A History of Cuba and Nuclear Weapons

Samuel Premutico
May 16, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: President Kennedy authorizes naval quarantine of Cuba. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Cuba's history of nuclear weapons is one that is largely defined by the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War in the 1960's. While the conflict brought the presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba to international attention, there is much more to the narrative of nuclear weaponry in the country than just the single event. This report provides an account of the history of nuclear weapons in Cuba, including the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis and beyond.

Introduction of Nuclear Weapons into Cuba

In early 1962, a Soviet delegation of military and missile construction specialists met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Castro was intrigued by the prospect of nuclear weapons for two reasons. First, it would be an irritant to the United States. Second, it would help guard Cuba against an attack from the United States. Plans to install nuclear missiles in Cuba were agreed to in July of 1962. [1] Nuclear weapons would remain in Cuba until the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Cuban Missile Crisis

In October of 1962, U.S. spy planes detected the presence of nuclear missile facilities while flying over Cuba. [2] The facilities belonged to the Soviet Union, and were capable of producing medium and intermediate range missiles, with a range of 1,000 miles. [2] With the U.S. now within striking distance of Soviet nuclear missiles, President John F. Kennedy authorized a naval blockade of armaments delivered to Cuba (Fig. 1). [2] Following the blockade, President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev engaged in tense negotiations for two weeks. On October 27th, the two came to an agreement in which the U.S. would not invade Cuba "without direct provocation" and the Soviet Union would remove all of their nuclear weapons from Cuba. [2]

Juragua Nuclear Power Plant

In 1976, Cuba and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to build the Juragua nuclear power plant, comprised of twin pressurized water reactors. The agreement called for the use of the Soviet-designed V. V. E. R. reactors. [3] The plant was designed to produce 1,600 megawatts of power. [4] The plant was intended to address Cuba's increasing energy demands, and was to be built in Cienfuegos, roughly 180 miles south of Key West, Florida. [4] Plans to build the Juragua plant caused significant concern in the United States, as experts feared that an accident at the plant would threaten Florida. [4] Construction of the plant began in 1983, however, Cuban engineers struggled to complete the project on time and Russian engineers took over in the early 1990's. [3] Work on Juragua was halted in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the termination of Soviet aid. [3] Approximately 90 percent of the plant's foundation was complete, and 40 percent of the heavy machinery had been moved into the plant at the time work was halted. [3] From the start of construction until work was halted in 1992, the plant had cost Cuba $1.1 billion. Russian president Vladamir V. Putin and Cuban President Fidel Castro officially agreed to abandon the incomplete power plant in 2000. [3]

Current Nuclear Weapons Policies

Cuba is not currently known to posses nor be in the process of pursuing any nuclear weapons. The country has participated in many recent nonproliferation treaties. Cuba ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2002, which was first created in 1963 to ban nuclear weapons proliferation in Latin America and the Caribbean. [5] Cuba additionally signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2002. [5]

© Samuel Premutico. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] P. Roberts, Cuban Missile Crisis: The Essential Reference Guide (ABC-CLIO, 2012).

[2] M. Genender, "The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Brink of Nuclear War," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[3] P. E. Tyler, "Cuba and Russia Abandon Nuclear Plant, an Unfinished Vestige of the Soviet Era," New York Times, 18 Dec 00.

[4] H. W. French, "Cuba Cancels Atom Plant, Blaming Costs and Russians," New York Times, 7 Sep 92.

[5] P. Guinnessy, "Cuba to Sign Nuclear Treaties," Physics Today 55, No. 11, 31 (November 2002).