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Nuclear Weapons Taboo

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"Ever since America dropped the atomic bomb on them, Japan has used every single piece of media possible to attempt to guilt them over it. Nearly a century later results have thus far been... mixed."
Sawyer Wallace

The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed an estimated 110,000-120,000 people and established that Nuclear Weapons were in the same category as chemical weapons (used in World War I) and biological weapons (tested by the Japanese on POWs and Chinese civilians in World War II). Within just a few years of the bombings, media coverage of them resulted in what Nina Tannenwald has dubbed The Nuclear Taboo (2007): a reluctance to use nuclear weapons, regardless of the practical benefits, because it makes the user look evil. After all, there is no denying that biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons kill people in a number of horrible ways — and that they are usually ranked in that order of horribleness.

On one hand, the aversion to nuclear weapons in Japan is understandable given the mark they made on their history. That said, the apparent fixation on the bombing tends to come across as blatant efforts to not only deflect from the fact that Imperial Japan had been the aggressor, but to also deflect from their extensive war crimes and associated atrocities in Asia and the Pacific such as the aforementioned bioweapon testing, with the total amount of victims from these atrocities being estimated at least a dozen million.note  Not helping matters is that outside of the most directly affected countries such as China, Taiwan, the two Koreas, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, the world public has generally been left in the dark about these atrocities because the West's need for a Far East ally in the Cold War ultimately has enabled numerous attempts to white-wash Japan's role and conduct in the Pacific War. To add insult to injury, even many (though not a majority) Westerners who are aware of Imperial Japan's atrocities falsely see the atomic bombings as morally equivalent.note  Needless to say, any apologia for Imperial Japan's atrocities is typically not well-received by countries whom were victims of said atrocities, to say nothing of the former Allied POWs and their relatives and descendants.

Accordingly, any time a series needs a powerful Forgotten Superweapon, rather than an actual nuclear weapon (even if those are available) a bit of Applied Phlebotinum will be introduced that has the destructive effects of a nuclear weapon but a different name. Great pains will frequently be taken to stress that these aren't actual nuclear weapons, even if they can level whole cities and/or destroy the world.

Any series that does decide to use nuclear weapons will usually portray them as A Bad Thing that must be avoided (or destroyed) at all costs, and only used by the evilest of villains or the most desperate of "good" guys and often in the latter case is to no effect to demonstrate that whatever being faced isn't something you can just throw nukes at until it goes away. This taboo is even stronger in Japanese works, where the Three Non-Nuclear Principles are generally portrayed as being upheld long into the future in all but the most pessimistic of stories.

So far, this is Truth in Television. No nuclear weapons have been used in armed conflict since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Two small direct wars (USSR vs China during the Sino-Soviet split and India vs Pakistan during the Kargil War) and several more proxy wars have been fought between nuclear powers without nuclear deployments taking place, though NATO doctrine for a hypothetical land war in Europe mandated the use of battlefield ['tactical'] nuclear weapons (as did Soviet doctrine in the early-late 1960s).

Contrast our modern attitude about nuclear weapons to fiction of the pre-war eras in which devastating super-weapons were romanticized to the point of being able to end all war forever. For example, Alfred Nobel believed that if such a tremendously powerful weapon could be devised, the potential war casualties would become so high when compared to any possible gains that nations of the world would abandon warfare altogether. First this super-weapon was said to be the machine gun,note  then bomber aircraft, and when atomic bombs appeared at the end of the Second World War, military and political leaders considered them to be simply big bombs. Strategically useful yes (one plane could now do the work of hundreds), but not inherently different than any other munition. Then came the hydrogen bomb, aka thermonuclear weapons, a weapon even more powerful. For comparison, atomic bombs tend to be limited to kilotons, while hydrogen bombs are measured in megatons; hundreds of times more powerful (see also: Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure). This combined with advances in rocket delivery systems finally made it feasible for man to actually destroy civilization.note  To an extent, those former dreams were at last realized: the threat of nuclear war has helped keep the major powers at peace for 70 years. We finally created a weapon we are actually too scared to use. Unfortunately this hasn't ended war altogether, but wars of the most devastating type seen in the 20th century haven't been seen since.

If there is a weapon treated in a similar manner to nuclear ones but isn't referred to as such not because of censorship, but because it doesn't make sense in that setting, it's a Fantastic Nuke. Almost any series involving a Wave-Motion Gun involves this.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • N2 (Non-Nuclear) mines in Neon Genesis Evangelion are an In-Universe example, although they have a much smaller radius of effect than actual nukes. And the lack of radioactive fallout would be quite useful when they have to be deployed inside Tokyo-3.
    • Jet Alone is an alternative anti-Angel weapon project: a large remotely controlled armed robot that uses a nuclear reactor as a power source, which is treated by Dr. Akagi as a major liability. So while Jet Alone isn't a nuclear weapon in the classic sense, it is a nuclear-powered weapon. The taboo comes into play when NERV sabotages Jet Alone's first public demonstration, causing it to go haywire and charge haphazardly towards Old Tokyo, ignoring commands to reestablish remote control, all while its reactor threatens to catastrophically melt down. Fortunately Shinji and Misato avert a potential tragedy.
  • Vegatron bombs from UFO Robo Grendizer (one of the Mazinger Z sequels): It is explicitly stated they are radioactive, they are able to easily obliterate whole cities, the explosion forms a mushroom cloud, and they leave the land polluted with radioactivity. But no, they are not nukes. They are vegatron bombs.
  • "Reaction weaponry" in Macross needs official permission from the highest commanding officer within a colony before they can be launched. In later series, they are replaced by "Fold weapons", which are even more powerful (being capable of planetary-level destruction), as they operate by distorting space-time itself.
    • Word of God has it that Reaction weapons were intended to be nuclear,note  at least in the earlier series, but that explicitly showing the good guys using nukes was a no-no at the time. So they've made it antimatter warheads (see above) instead. The irony here is that these are theoretically more destructive than nukes, and would emit even more deadly gamma radiation than nukes as well.
    • It's notable that while Reaction weaponry is tremendously powerful, and capable of rending apart Zentradi warships, that this is NOT particularly powerful by Zentradi standards: in the second episode of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, they manage to initiate a long range bombardment of a specific city on a specific planet with extreme accuracy from the distance of the lunar orbit with little problem, and later in the show a Zentradi fleet reduces an inhabited planet's surface to glass without actually using the forbidden Reaction weaponry. However, the big deal about reaction weaponry is that they're small enough that they can be easily carried even by small fighters.
    • Macross Dynamite 7 actually shows an honest to goodness tactical nuclear weapon (complete with the nuclear hazard symbol) being used. But it's okay since it's the badguys using it.
    • Macross Zero also features missiles that are explicitly identified as nuclear; while they are used by the good guys, their use is not treated as a good thing.
    • Macross Ultimate Frontier displays the name of the target you're locked on in English (Britai's official Romanized name is apparently Vrlitwhai). The "reaction missiles" from the last mission of the Dynamite 7 campaign are called "Nuclear Missiles" in-game.
    • In the Robotech adaptation/translation, these weapons are rendered as "Reflex weaponry." It sounds like they're hitting the enemy with a giant rubber mallet right below its knee.
    • Generally speaking, Reaction and Reflex weaponry are always treated as a Godzilla Threshold, to be used only when anything less devastating has failed:
      • In the original series, reaction weapons were deployed in the opening battle due the sudden alien invasion and the belief the Zentraedi were going to try and wipe out humanity. As it became clear the Zentraedi had no such intention, reaction weapons were shelved... Right until the moment the main Zentraedi fleet decided to do just that, at which point reaction weapons were once again used. A final use is made in the capture of the Factory Satellite, as success would mean crippling the surviving Zentraedi and boosting Earth's production abilities a thousandfold at once.
      • In Macross 7, reaction weapons are used when the sheer scale of the threat posed by the Protodeviln is finally understood. In the first use, the two Protodeviln who show up get disintegrated by a volley of reaction weapons... And then, to everyone's horror, simply regenerate, forcing the research of alternative solutions.
      • In Macross Zero the nuclear/reaction weapons are deployed against the Bird Human that, having bond with a grieving Sarah Nome, has decided to just bomb humanity back into stone age and attacks with conventional weapons have proven to be ineffective against its Deflector Shield-hence the decision to deploy a Destroid Monster with reaction weapons before the thing could get to a densely populated area, fully knowing that everyone would be killed either by the blast or by falling a few kilometers once the Bird Human could not continue levitating the seagoing ships that were trying to oppose it. Then Shin Kudo manages to calm down Sarah, who stops the Bird Human... Too late to inform the commander he must stop the Monster, that comes out and fires its weapons less than a minute later. Sarah has the Bird Human use its shield to contain the blast, being heavily damaged in the process but still able to deposit the ships gently, and then brings it away from Earth.
      • In Macross Frontier reaction weapons are deployed when the Vajra have adapted to the normal weapons, in a desperate move to just gain time to develop Vajra-specific weapons. Reaction weapons are devastating in the first use, but the second time are pretty much ineffective due them having already adapted.
      • In Macross Delta reaction weapons are authorized for use against the Windermereans after it's realized they can brainwash their opponents. Once that problem is solved reaction weapons are shelved, as without that the Windermereans are far less effective-and indeed the last episodes see them suffering repeated defeats anywhere they don't have their aces, and at the hands not of the NUNS main forces but an underequipped local militia.
      • In Robotech reflex weapons are first used in the opening and final battles of the First Robotech War and the capture of the Robotech Factory Satellite, the same as Macross' three uses. They're later used in the Second Robotech War, first in the opening battle in a completely unauthorized use (the Robotech Masters and the Army of the Southern Cross were posturing before opening negotiations when an ASC officer lost his cool and fired a volley against one of the Masters' motherships) causing massive damage to its target, and then are fired in large volleys to try and overcome the Masters' shields (the first time they had been effective because the Masters, being posturing but not really willing to start a shooting war, had kept the shields down to not escalate), not always with good results because the Masters' shields were just that tough. They're also fired with abandon in the Third Robotech War, as the best way to counter the Invid's swarm tactics is to take out their carriers before they can launch and the Invid's sheer numbers make the use of any and all weapons to destroy their carriers early an absolute necessity.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato, a war between humans and the Gamilas saw the alien race dropping Meteor bombs on Earth and letting radiation kill everything. Eventually, the humans build the Yamato, which is outfitted with the Wave-Motion Gun. It is so incredibly destructive, however, that Admiral Ozuka will only sanction its use in emergencies, even though the Wave Motion Gun could easily wipe Gamilas from the face of the galaxy.
  • Late in The Vision of Escaflowne, a nuclear-like non-nuke is used during wartime to wipe out the opposing army.
  • AKIRA leveled Tokyo as a trigger to World War III with "a new type of bomb," which turned out to be a psychic blast from the title character. Also subverted; in the manga, a nuclear weapon is used, and they make a big deal out of it.
  • In the Giant Robo OVAs, the shameful secret of Giant Robo wasn't that it was a massive engine of destruction commanded by the will of a twelve-year-old boy, but that it was powered by a nuclear reactor.
  • The backstory of Dai-Guard involves an "O.E. bomb" being used to destroy the original Heterodyne. There's plenty of angst in the series itself about when or whether the military should use one again.
  • The "Jignix" bomb in MD Geist: Death Force.
  • Psychic Squad appears to have a nuclear everything taboo, instead having "Neo-Clear" power plants. Which the Big Bad promptly steals nuclear Neo-Clear fuel from and sells it to the "Al Lugia Liberation Front" to make bombs. I wish I was making this up.
    • Despite all this it appears that lazy naming aside, Neo-Clear is actually something different as no fallout or even much damage results from one of the bombs. Though that may be to do with the Major containing the blast as he saw a local girl who bore a striking resemblance to Kaoru about to be caught in it. Needless to say, this annoyed him, resulting in the messy deaths of the terrorists.
  • In Fate's As You Know speech in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS on the dangers and eventual banning of mass-based physical weapons, we are shown scenes of the various world destroying weaponry that were used before the Time-Space Administration Bureau era. One of these looked suspiciously liked nuclear missiles that left behind mushroom clouds and much devastation.
    • Incidentally, based on the timeline, the start of the Time-Space Administration era, marked by the banning of mass-based physical weapons in favor of Magitek, takes place at around 1941, the year when Japan provoked America into joining World War 2. Coincidence?
  • The violence showing the aftermath of nuclear war and message that nuclear weapons are bad is one of the reasons why Future War 198X is extremely hard to find.
  • In Heat Guy J most of the world's population has been destroyed after they appropriated the technology of the resident Superior Species. Originally, it was used for peaceful purposes (e.g. energy production), but people started wars using this Applied Phlebotinum. The survivors stopped trusting each other and closed themselves into seven city states, and the Celestials closely monitor any peaceful use of their technology. It's never stated what it is exactly, but it does sound an awful lot like nuclear power.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers manages to be about anthropomorphic countries, set partly during World War II, with the personifications of America and Japan as main characters, and still never mention nuclear weapons. Partly because the WWII part of the story never gets to that point (it's more or less abandoned by now), and partly because the series avoids showing the Darker and Edgier parts of history.
    • This is the same anime that managed to condense the entire Cold War into a condom joke that took less than two minutes. Yeah.
  • The ancient warriors from Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind certainly count.
  • The A-bomb is central to the plot of Night Raid 1931 but it's only ever called "new type of bomb." It makes sense: most characters don't know anything more about it, and those who know don't call it by name.
  • Hunter ◊ Hunter has the Miniature Rose, which instead of producing a mushroom cloud, produces a rose cloud. Furthermore, it also produces radiation (called Rose Poison). But of course, it's not a nuclear bomb, no. One of the few examples where such weapon is used for kind of good reason.
  • Warships in Legend of the Galactic Heroes carry nuclear weapons, which makes it appear to avert this trope. However, the usage of nuclear weapons are limited to specific conditions in spacenote , and there is a taboo placed on using them on inhabited planets after a nuclear apocalypse in the backstory almost wiped out the human race.
  • The "outer-shell bomb" in The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
  • A major plot point in Terror in Resonance: the series begins with the theft of a plutonium core from a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. It's eventually revealed it was not plutonium that was stolen, but a completed miniature nuclear bomb built by the Japanese government in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
  • Averted in Doraemon. The titular robot cat holds a gadget called Bomb of Mass Destruction (called Earth-Destroying Bomb in Japanese), which looks similar to Little Boy. Amazingly, the bomb is Played for Laughs (something understandably rare for Japanese works), as in one instance Doraemon decides to use it upon being scared by a mouse.
  • Dairugger XV, in its third episode, has the Galveston Empire attack the surface of a planet with "photon missiles." Given their blast radii, these were almost certainly intended to be nukes.
  • Gundam has an interesting history with trope.
    • Nuclear weapons do exist in most continuities, but their use tends to be limited by Nuclear Nullifiers and Fictional Geneva Conventions. Inevitably, some sides violate the latter, but are usually thwarted with far fewer civilian casualties than Colony Drops or gassing. We also see nuclear weapons used for things besides bombing populated area; Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack has opposing sides using nuclear bombs/missile to send an asteroid toward the Earth or to break it apart.
    • Averted in ∀ Gundam. Eventually the quest for Lost Technology on an After the End Earth turns up a bunch of nuclear warheads. The terror of the discovery is milked for all its worth; the bombs' animation and sound effects are ominous and the terror of the Moonrace characters is contrasted with the Earthers who just think it's a desirably powerful bomb. Thanks to their being in an uninhabited area, only two lives are lost when they detonate—however, the mushroom cloud is paired with the "midnight sunrise" of the episode title, which is seen for many miles. The enormous crater and the effects of radioactive fallout are discussed, and the incident represents a major change in attitude for several main characters. It also recasts the plot from a conflict over territory rights to an existential threat to humanity's continued survival, and it becomes clear just how Earth was reduced to its After the End state in the first place.
  • Averted in Arachnid. A magical ageless little girl brainwashed Hideki Tojo to wage war and upon losing World War II arranged the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the United States so that she could lose in such a spectacular way the Allied Forces would feel inferior. Also, in the prequel Caterpillar, Osamu Tezuka explodes once his nuclear reactor is damaged, wiping out the Ageha cruise ship and with it several V.I.P.s who were a thorn on the Organization's side.
  • The apocalypse preceding Future Boy Conan was caused by "geomagnetic" weapons described by the Opening Narration as even worse than "their nuclear predecessors". They damaged the Earth's tectonic plates, causing vastly risen sea levels and earthquakes, but no radioactive fallout.

    Fan Works 
  • A History of Magic: The reason this trope exists in this 'verse is because Sadako Sasaki, one of the victims of Hiroshima, Wished for it. Kyubey is shocked that she would wish for that rather than to be cured of her leukemia, but Sadako decides having the taboo is worth her Heroic Sacrifice. It's notably one of the few times Kyubey shows actual remorse for his actions.
    "But if I can wish for anything in the worldÖI can't just use it for me, I daren't...Maybe there are bad people who hurt others without caring, and it might be right to fight them. I'm just a little girl, and I'm not very smart. But for Granny to die, or children and parents to suffer with no hope...I know that nothing could ever, ever make that right."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The first Godzilla movie, Godzilla (1954), is a parable about nuclear weapons, with Godzilla having been created by US nuclear tests (a fact left out of the version of the film that was re-edited for U.S. release). Said parable is almost entirely lost in the sequels.
    • The Return of Godzilla is the big exception. The movie is about Cold War tensions, and even has a Russian nuclear bomb dropped on Tokyo in an attempt to kill Godzilla. Naturally, it goes very poorly, and actually revives the monster after a special Japanese aircraft had successfully knocked him down. Apparently, Japan was pretty fed up with having to tap-dance between the two nuclear superpowers.
    • Godzilla (2014), being a reboot which intentionally goes back to themes and tone of the first film, does not shy away from the character's origins. Godzilla was accidentally awakened by a nuclear submarine in the 1950s and Operation Bravo was actually attempts to kill him. Later, the US military uses active nukes to try and lure the monsters together so they can wiped out together in the explosion, but it goes wrong when one of the MUTOs steals one of the weapons and plants it in the middle of downtown San Francisco. The lead scientist (who is Japanese) even objects to the use of nukes by referring to the fact he and his father were survivors of Hiroshima's destruction.
    • Shin Godzilla is another major aversion, being heavily inspired by the events of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Godzilla was created by illegally dumped nuclear waste and this fact was covered up until it was too late. The second half of the film revolves around members of the Japanese government trying to find anything to kill or neutralize Godzilla before the UN enacts their own plan: dropping a nuke on him and hope it's enough. Understandably, nobody is happy with this idea, but the possibility of Godzilla soon becoming a global menace is enough to justify the destruction of Tokyo.
  • The Soviet director Leonid Gaidai exploited this trope as a way to save his comedy The Diamond Arm from censorship. The film included controversial (by Soviet standards) scenes, such as a striptease, the protagonist's drunken debauche and an anti-Semitic remark by a rather unpleasant Soviet bureaucrat. Before showing the film to the censors Gaidai inserted the footage of a nuclear explosion into the epilogue. The censors, in a state of shock, allowed Gaidai to leave most of the film intact, on the condition that he cut out the nuke and the anti-Semitic remark. The Diamond Arm is now a cult film in Russia.
  • Hulk. The US military uses gamma bombs as an alternative to nuclear weapons detonated inside the United States.
  • The disaster film Sinking of Japan original intended to have nuclear weapons but it was changed at the protest of Tokyo Broadcasting System.

  • Douglas Adams's "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe": The most horrible weapons ever invented, including nuclear and all kinds of engineered gasses and viruses, are perfectly safe compared to a politician willing to use them.
  • Adventure Hunters: War golems so horrified humanity that they were decomissioned soon after they were created. Centuries later, when the story takes place, most people don't believe weapons of such power ever existed and think of them as a myth. Those that know the truth encourage this mindset. The punishment for using them is life imprisoned in The Alcatraz.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Hell-Fire (1956)": The story is an Author Tract against the use of nuclear weapons, showing that all thermonuclear weapons are Made of Evil and powered by hell.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune: In at least the early novels of the series, it is implied that most or all of the noble "Great Houses" have nuclear weapons (the "house atomics") but that the Great Convention which binds the houses together expressly forbids any house from using their atomics against another. Houses that do apply those weapons directly are usually cast out, losing their fief and becoming a renegade house. Of course, late in the first book, Paul Atreides indirectly uses the recovered Atreides family atomics against the Harkonnens and Corrinos when he blasts a hole through the stone Shield Wall near their landing site to allow sandworm riding Fremen fighters through to start a battle. He justifies this in that the prohibition only forbids using the nukes against human targets, and he only used it to level a portion of a mountain. In the second book, Paul himself, along with many of his soldiers and associates, was a victim of a nuclear weapons attack which left him blinded.
  • The New Humans: Enforced by the Flying Man sabotaging all the world's nuclear weapons before the story's start.
  • Sentou Yousei Yukikaze: In a major aversion of this trope for a Japanese-produced work, the first novel reveals that Japan has nukes. On Faery, both the FAF & the JAM use nuclear missiles in their battles against each other. What makes it such an aversion is that the series does not make any kind of moral judgment on the use of nukes, only considering them in terms of their battlefield effectiveness.

    Live-Action TV 
  • There's a very odd Retcon example in the Doctor Who story "Genesis of the Daleks". In the previous Dalek stories, it had been repeatedly stated that the mutations that led to the Daleks were the result of a nuclear war on the planet Skaro. In the definitive origin story "Genesis", however, the word "nuclear" was never used and all the usual effects depicted in the story that one would associate with nuclear weapons (mutation, explosives that kill the slaves forced to handle them within a few days, massive destruction) were ascribed to mysterious "chemicals". It almost looks as if there was censorious Executive Meddling. The vast majority of fans, and subsequent canon writers, keep "Genesis" as the definitive origin but tacitly replace all references to "chemicals" with "nuclear" or "radioactivity" again.
  • It's never stated outright, but it's pretty damn obvious that the Killer Robots used nukes to wipe out most of humanity before Power Rangers RPM started proper. Ziggy mentions to Dillon how the ambient radiation interferes with both his compass and radio frequencies in their first meeting ("The Road to Corinth"), and later an orphanage consisting entirely of cancer patients is mentioned several times.
  • Inverted in Battlestar Galactica (2003). The entire show was based on dosing the audience with a September 11 reaction to watching nukes ruin every main character's day throughout the series. The pilot shows a whole planet being nuked from orbit. Justified, of course, since there's a war going on. While the Cylons have the majority of nukes throughout the series, the Colonials used a few themselves. One, to destroy a Resurrection Ship that kept humanoid Cylons from staying dead, and another inside an ancient baseship in the special episode, "Razor." Oh, and there was the matter of finding an Earth obliterated by nuclear war, and soon after, using several Colonial nuclear missiles aiding to destroy a Cylon stronghold in the final episode, "Exodus." You might as well have given the show a new title: Nuke 'Em: The Series. It appears that the Japanese themselves have not only enjoyed the American-based show, but also produced and watched comics and video games based on the series.
  • Also inverted in Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis where the USAF makes use of nuclear weapons in several episodes of each.

  • Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's song "Cruise" from his solo album About Face is a sarcastic "tribute" to nuclear missiles:
    Cruise, we're both traveling so far
    Burning out fast like a shooting star
    Cruise, I feel sure that your song will be sung
    And will ring in the ears of everyone

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech the Ares Conventions forbid the use of nuclear weapons within 75,000 km of an inhabited planet. Chemical and biological weapons, or Orbital Bombardment of civilians, are similarly verboten.
    • And then the Jihad happened...
    • The Word of Blake, who committed said jihad, proceeded to get pounded into the ground during Operation SCOUR, by the combined might of most of the Inner Sphere. In all, using nukes in the battletech universe is a great way to get everyone else to stop shooting at each other and start shooting at YOU.
  • In Traveller nukes are restricted to the Imperial Navy. And if anyone not belonging to the Imperial Navy decides to use or even possess them, well, The Imperial Navy has nukes. Make of that what you will.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 nuclear technology is known to be used by the Imperium of Man (the Death World of Krieg looks like the trenches of WWI due to a half-millenia of nuclear war), it sees little use in the game except for Rad weapons, and even then those are used for radioactive fallout rather than sheer destructive force. Partly justified in the setting when there are FAR more powerful and destructive weapons used on a routine basis with barely special status given to them.
    • Though in the Rogue Trader, it's possible to buy WMD nuclear weapons, these are known as Atomics (similar to Dune) and yeah they occupy a niche of being powerful enough to take down any conventional enemy in a large area, but not to the point of destroying the planet.
  • In Twilight Struggle, if DEFCON falls to 1, indicating that the Cold War has gone hot, the game is over and whoever started the chain of events that led to it loses. It doesn't matter if the other player's actions were responsible for dropping DEFCON - if nuclear war happens on your watch, the end of civilization is your fault.

    Video Games 
  • In the Metal Gear franchise, the ability of the Metal Gear machines to launch nuclear weapons is basically the reason they are "bad," though they at least expand upon this in the games to make a reason for this—they use a large railgun to fire warheads as sub-orbital artillery, which means that, since the warheads were not ever technically part of a nuclear missile package, they don't violate several otherwise applicable treaties: "Loophole nukes" of a sort. Also, since these weapons can't be detected the way normal nukes are,note  which completely destroys the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction; any country with a REX derivative can launch a nuke at another country and be guaranteed that there will be no retaliatory strike, because there's no way to determine where it came from or that it's even happening until the nuke hits. And if you have an entire squadron of the things to launch the attack simultaneously...
    • Also, the Proto Metal Gears all had the advantage of being easier for Third World Countries to have Nuclear capability of their own. The greatest danger was that every Non-Superpower Country having such power would completely mess up global politics. Especially since they were willing to sell them to terrorists or "Freedom Fighters" if the price was right. Now imagine a world where every Osama Bin Laden, Pol Pot, or Right-Wing Militia Fanatic had their own Walking Nuclear Death Mobiles and you can understand why the concept of a Proto Metal Gear scared the shit out of the First World militaries.
    • Plus, the eponymous Peace Walker was essentially a nuclear platform programmed to launch even with false data, removing human decision making from launching and even preventing any practical counterattacks since its mobility allowed it to move quickly and avoid nukes, making it a truly terrifying weapon if attacked.
    • Metal Gear RAY was an exception, being the only Metal Gear with no nuclear launch capability. It was envisioned as an "Anti-Metal Gear" weapon that could counter the threat of other Metal Gears.
    • This factors into the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which has a Karma Meter in the form of Heroism and Demon scores. Building nuclear weapons causes a sharp decrease to your Heroism score and an equal increase to your Demon score, while disarming nuclear weapons increases Heroism while decreasing your Demon score. A hidden cutscene is also rewarded in the event that all players in the game's asynchronous multiplayer component disarm every nuke between them.
  • In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, at the end, Raccoon City is destroyed in a huge flash of light that, to all appearances, would seem to be a nuclear explosion. In an interview made soon after the game's release, the game's writer, Yasuhisa Kawamura, claims that the bomb was a top secret thermobaric weapon instead of a nuke. However, in a later game, it's established that it was just hit by a whole bunch of conventional missiles at once. Note that in the real world, conventional explosions, no matter how large, do not give off the bright flash that is typical of nuclear detonations.
  • Inverted in Mass Effect 2, which features the M-920 Cain, a heavy weapon which produces archetypical mushroom clouds by firing high explosive slugs and nicknamed the "Nuke Launcher," despite not using any nuclear reactions.
    • There's also a scene in Mass Effect 2 that points out that if you fling something really heavy at a target at a respectable fraction of the speed of light you don't really need nukes, because the amount of kinetic energy involved will equal a Hiroshima city buster.
  • Some language versions of World in Conflict call the tactical nuke that can be used in multiplayer a "BFB." Big Friggin Bomb? However, it's pretty obvious what it is a nuke, and the campaign plot doesn't attempt to hide it. However, they are only used as a last resort in the campaign, while it can be used with impunity in multiplayer given enough points. Not to mention that you get a medal for launching lots of nukes...
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin refers to Nemesis missiles (Climax in the European version) that were installed in both main countries by the IDS. They share a lot of similarity with the Cold War nukes the US and USSR were amassing, and might be in fact nukes, but the game leaves that open to interpretation, as they never launch.
  • Subverted in the first Shin Megami Tensei game. Not only are nukes referred to all the time, but partway through the game, a nuke gets dropped on Tokyo by the American ambassador who is really working for God, and the next parts of the game are 30 years later in the ruins.
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV brings up nukes again. 25 years prior to the beginning of the game, the Angels order a nuclear attack on Tokyo, but Masakado creates the Firmanent to save Tokyo. You later go into two Alternate Timelines to witness what would've happened if the Firmament hadn't been raised up: Either the Angels and nukes are destroyed, but Tokyo is rendered an infernal Might Makes Right society, or Tokyo gets nuked to the ground and the remaining survivors hole up in a shelter in Shinjuku for protection.
  • The Japanese release of Fallout 3 had the entire questline related to detonating the nuclear weapon at Megaton removed. This also removes the Tenpenny Towers quests that open up in relation to it. The Fat Man launcher was renamed "Nuka Launcher" (Perhaps trying to connect more towards the fictional in game soft drink Nuka-Cola), though this one should have been obvious considering that the name "Fat Man" comes from the bomb dropped on Nagasaki...
    • Ironically, the lightweight parts kit for the Fat Man in Fallout: New Vegas still retains its original name of "Fat Man Little Boy kit" in the Japanese release of that game.
  • Became Hilarious in Hindsight in Fallout 4 where it is revealed that the CEO of Nuka-Cola Corporation, John-Caleb Bradberton, was preserved against his will due to a botched dealing with the US Army to provide a prototype weapon design AND formula for the newest product line Nuka-Cola Quantum. Said prototype weapon was called the Nuka-nuke launcher and it fires specialized rounds that mixes mini nuke with the aforementioned beverage.
  • Used... differently in Singularity: There exist nuclear bombs, but the real focus is on an E-99 bomb that is a little bigger than a basketball and can turn the whole East Coast of your United States into a smoldering crater. Then there's the eponymous Singularity.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars' German translation made aurora bombs out of the nuclear bombs because depicting weapons of mass destruction in computer games would lead to an X-rating of same game. There was a Kane edition which still had nuclear bombs (and suicide bombers) and was sold only to adults.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 removed nuclear weapons from the game through a plot device while its predecessors used them amply. This no doubt had to do with the addition of a Japanese faction and someone rightly figuring that creating a game that you won by dropping a nuclear weapon on the Japanese might make someone mad.
    • The Soviet superweapon is still an ICBM-delivered WMD, however.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 half-managed this by having the US's nuclear stockpile destroyed in their silos during the introduction, and presumably none of the other Allies have any either. Nuclear warheads are a Soviet-exclusive superweapon, their answer to the Allies' Weather Control Device.
    • Command & Conquer: Generals: Averted, the Chinese army is all too happy to use nuclear power, whether to power their buildings, their tanks, or just fire nuclear missiles. Their second artillery vehicle also lobs nuclear shells. One campaign level even has a rogue general join the GLA and fire a nuke at American troops (China having authorized the Americans to take out the rogue), while another has China give GLA turncoats nukes (which are reclaimed by the player's GLA and used to kill the traitors). The Expansion Pack features a Chinese General whose preference is nuclear weapons. His tanks use enriched Uranium shells, he has better (if more expensive) nuclear reactors and always has the Nuke Cannon (aforementioned artillery vehicle). Fittingly, his base is located near a deserted town (which even sports 2 of the stolen nuclear trucks that can be captured if the player is very smart) and radiation puddles are everywhere.
  • The original Ace Combat setting, Strangereal, is supposed to be an alternate universe of our Earth with approximately equal level of technological advancement. However, the only nation that apparently has ever developed its own nukes is Belka (essentially an alternate Nazi Germany) and even then their warheads counted in single digits, not the thousands that world powers possess in Real Life today. For this reason, Strangereal's two superpowers Osea and Yuktobanian (counterparts of the US and Soviet Union) could duke it out in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War in what would have basically become World War III in our world, without risking a nuclear apocalypse. In fact, when Belkan remnants try to use their remaining nuclear warheads in that war, the hostilities soon cease and everyone gangs up on the Belkans instead. That Ace Combat was developed by the Japanese company Bandai-Namco probably explains things. In fact, the reason the Ace Combat world erupts in large scale conflicts every few years is precisely because concepts like MAD and nuclear deterrence do not exist. Nations do not have the devastating power that nukes provide to counter-act aggression, and wars erupt as a result.
    • Belka is the only nation stated to have used nukes in a war. During the events of Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, in an act of desperation, they resorted to dropping nukes on 7 of their own cities to try and delay the allied advance. The rest of the world was horrified at this, and may explain the world's preference for other types of weaponry. Backstory seems to suggest that nuclear weapons were not developed until the 1980s, instead of the 1930s and 1940s as in real life. Though nuclear power was apparently developed much earlier (nuclear submarines and reactors exist), which leads to a bit of a headscratcher as to why the technology was weaponized so late - presumably there was never any conflict on a large enough scale with a desperate enough situation before then to necessitate trying it (seeing as the Belkan War of 1995 is more or less Ace Combat's World War II).
    • Even when Namco changed over to the real world in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, they played this trope straight. The Big Bad's super weapon, Trinity, was shown to have varying levels of destruction, ranging from vaporizing a medium-sized bridge, to destroying an entire city, and still having enough power to nearly knock the Protagonist off his feet from twenty or thirty miles away. The name is also clearly evocative of nuclear weapons. However, Trinity has shown to have zero nuclear fallout, and by all means, it is still a conventional warhead, all things considered. In short, it's not a nuke, but a really, really big bomb (implied to be a MOAB-type weapon, only bigger).
  • The Reveal in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift that Kokonoe has been stockpiling nukes as a last resort against Terumi shows just how far Kokonoe is willing to go for the sake of revenge. Hakumen is horrified when he discovers this secret; claiming that the destructive potential of nuclear weapons surpasses even that of the Black Beast. He would know since he was present when nukes were used in a desperate bid to kill the Black Beast. The nukes completely destroyed Japan and, to add insult to injury, failed to stop the Black Beast.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri has nukes by another name - Planet Busters. The first two tiers of Planet Busters explicitly use fission and fusion, respectively, before moving on to exotic physics warheads. They have even more devastating effects on the target and the environment (i.e. any city hit with one is completely wiped out, leaving behind a massive crater, unlike Civilization, where the effects are a little more tame). Using one is an unforgivable atrocity, however, and results in everybody declaring war vendetta on you.
  • Front Mission 3 had the MIDAS system which was developed as a new power source, but can be used as an energy-based bomb that rivalled a nuke in power, but would be considered a conventional weapon by existing treaties. Having such a weapon made various world governments very interested.
  • In Warship Gunner 2, one of the most advanced missile systems you can get is called the High Explosive missile. It creates a suspiciously flashy mushroom cloud and causes huge amounts of damage, but it's rather short-ranged and there's a danger that you could run into the explosion if you're too fast. The weapon after that is the Napalm missile which is only half as damaging but has twice the range and is alot safer to use.
  • In Rise of Nations, players can build nukes, but as soon as a player researches Nuclear Weapons, the Doomsday Counter appears on his screen. It starts at a number based on the number of players in the game, and every time a nuke is launched, it decreases by 1. Each time a player researches the "Missile Shield" supertech it increases by 2. If it ever hits 0, the game ends, with everyone losing.
  • The Empire superweapon in Perimeter is a SRBM note  launcher with a tactical nuclear warhead, but it's simply called a "Ballistic Missile Launcher"
  • StarCraft: While nuclear missiles are used, they're very much a Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke (even taking Units Not to Scale into effect), most buildings will survive getting hit by one. The reason for this is the backstory: An entire planet was reduced to glass and desert by an interstellar missile barrage of 1000 Apocalypse-class missiles. The aftermath was that such huge nukes were banned, but the smaller ones are permitted. Ironically, Arcturus Mengsk has absolutely no problems with nuking his own planet again if necessary (despite the bombardment being what caused him to rebel against the Confederacy in the first place).
  • In PAYDAY 2's Meltdown heist, the crew hits the same Murkywater PMC shipping yard from Shadow Raid, but in broad daylight. Ukrainian mob boss Vlad has contracted the PAYDAY gang to steal "a little something." Said "little something" turns out to be six nuclear warheads, in the middle of Washington, D.C., that Vlad plainly says is enough to "turn D.C. into molten glass." When the gang finds out, Bain flips out, losing his cool during a heist for the first time, and the only reason the heist continues is because there's so much heat on the gang that Bain can't get an emergency extraction near the warehouse.
  • Averted in Star Control. The Earthling Cruiser's primary weapon is a slow homing nuclear missile. Humanity's stockpile of nukes is the main reason they are considered a threat/asset of any kind by the other races. They are however a Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke since quite a few ships can take more than one of them before going down.
  • Startlingly averted in Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. The very first scene features a nuclear missile, complete with Slow-Motion Pass-By, being detonated over an only thinly-veiled New York City, mushroom cloud and all. It has the realistic effects on the city, with the exception of leaving the visiting President alive, if barely.
  • Averted in Sunless Skies. The spacefaring New British Empire boasts that it used an "Unclear Bomb" to kill a star, and is quite proud of the feat. Unclear Bombs apparently share many similarities with nuclear bombs, but they emit darkness instead of light when they explode. However, in a major questline that involves trying to figure out why so many supposedly immortal stars are dying, it is revealed that the New British Empire lied about using the Unclear Bomb, and the star they claim to have killed had already been assassinated by another party centuries earlier. The bomb is real, however, and the Queen still has it.
  • In Warzone 2100, a nuclear war inflicted by a madman is what made the world the mess it's in now. And he still has nukes, so your Project forces are compelled to kill him with no mercy.
  • Zone 66: The World Council banned all nuclear weapons immediately after taking power, and for a time, it was thought that they succeeded at eradicating them. By the start of the game, however, nuclear missiles have struck multiple cities around the world, killing 60 million civilians in a year.

    Web Original 
  • NationStates has this pretty often in open RPs. The taboo seems so ingrained that even in RPs involving use of an unholy Lovecraftian monster and other WMDs, using a tactical nuke against said abomination is considered horrible.
    • Despite this, many nations maintain nuclear stockpiles for deterrence purposes.

    Western Animation 
  • The "Bleach Protocol" in Generator Rex, used as a last resort against particularly dangerous EVOs. Lampshaded in one episode:
    Rex: I don't know Doc. Sometimes you just have to say "Nuke 'em".
    Six: Forced Plasma Cascade.
    Rex: Try working that into a catchphrase.
  • Megas XLR has nukes in its arsenal, with warning labels around the Big Red Button. Coop wants to press it anyway, even when he and the enemy are in an underground military base at the time. Kiva insists that the nukes are not to be used, to Coop's disappointment.
  • One episode of Inspector Gadget has Dr. Claw attempt to launch an implicitly nuclear missile at Metro City, but nowhere is the "N" word used in the show.
  • Adventure Time dances very, very carefully around this, having a Mushroom War in its backstory and a distinctly After the End setting, while very carefully avoiding any reference to nuclear weapons as such - the word 'mushroom' is the closest we get, though there are implications in the background lore that the nature of the war itself was not completely mundane.