infected, and infected every nation in the span of a few minutes.
  • In Paperinik New Adventures the US have threatened to use them against the Evronians more than once, and actually did so twice. Justified because the Evronian superior technology means nukes are the only Earth weapons that can actually damage their ships... Provided they actually hit, as the first time they were fired the Evronians shot down the missiles.
  • In Kingdom Come, the U.N. finally resorts to this to stop the massive super hero civil war from spreading out and destroying the world. It successfully kills most of them, but not all — most notably not Superman, who is furious.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Origins: In the Ultimate Marvel universe, Roosevelt did not start the war, but he's willing to end it by any means if it comes to that. He has the atomic bomb (an artistic licence), but using it would be a genocide. So, he prefers to rely on the sole super soldier available instead. As he seems to die stoping a Chitauri rocket, the US had to use the bomb to end the war with Japan.
    • The Ultimates
      • Luring Hulk away from the city dropping a nuke on him was one of the plans to deal with him. Fortunately, the other plans worked and it was not needed to get so far.
      • When Bruce Banner is sentenced for the deaths he caused as the Hulk, he is drugged, taken to a ship in the ocean, and they drop an atomic bomb on him. Nothing short of that can truly kill the Hulk.
      • Also, they send everything they've got against the city, a futuristic dome created by The Maker and which had already destroyed Berlin. But they resisted it, and the Maker blows up all of Washington DC as a counter attack.

    Fan Works 
  • In An Entry with a Bang!, nukes soften up the marauding pirates before they make Earthfall and massive nuclear rearmament is in progress in a bid to construct a shield of sorts to ward off future hostile interlopers from a BattleTech faction.
  • In Neon Exodus Evangelion, a nuclear cruise missile is used to destroy the demoness Natlateth. Notably, it needs special command codes from Mission Control in order to launch.
  • In Conquest of the Emperor: The World of Naruto the invading OC villains get rid of Madara and his white zetsu army this way.
  • Considered by both Human powers and The Race Conquest Fleet in Worldwar: War of Equals. Ultimately, its China that drops the first nuke of the war.
  • In Stargate: Revelation, enhanced nuclear weapons are standard armaments on Earth's warships.
  • Fallout: Equestria - Occupational Hazards features the use of megaspell warheads twice. The first time one is used to destroy the cloudship The Tsetse, the second is a series of them wired to detonate should The Doc's Dead Hoof Switch activate.
    • Shows up again in the sequel Fallout: Equestria - Empty Quiver, twice so far in the appropriately-named chapter The Nuclear Option. First detonation of a megaspell with a yield of 1 kiloton was for eradicating a wrecked zebra nuclear sub to deal with the Anglerpony population taking hold there. Second was using one of the half-kiloton bombs from the Valkyrie to collapse the Battered-Sea Power Station atop the Shady Shores Biological Research facility, further thinning the number of Anglerponies.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, to get rid of a whole planet Admiral Nimitz elects to use a Galaxy Gun-like missile capable of annihilating everything inside a 50,000km radius which makes sense since the planet has turned into a giant Flood organism. This only after the superlaser was deemed insufficient for the task.
  • The Secret Return of Alex Mack: The SRI refers to nuclear airstrikes as "Operation Fail-safe", and considers them several times for the monsters the team has to fight. They're actually used several times, once to contain a Hate Plague and twice against Gojira. Plus Pyre's Heroic Sacrifice, which later analysis suggests was powerful enough that it triggered nuclear fusion in ordinary air.

  • In Independence Day, the military attempts to fight the alien invaders with conventional weapons, which prove to be ineffective due to the aliens possessing energy shields to protect their ships. Ultimately, it is decided to deploy nuclear weapons against the aliens. Only one strike is made (annihilating a large city) before it is realized even they are ineffective.
    • A direct shout-out to George Pal's The War Of The Worlds, even down to the aircraft used - in WOTW, the Northrop YB-49 flying wing jet bomber (which was NOT a film prop but an actual USAF prototype); in ID4, the Northrop B-2 flying wing jet bomber.
    • Later, a nuke is used to destroy the mothership, but from the inside after Hiller and Dave enter it in a refurbished alien fighter.
  • Very similar to Independence Day is Mars Attacks!, in which every single possible weapon was fired at the spacecraft and the only option left is the bomb. But unfortunately, the aliens just inhaled it.
    • And used the fallout to mock the Puny Earthlings in a high-pitched helium voice.
  • Armageddon uses a nuke to split an asteroid in half. Falls under Nuclear Option rather than Nuke Ex Machina because they're using a nuke to provide what nukes actually provide — namely a very large explosion. Still a research flub, though, because a nuclear explosion wouldn't have been big enough to do what it did in the movie.
  • Subverted in Monsters vs. Aliens.
  • The Avengers (2012): During the Chitauri invasion at the climax, an Omniscient Council of Vagueness sends a nuke at Manhattan (technically they sent two nukes, but that was only because they were Genre Savvy enough to know that Nick Fury would blow one of the planes up) rather than let the aliens spread to the rest of the world. This actually saves the day when Iron Man redirects it by physically dragging the bomb to the alien ship instead.
  • Pacific Rim: What attempts to seal the Rift have employed; strategic and judicious use of nuclear weapons. It's never worked before because the portal wasn't allowing anything that wasn't a Kaiju to pass through it.
  • This is apparently quite common in the alternate Earths of Parallels - enough so that Polly can breezily say that the one where Egypt was the one that started the nuclear exchanges was weird, but otherwise unremarkable. And this trope's use on his home Earth is the motivation for Tinker's attempt to nuke the building again. It presumably doesn't end well for whatever's left of New York City in that version of Earth, and solidifies the notion that he's definitely got a few screws loose.
  • Oblivion (2013): A nuke is successfully used to make out the primary enemy target at the climax.
  • Fail Safe: The plot of the film is that a flight of U.S. bombers with nukes has, through a combination of events, been given orders to attack Moscow. They can't be recalled and there won't be enough time to stop all of them. The President (Henry Fonda) tries to convince the Soviet Premier that it's a mistake, but the Premier, while seemingly willing to believe him, needs something more to convince his military staff. So, the President quickly sets up a plan. At the end, when Moscow has been destroyed by the last U.S. bomber, another, similar bomber drops the same type and number of nukes on New York City. In both cases, there's no time to evacuate or warn the civilian population of each city.
  • Skyline: the military attacks one of the alien spacecraft with a nuclear weapon. Though it does do considerable damage initially, it ultimately proves insufficient to destroy the alien ship.
  • Starship Troopers:
    • Lt. Racdzac sees a bug hole, and tells one of his troopers, "Rico! Nuke 'em!" Rico loads a nuclear-tipped rocket in a launcher, and fires it into the hole, vaporizing everything (bugs) near the hole.
    • A trooper is too injured to move, so he asks Rico to give him a nuke so he can vaporize the bugs before they can eat him. Carmen and Rico run in an attempt to Outrun the Fireball.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Defied by the Super Supremacist En Sabah Nur, who announces his bid for world domination by forcing Charles to mind-control every nuclear launch officer and launch the planet's nuclear arsenal harmlessly into space, so that it can't be used against him.
    En Sabah Nur: You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel... but you can never strike God!

  • Robert A. Heinlein is a proponent of the idea that, in determinated circumstances, nuclear weapons can and should be used-but only with all the cautiousness such devastating weapons deserve, as using even a small 2-kiloton bomb inappropriatedly would be criminally insane:
    • In the Starship Troopers novel, certain soldiers are occasionally armed with tactical nuclear rockets. They're drilled extensively to "get their money's worth" out of their use (we see them being used only in one mission, a terror raid on a Skinnie city, with Rico having been given two and orders to expend all of his munitions. He nails a starship, and almost breaks his orders because he has trouble finding something else worth of getting nuked until he spots a water-processing plant whose destruction would make the whole city uninhabitable). They are also taken so seriously that, during basic training, eyeballing an attack with a simulation of one (the actual payload was a smoke grenade) instead of waiting for a targeting solution, and accidentally catching one of his teammates in the simulated blast earns Johnny a very real flogging, and almost saw him subjected to a court-martial and drummed out of the military (the instructors declared he could be redeemed, so the officers simply tell him it's his right to be judged by one, at which point Johnny realizes just how much he screwed up and says no).
    • In Citizen of the Galaxy, Free Trader ships routinely use missiles armed with 2-megaton nuclear warheads against Space Pirates for the simple reason there's no defense against their paralysis beam other than destroying the pirate before it can fire, and a successful boarding means the enslavement of the entire crew. At the end of the novel the protagonist Thorby, believing it absurd that a starship with its powerful reactor should be helpless against a paralysis beam, starts the development of what is implied to be Deflector Shields as a potential alternative to the nukes, but it's unknown how much it will take or if it will be successful at all.
    • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, all Earth would need to put down the Moonies' revolt with violence is a ship and six large nukes, one per city on the Moon. Notably, Earth refuses to nuke the Moon's cities at first, and when it comes to a military confrontation the Moonies' strategy is to break the will to nuke them of Earth's states before a ship can get in range of the cities.
    • The trope appears even in his Old Shame: as evil as they are, even the Pan-Asians from Sixth Column are wary of using nuclear weapons, and during the conquest of the United States they fired a single precision volley to destroy the command and control centers and the US' own nuclear arsenal. They later fire a single one when the US-wide rebellion is being successful, with the apparent intent of scaring the rebellion into submission, but when it's completely ineffective they don't fire others.
  • Dune has "atomics", though their use against human targets is frowned upon with threats of "planetary obliteration".
  • Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, an alternate history featuring an alien invasion in the spring of 1942, features gradually escalating nuclear warfare between humans and The Race, first with The Race nuking a couple of human capitals, followed by the humans learning to return the favor.
  • The Empire from the Ashes trilogy has nukes at the midpoint of the destructive scale. More powerful than kinetic kill and high explosive warheads, but less powerful than antimatter and gravitonic weapons. The first book, featuring a more subdued conflict on a single planet, treats nukes with a healthy respect. The second flings them around like nobody's business, since the fighting took place entirely in open space. The aliens fought in the second book refer to nuclear weapons as the "lesser thunder" (antimatter being the "greater thunder").
  • Bolo: the titular tanks are programmed to protect humans, so they only use the Nuclear Option if all humans are out of harm's way. Of course they're also armed with a fusion cannon as an alternative.
  • Considered several times in The Salvation War, many more if the thread discussions are included. A nuclear weapon ends up being used to vaporize the angelic Incomparable Legion of Light.
  • Wing Commander novels:
    • In Fleet Action, the Kilrathi use Strontium-90 clad nuclear weapons to render several human worlds uninhabitable, and nearly succeed at doing so to Earth before Krueger's Big Damn Heroes moment.
    • Although technically not nukes, in the same novel humans use matter/antimatter bombs as part of a plan to destroy the enemy supercarriers from the inside, when regular space weaponry fired at them from outside proves ineffective against the massively protected ships.
  • Legacy of the Aldenata:
    • The Chinese used nukes to try to slow down the Posleen, but failed to slow them for more than a day, winding up not only destroyed as a fighting force, but poisoning the Yangtze River for thousands of years.
    • In When the Devil Dances and Hell's Faire, deployment and use of nukes is a significant issue, thanks to a president that's very against them. However, they do eventually get authorized for use, as area denial weapons to kill large numbers of Posleen after the Rabun Gap defenses are breached, including flushing the nearly the entire US nuclear missile arsenal to nuke the Gap, just to get some warheads past the absurdly accurate anti-air fire from Posleen hardware.
  • Though they are never actually used, characters in Night Watch (Series) occasionally mention having nukes on standby in case the situation escalates, as nukes are the only things that can blast through all seven layers of Twilight.
  • The starships in Honor Harrington use these as standard missiles, generally armed with stand-off laser heads to reduce the effectiveness of point defense. That said, the few times that a contact nuke (as opposed to said laser heads) has got through, usually due to Rafe Cardones' sheer awesomeness, it has burned out or destroyed nearly every sidewall generator, particle shield, sensor array and weapon system mounted on the affected area of the ship. It generally dies quickly after Harrington gets a clear shot at this area.
  • The Lensman universe offers the super-atomic bomb, which is used in vast numbers to attack ships that have just 'jumped in' via hyper-spatial tube and are still getting themselves in order. The trope is really only played straight on both sides later in the series, when it becomes clear to our hero that what Galactic Civilization is facing is not disorganized outlaws and criminals but essentially the evil mirror of itself. In later installments antimatter bombs of planetary mass are used by the tens of thousands in single battles.
  • Stewart Cowley's Terran Trade Authority universe throws nukes around A LOT. Spacecraft: 2000-2100 AD is a guidebook to the ships of three civilizations, detailing propulsion, crew, armament etc. Most of the ships of all three species (human, Alpha Centauri, Proxima Centauri) whose function is surface attack are nuclear-capable: a few are specifically designed as interstellar strategic nuclear strike ships with single, large-yield warheads, while tactical nuclear weapons of various descriptions are listed as standard armament fit on many types.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files uses this trope both literally and metaphorically.
    • In Turn Coat, it is revealed that this is Warden Donald Morgan's preferred method of dealing with a particularly nasty breed of Eldritch Abomination, by luring it into a testing area in 1950s New Mexico. He opened a portal to the spirit world seconds before the blast, destroying the creature's vessel and sending it back to its domain. When Harry gets to hear about this, he makes a point of stating for the record that whatever bad blood there may be between Morgan and himself, that is really cool.
    • Less literally, it is frequently mentioned that bringing mortal (non-supernatural) authorities into a supernatural conflict is regarded as the nuclear option by the various supernatural nations. Ironically, this is less due to mankind's possession of ACTUAL nukes, and more due to mankind outnumbering the monsters (or near-monsters) enormously, as well as the invention of guns, which the Fae and those kin to the Fae hate vehemently; even those who are possessed by Fallen Angels can be killed by a bullet to the brain, making humanity a very dangerous force to piss off.
  • In The Tripods a submarine from one of the pre-capping navies, belonging to La Résistance launches an ICBM at a tripod city unsuccessfully. The hero hears about it several generations later.
  • In the military SF novel The Shiva Option by David Weber and Steve White, the allied races (including humans) determine that, due to their tenacity and great numbers, the only way to defeat the invading Arachnids is to execute genocidal attacks against them by bombarding their worlds with antimatter weapons. Antimatter weapons technically aren't nukes, but are considerably more powerful on average and have most of the same effects on a larger scale. As it turns out, Massive planet-wide casualties caused by nuclear / antimatter bombardment causes the telepathic arachnids to go into a state of mental shock, rendering nearby fleets almost completely ineffective. This makes genocidal nuclear / antimatter bombardments not only effective strategically, but also a tactical means to an end. This proves to be the Arachnids' fatal weakness, which humanity and its allies successfully exploit, allowing them to win an otherwise un-winnable war. Additionally, nuclear and anti-matter weapons are standard armaments used in deep space combat between opposing fleets of spaceships.
  • In Tom Kratman's Caliphate, the US President reluctantly was pressured by the Secretary of State and Defense to use nuclear weapons on Castle Honsvang in Germany, in case Hamilton fails to destroy a hideout where three rogue US scientists are hiding to make a powerful virus bioweapon.
  • John Ringo's novel Into the Looking Glass series:
    • In the first book Earth was invaded by an alien race called the Dreen, who came through a series of wormhole like portals called Looking Glasses. At first, alien forces were repulsed with conventional weapons, but the invaders eventually deployed much more potent units that completely overwhelmed defending forces. The US president decided to order nuclear attacks on alien forces that broke past the defenders. This was highly effective as a stalling tactic until a way was discovered to close the portals the aliens were using. Several dozen such attacks were carried out over the course of the book.
    • In books after the first one, nukes are standard issue for destabilizing active Looking Glasses by detonating them on the far side when there's a threat of a Dreen incursion, to buy time for moving the Earth-side LG to a secure facility in Antarctica, away from any other human civilization.
  • The Big One is built around this trope. In this timeline, a semi-legal coup in Britain takes the British out of the war in 1940, leaving the U.S. to implement warplan AWPD-1 that envisaged a mass air assault on Germany using B-36 bombers. By 1947, the war is hopelessly stalemated and the only way the Allies can end it is to use those B-36s to destroy Germany by nuclear attack. They do. This is Truth in Television; AWPD-1 really existed.
  • In The Andromeda Strain the facility for studying extraterrestrial pathogens is built on top of a tactical nuke in case of containment breach, in which case the countdown starts automatically, and has to be shut down after they discover that the bug in question feeds on radiation.
  • A Colder War by Charles Stross. Soviet Super Science has Sealed Evil in a Can Cthulhu as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. To oppose this, the United States has nuclear-powered bombers on constant patrol, armed with XK-PLUTO. "Three hundred megatons of H-bombs pointed at a single target, and nobody was certain it would be enough to do the job." It's not enough.
  • The Hunger Games: Discussed. Both District 13 and the Capitol have nukes trained on each other, but mutually assured destruction of all humanity keeps them both at bay.
  • In Footfall, amid a hostile alien invasion, the President of the United States asks the relatively unharmed Soviet Union to nuke Kansas, the chief alien landing zone. Later on, the government in exile realizes that the abandoned Project Orion starship is the only way to get enough mass into space to challenge the alien's orbital superiority, and secretly builds an orbital battleship that propels itself using nuclear explosions, vaporizing its launch site.
  • In Rama II, the military sends aboard the mission craft nuclear explosives, and three officers who each have a code, all of which are required to trigger the bombs. The bombs are a backup plan in case the Rama ship is judged hostile. When it turns and begins to head to Earth,two of the officers deploy the bombs and enter their codes. The third, struck by pangs of conscience, deliberates. One cosmonaut had died so far due to Raman robots, and another was missing. With a third dead due to an error in a surgical robot, the crowd at home and some aboard were iffy about the intentions of the ship before it began a collision course. On the other hand the scientists who remained on board and one officer hoped and thought that the ship might not necessarily crash into Earth, perhaps diverting course at the last moment or approaching only to give a message. They feel it would be a shame to destroy a craft like this, of detailed and literally otherworldly construction, unless it was necessary and even then. Since it is an alien craft, no one knows if it is capable of acrobatic escape maneouvres which would make its approach not necessarily a threat, or conversely, if it is capable of offensives which render it unbeatable, except perhaps by a devastating surprise attack.
  • Genocidal Organ, by Project ITOH. After a terrorist nuke destroys Sarajevo, a world used to thinking of nuclear weaponry as a Pointless Doomsday Device suddenly realised it was a viable military option.
    A huge number of people died. Even so, military establishments around the world saw it as a “controlled” explosion. The casualties were confined to the target area. When politicians and generals around the world looked at the crater in the ground created by an improvised nuclear bomb, they realized that nuclear weapons might have their uses after all.
    That was why, when India and Pakistan finally pulled the nuclear trigger on each other, the rest of the world wasn’t overly concerned. It was, of course, a dreadful event, and one that shouldn’t have happened. But it was neither the end of everything nor the beginning of anything.
    The world had already experienced Sarajevo after all.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey refer to their ultimate weapon against each other as the "Nuclear Option." Years prior, they tricked Lois into thinking she had cancer by faking her x-rays (they needed to distract their parents while they signed off on their failing report cards), then kept the originals in order to blackmail the other two. If any one of them tried to push one of the brothers to the breaking point, they would reveal the original x-rays to their mother and take them all down.
  • The Stargate series loves the bomb. "Nuke it from the inside" is the go-to solution whenever an enemy ship is too powerful, and is attempted regularly, to both success and failure. One was used in the movie, a few were used in Stargate SG-1, and nukes seem to be the primary weapon of Stargate Atlantis. Their starships use nukes as standard armament.
  • Captain John "Nuke 'Em" Sheridan from Babylon 5—so nicknamed by actor Bruce Boxleitner, who portrayed him. Despite the nickname, Sheridan did not use nukes with a cavalier attitude. He's shown to use nukes four times on-screen:
    • During the Earth-Minbari war to destroy a Minbari cruiser (the Black Star; this was Earth's only victory during the war);
    • At Z'Ha'Dum, with the White Star as a delivery system, to destroy a major Shadow city on that worldnote ;
    • At Coriana VI, to get the attention of the Vorlons and Shadows;
    • And finally, during the TV movie Thirdspace to destroy the device allowing the Thirdspace Aliens into the regular universe. note 
    • Londo takes a page out of Sheridan's book in "Into the Fire"; when the Shadows refuse to remove their ships from Centauri Prime, Londo blows up the island they're based on. This was the only way to destroy them, because, as their envoy gleefully pointed out, Shadow ships were much more powerful than Centauri ones and could wipe out even their most powerful vessel in an instant... If they took off.
    • The Expanded Universe present multiple uses of nuclear weapons, both appropriate and inappropriate:
      • EarthForce is quite liberal in the use of nuclear weapons in the middle of large-scale space battles, having started arming their ships with nukes before first contact. Later they kept them because they were the only weapon they had that could compare to those of the more advanced Centauri, and by the time of the series they remain a mainstay of EarthForce arsenals as judicious use of nukes proved decisive both in a brief confrontation with the Centauri (when the long-brewing crisis went hot, the sudden and completely unexpected volley of nukes caused enough damage to the local Centauri force to allow the otherwise badly outgunned and outmatched EarthForce squadron to wipe out a base and all its escorts and convinced the Centauri emperor to settle things peacefully) and, most importantly, the Dilgar War (where well-timed and immense volleys of nukes, fired from both the Nova-class dreadnoughts and dedicated missile cruisers, caused devastating and long-term damage to the Dilgar fleets).
      • The Dilgar themselves went into space with ships armed with powerful nuclear weapons only, and used them against raiders in their first space battle. After the embarrassing defeat stemming from the raiders having interception-capable particle weapons the Dilgar abandoned nuclear missiles almost completely, reserving them for fighters to threaten large warships, combat satellites... And for Orbital Bombardment, one of the war crimes that prompt Earth Alliance to enter the war. In the latter part of the war they also put large nuclear warheads on kamikaze ships, as by that time their military situation is that bad and Earth Alliance and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds are furious due the past Dilgar war crimes and them nuking planet Mitoc until the enviroment collapsed out of spite.
      • During the Centauri-Orieni War, both sides used nuclear weapons to hit enemy ships and orbital assets and for pinpoint orbital bombardment against hardened targets away from cities... At first. Then, as the war progresses, both sides escalate (especially the Centauri, who started the war when they discovered the Orieni had replied to their overtures for peace by supporting their enemies), and various planets are devastated as collateral damage by both nukes and mass drivers. The horror at the devastation is the main reason the Centauri, after decimating the Orieni military and coming in orbit of their homeworld, impose less crippling peace terms than they could have.
  • Doctor Who
    • In "The Poison Sky", UNIT attempts to use the world's nuclear weapons to take out the Sontarans, but fails when the Sontaran mole (Clone Martha) sabotages their computer systems. In any case the Doctor notes that 'nuclear missiles wouldn't even scratch' the Sontaran ships.
    • The Osterhagen Project from the season 4 two-part finale ("The Stolen Earth/Journey's End") was a series of 25 nukes embedded in critical locations in the Earth's crust, so we could blow the planet apart if humanity's prospects were so bleak that killing the entire planet and its population was a desirable option. The nukes were amplified by alien technology in order to give them the oomph needed.
  • Nuclear weapons are used on occasion in Battlestar Galactica. The most infamous use would be the Cylon nuking of the Twelve Colonies, though that is generally portrayed as entirely inappropriate use of unprovoked force throughout the series, with many of the Cylons themselves realizing later that it was actually their (or at least their leaders') own paranoid Only Way To Be Sure in regards to the possible threat posed by humanity.
    • Nukes are also frequently used as ship-to-ship weapons in open space, a justified use. In the pilot miniseries Galactica survives one direct hit from a Cylon nuke, though several compartments have to be sealed off and many crewmen die.
  • In the original Battlestar Galactica episode "Experiment in Terra", the Galactica comes across a planet where one nation has launched nuclear weapons against another nation, which launched weapons in retaliation.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series. A Romulan commander used an "old-style" nuclear weapon against the Starship Enterprise in the episode "Balance of Terror". It did considerable damage, including radiation damage to many of the crew members.
  • In the second episode of Wynonna Earp, Wynonna asks Dolls why his Black Badge agency just doesn't tell people that the town of Purgatory is being overrun by demons. In answer, Dolls shows her a photo of a massive crater in the Arizona desert which he says is all that's left of the last town that found out about the supernatural in our world.
    Wynonna: Demons did this?
    Dolls: No. Tomahawk missile.
    • Becomes more disturbing when season 2 has Dolls discovering "Black Badge isn't a government agency. It never was." Meaning someone besides the government was responsible for basically nuking an entire town off the map and getting away with it.
  • In the season three finale of iZombie, Chase reveals to the world zombies exist and has infected thousands in Seattle. He tells the U.S. government that if they supply fresh brains, he'll make sure no zombies spread out and Seattle become a "Zombie capitol." In a classic case of Didn't Think This Through, Chase is unprepared for the government to wall Seattle off in just 72 hours and refuse anyone to enter or leave. Chase soon realizes the only thing preventing the city from being nuked (with the support of the majority of the country) is that there are still a few hundred thousand regular people inside...but even that may not hold it off too long.
    • Indeed, a later episode has Chase bringing the daughter of the general most in favor of a nuke strike into Seattle, gambling he'll balk at killing his own daughter.

  • Invoked with the "Ruiner" table in Ruiner Pinball, as avoiding nuclear war is not an option.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eclipse Phase: When the TITANS started sending out drones to saw off people's heads world governments threw not just nukes but orbital kinetics and antimatter at them. It barely slowed them down and just made earth and large parts of many other planets utterly inhospitable to transhumans. Now ten years later Firewall is all too quick to use WMDs on Exsurgent sites if the Sentinels (i.e. the players) they send in fail to destroy it with less collateral damage.
    • The adventure in the quick-start guide alone has two instances. First when the PCs are on a ship infested with a virulent nanoswarm and once they report back to Firewall a missile is launched at them. And again when they (or their backups) find a WMD cache on Mars an asteroid is redirected to flatten it unless the PCs detonate the antimatter bomb there.
    • The supplement dedicated to Firewall includes stats for antimatter grenades. The larger version vaporizes everything in a 1-km radius.
  • In the Old World of Darkness Gehenna scenario, this is the Technocracy's answer to the Ravnos Antediluvian rising. Well, OK, it was repeated applications of Prime-enhanced spirit-shredding nuclear warheads, followed by the three most powerful Kuei Jin alive throwing down on Ravnos for several days while underneath a hurricane created by their powers to block out the sunlight, followed by the Technocracy focusing the power of the sun on Ravnos five times over by using multiple redundant orbital solar mirrors, at which point — already completely exhausted of blood by his three-day kung fu vampire throwdown and having been repeatedly nuked in both his immaterial and his material body — Ravnos finally turned to ash and died.
  • In the category of Fantastic Nukes, the use of Exterminatus in Warhammer 40,000 varies between this and Nuke 'em Depending on the Writer. For every time that a fanatical Inquisitor orders the destruction of an innocent, loyal Imperial world, there are a hundred where the threat is so extreme, so vile, so insidious, or so entrenched that destroying the entire planet really is the reasoned, logical approach.
    • Also of note is the Deathstrike Missile Launcher, a mobile ICBM launcher available to the Imperial Guard for the bargain price of 160 points, or about three squads of Redshirts.
  • Shadowrun:
    • When Chicago was infested by Insect Spirits and conventional means of combating them proved to be insufficient, the area around the Insect Spirit hives was sealed and a nuclear explosive was detonated. The blast interacted strangely with a magic ward the Insect Queen had erected and sent all Insect Spirits in Chicago into a torpor.
    • Nuclear weapons are one of the few things capable of killing a dragon. But sometimes even they're not enough.

    Video Games 
  • in Fallout 4, in order to halt the Institute from bringing the terror upon Commonwealth with their synthetic humans, you must nuke the entire facility to shut down the Institute for good. The quest name is also called "Nuclear Option". Oddly enough, the other option is to join the Institute and change it by becoming the Director of the Institute itself.
  • Raccoon City is nuked in the Resident Evil series after most of the populace has been zombified, because It's the Only Way to Be Sure. Whether or not actual nukes were used, however, is the subject of much debate among fans.
    • Degeneration, the spin-off CGI movie, confirms that nuclear missiles were actually used.
    • Somewhat murky because the various games have shown the city to be hit by a nuke (or possibly a MOAB), three lower-yield nuclear missiles, and a sustained barrage of conventional Air-to-Ground missiles.
  • Halo has nukes as standard armament on human ships, though in generally small numbers. A typical human ship will have an offensive armament of a MAC cannon, ten or twenty missile pods with dozens of missiles each, and three or four nukes. Unfortunately for humanity, Covenant ship shields are strong enough to resist standard nukes; one way to get around that is by having your Spartans deliver a football-sized nuclear bomb (like a HAVOK) to the inside of a Covenant ship.
    • The last mission of Halo 4 involves you trying to blow up the Big Bad's Forerunner ship with a HAVOK.
    • According to expanded-universe data, in order to deal with the relative ineffectiveness of nukes against Covenant ships, the UNSC started using them in more esoteric ways - warheads that used nuclear-pumped x-ray lasers or created focused, relativistic jets of superheated plasma. Nukes are also used for asteroid-mining; the nuke used to blow up the Didact's flagship was explicitly called "excavation-grade".
  • In Bungie's earlier Marathon series, nukes are instead the favored weapon of the marauding aliens. The Pfhor deployed them without pause against the ancient S'pht, your colony at Tau Ceti, and against the Marathon herself. Of course, when that fails, it's time to break out the Trih'Xeems.
  • The Metal Gear series is named after and revolves around Humongous Mecha that can launch nuclear missiles, and your job is to destroy them. It also features a use of the 'Davy Crockett' hand-held nuclear missile launcher at one point.
  • The ending of Resistance 2 has the heroes attempting to use a nuke fission bomb to destroy the Chimeran fleet. It actually works as planned, but the ending implies Hale was too late to stop the Chimera's master plan, leading to a Sequel Hook.
  • The flash game Exmortis 2 has a nuke being dropped in the midst of an invading horde of demons, in the middle of the USA. It doesn't stop them at all, but it proves to everyone how truly fucked they are.
  • Midway through Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the only way to destroy the shield of the massive Leviathan Seed poisoning the planet Elysia is to assemble and drop a Chozo Theronian Thermonuclear Bomb on it, which successfully works.
  • In a much smaller scale, the Large Missiles (and later, Kojima Missiles) in Armored Core series. Kojima missiles are eerily close to real nuclear weapons.
  • In Mass Effect, salarian STG captain Kirrahe determines that re-purposing his ship's drive core as a twenty-kiloton nuke is the only way to destroy Saren's krogan cloning facility on Virmire and needs your help to make it happen.
    • And then there's "Arrival", where Shepard sets off The Project an asteroid ramship that hits an active Mass Relay, setting off an artificial supernova that kills 300,000 Batarian civilians. The disaster averted? The eponymous Arrival of the Reapers, which would have spelled doom for the entire galaxy, is pushed back a few more months, giving the Citadel races precious time to prepare. Which they don't appear to use at all leading to the near destruction of the batarians and almost everyone else.
    • The "Miracle at Palaven" is the result of a joint battle between the Turians and Krogans against the invading Reapers where the Krogans carried nuclear devices into Reaper harvesting ships and detonated them. It's noted that while this hampered the Reaper invasion considerably, all of the Turian captives were killed as a result.
  • In the StarCraft franchise, Terran military forces routinely employ tactical nuclear weapons against their opponents. Given the raw strength of Protoss forces and the sheer numbers of Zerg forces, usage of nuclear arms is completely justified for them.
    • Specifically, in Brood War, Admiral Stukov notes wryly that because Korhal was already sterilized by a Confederate scorched-earth response in the backstory to the first game, Mengsk has no compunctions about using them freely. In Heart of the Swarm, General Warfield is also pretty liberal about using his (he even remarks "time for the nuclear option" when beginning his counterattack), but then he is on Char. It's not like he can make it worse.
    • It should be no surprise that nukes are a powerful option for Terrans and commanders in co-op, but have drawbacks such as the unit firing the nuke having to paint the target for multiple dedicated seconds for it to land. For most Terran commanders in co-op, each has a powerful blast of some kind that tends to have huge cooldowns or be usable only once per situation, necessitating the player to decide when the Nuclear Option is worth using.
  • In Sword of the Stars, the first Hiver fleet that visited humanity was driven off only after Earth broke out its ICBM stockpile. In-game, your missile warhead options start at nuclear fission and go up from there.
  • The Earthling Cruisers from Star Control carry fire-and-forget homing nukes and point-defense laser systems as standard. The nukes are leftovers from a previous war, stored in underground 'Peace Vaults' for about fifty years. Worth noting that the other races of the Alliance were very pleased to see that Earthlings had a large supply of nukes lying around; most of them had dismantled their nuclear arsenals long ago, but now they were facing an enemy against whom a powerful weapon like a nuke would be quite handy.
  • Fantastic Nuke category: in the final mission of Warcraft III, Furion decides to mount a final Desperation Attack using a booby-trap on the sacred Mount Hyjal, with the elves' World Tree as bait. The massive explosion results in the destruction of thousands of night elven spirits, severe damage to the World Tree (though the epilogue narrator notes that it "will heal in time"), and the loss of their immortality, but it works.
  • Setting one is the whole plot of the first Gears of War (well, a "Lightmass bomb" rather than a nuclear bomb, but the results are similar).
  • In Xenonauts, Nuclear Option is a significant part of the back story, since this is how the Iceland Incident ended. This is also what happens if you don't deal with a terror site in time.
  • In Parasite Eve, as of Day 5 all efforts to kill Eve have been unsuccessful. The U.S. Navy attempted an airstrike on her via carrier-launched fighters but that failed when Eve melted the pilots when they got within range of her. Things got worse when she then fuses with an enormous monstrosity that is made out of the liquified genetic matter of hundreds of New York residents and infests the Statue of Liberty. It is at this point that the White House authorizes the use of a nuclear warhead to destroy Eve. It actually works: the giant monster is killed, but Eve survives the blast. However, Aya is on hand to finish the job.
  • The intro for Outpost states that a nuclear weapon was launched against the asteroid "Vulcan's Hammer", in collision course with Earth, in order to attempt to change its path (even if the animations showing it being destroyed into tiny pieces). It failed and just broke it instead in two large fragments that striked our planet.

  • In Sluggy Freelance, when the demons of the Dimension of Pain invade and conquer the USA of the Perfect Pacifist People Dimension of Lame, The European Union and Soviets decide the Godzilla Threshold has been crossed and they must use a nuke...however, in this dimension, NUKE is an acronym for Notification of Unified Kindness Envelopes, and it's just a missile containing thousands of leaflets politely asking them to stop.

    Web Original 
  • The SCP Foundation has a ten megaton nuclear warhead located under each one of their containment Sites. This is justified because if whatever they were containing got out, it'd be a Fate Worse than Death for humanity as a whole.
    • Defied in the case of SCP-682, the Hard-to-Destroy Reptile. Since it adapts and weaponizes anything used against it, they are extremely reluctant to throw a nuke at it, for fear of what it could become if it survived (and all evidence says that it would survive).
    Notes: One would think that putting SCP-682 in the epicenter of an explosion that can cause third-degree burns at a distance of 300 km is a good idea, but as long as there are odds of survival we simply cannot go through with it. Yes, it's a goddamn nuke, but if 682 survives and adapts we'd be boned beyond belief. O5-█
    • SCP 1178 is itself a Soviet nuclear ballistic missile that causes the early detection systems of the US and Russia to think there is a nuclear strike from the other side unless it is fed fake reports of the complete nuclear destruction of the world. SCP-1276 is a talking copy of the Fat-Man that is suicidal and has to be talked out of exploding. No one in the Foundation is knows if 1276 could cause a nuclear detonation, but they aren't exactly keen to find out.
  • In We're Alive after grown-up "Little Ones" reach Boulder. Col. Kimmet decides to activate the nuclear fail-safe beneath the city.
  • Equipping a couple of unmanned space warships with nuclear warheads and concealing those within a Zerg Rush of identical-looking drone spacecraft turns out to be a terrifically effective strategy in Chrysalis. So much so, the Terran — the last remaining human consciousness — continues to use it in his war against a highly advanced alien civilization even after he reverse engineers more advanced alien technology.
  • In Magic, Metahumans, Martians and Mushroom Clouds: An Alternate Cold War, a nuclear strike on Phnom Penh is used to kill Saloth Sar (Pol Pot, who never changed his name in this timeline) and thereby prevent him from completing his apotheosis ritual. It's never clarified whether it was the Americans or Soviets who did this, with both denying it.

    Western Animation 
  • Discussed and prevented in the Justice League pilot. Superman got the UN to let him dismantle all the world's nukes... only for the Earth to be immediately invaded by aliens after humans no longer had a Nuclear Option. Toward the end of the pilot, it turns out the main supporter for the disarmament option was one of the invaders in disguise). Later episodes had nuclear weapons, so most likely they rebuilt the arsenals in case more alien invasions come.

    Real Life 
  • President Truman chose to utilize the Nuclear Option in the Air Force's de-urbanisation campaign before using it in the Allied campaign to occupy the Japanese home islands (first phase November 1945, Operation Olympic, part of the larger Operation Downfall). If all it did was start firestorms that would raze two of the four marginally important cities that it had proven impossible to set afire like the other 82 (87 including those four plus Kyoto, but Kyoto was taken off the list), at the cost of just four flights' worth of fuel and a few dozen men's wages instead of the fuel and bombs and pay for many thousands of planes and men, then that was an obvious saving - the USA would have as many bombs as it needed by November, so why not use these two now? But if the bombings convinced the Japanese that the USA was producing so many nuclear weapons that it could afford to waste two of these incredibly expensive superbombs on razing two cities of very marginal military value (given the virtual shutdown of the entire Japanese economy) and have enough to spare for the invasion, then that might convince the Japanese to surrender before the guaranteed-to-succeed-at-minimal-cost invasion even began. It worked: all Japanese estimates of American A-Bomb productivity concurred that they would at least have the handful necessary to catastrophically undermine command-and-control of Japanese forces attempting to repel the American invasion, and some speculated (because their own programme was not sufficiently advanced to gauge this effectively) that the Americans might have many dozens or even hundreds of weapons within the next few months or even at that very moment.
  • Hypothetically, an option that might be considered to destroy an asteroid if it were about to strike the earth. However it's not considered a very good option except for fairly small ones, a large one might be broken into several large pieces that might collectively be more dangerous than the intact asteroid, as not only are there now several asteroid fragments, but now they're radioactive, too. There are proposals to mitigate this risk by detonating the nuke far enough away that it doesn't break the asteroid apart, but the blast pushes the asteroid enough to alter its orbit.
  • Colonel Stanislav Petrov very nearly came to this conclusion in late 1983, when he saw what looked like 5 ICBMs inbound to Moscow while on duty at an early-warning center. Fortunately, he was mistrustful of the newly-installed system (which was malfunctioning — the satellites had picked up a rare reflection at just the right angle over the right portion of the US to spoof the IR signatures of launching ICBMs), and rational enough to realize that launching only five warheads as a first strike was suicidally foolish; otherwise, he might have deemed it a US first strike and would have alerted his superiors in the Soviet Union (at that point absolutely paranoid that the US was imminently planning such a sneak attack) who would have ordered a "counter" strike against the "attack"... the upshot of which is that we probably would be too busy being radioactive dust or having never been born to be reading TV Tropes right here and now. Petrov himself was neither punished nor rewarded for the incident. Though he found himself Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee, it was concluded that he had acted properly and sensibly in the situation, but since the incident demonstrated several technical problems with the early warning system, and therefore was an embarrassment to his superiors and the influential scientists who were responsible for it, Petrov was ultimately just quietly transferred to a less important post and his story was not told until after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    • Less reassuring still has been the recent revelation that at that time some US military planners were advocating a multi-weapon "decapitation" strike upon the Soviet Union (though their proposals were rejected). If Soviet spies had been better at their jobs, then news of these proposals would have reached Soviet early-warning center staff members - and the odds off us being here to read this would have been even slimmer.
  • In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks George W. Bush was presented such an option to launch a nuclear attack on who was responsible. Whatever else can be said about that man, he turned it down.


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