Nuclear War on Edge
By Robert Hunziker
Nuclear war is unthinkable, but also uncontrollable once a spark is lit. There’s no turning back once that big misstep occurs. Indeed, the film Dr. Strangelove (Director Stanley Kubrick, 1964 Columbia Pictures) is all about what could happen if the wrong person pushes the wrong buttons, as US Air Force General Jack Ripper (George C. Scott) sends his bomber wing to destroy Russia to prevent a commie plot to pollute Americans.
According to a recent article: Is Nuclear War More Likely After Russia’s Suspension of the New START Treaty? Nature, March 7, 2023: “The world has lurched a step closer to the prospect of nuclear war, say researchers, after Russia declared last month that it would suspend its participation in its last major nuclear arms treaty with the United States.”
Additionally, on March 25th, 2023, Reuters: Putin Says Moscow to Place Nuclear Weapons in Belarus.
Also, January 2023- BBC News- India and Pakistan Came Close to Nuclear War: Pompeo.
All of which begs the question of what is the impact of thermonuclear explosions in war and what is the likelihood in today’s disoriented world? The ramifications of exploding thermonuclear warheads are described in some detail herein, as if a reality.
“In 2023 we find ourselves facing a risk of nuclear conflict greater than we’ve seen since the early eighties. Yet there is little in the way of public knowledge or debate of the unimaginably dire long-term consequences of nuclear war for the planet and global populations,” (Source: Public Awareness of ‘Nuclear Winter’ Too Low Given Current Risks Argues Expert, University of Cambridge, Feb.14, 2023)
Nobody expects a nuclear war to really happen. It simply cannot happen. Right?
Well, not so fast, atomic bombs were dropped on masses of people, e.g., Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, both direct hits, tens of thousands of dead. And thus, are today’s leaders, who are armed with nuclear arsenals, any less impetuous than leaders of 75 years ago? Maybe but maybe not.
“On dozens of occasions because of human error or technical miscue or active threat, the world has come dangerously close to the brink of nuclear conflagration… it is a terrifying history of which most people remain ignorant.” (Julian Cribb, How to Fix a Broken Planet, Cambridge University Press, 2023.)
“There is an urgent need for public education within all nuclear-armed states that is informed by the latest research. We need to collectively reduce the temptation that leaders of nuclear-armed states might have to threaten or even use such weapons in support of military operations… if we assume Russia’s nuclear arsenal has a comparable destructive force to that of the US – just under 780 megatons – then the least devastating scenario from the survey, in which nuclear winter claims 225 million lives, could involve just 0.1% of this joint arsenal.”(Cambridge)
Because of the real threat, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to its most threatening level ever at only 90-seconds to midnight largely because of multiple risks of a nuclear event out of the Ukrainian/Russian war zone. Along those lines, The Bulletin published an article explaining the impact of nuclear explosions, entitled: Nowhere to Hide, How a Nuclear War Would Kill You – and Almost Everyone Else.
A synopsis of that telling article follows herein:
Within microseconds of a nuclear blast, X-ray energy is released as a superheated fireball with temperature and pressure, like the Sun, so extreme that all matter is rendered into a hot plasma of nuclei and subatomic particles. As for example, today’s US nuclear arsenal of Minuteman III missiles with W87 thermonuclear warheads carry the destructive force of a fireball that will grow to more than 2,000 feet diameter, emitting light so intense that it’ll ignite fires at great distances. The thermal flash will cause first-degree burns at up to 8 miles from ground zero.
Thereupon, a super-powerful Blast Wave hits, traveling faster than the speed of sound with enormous destructive capability, destroying/flattening houses, and gutting skyscrapers causing massive numbers of fatalities, all in less than 10 seconds. The Blast Wave gives rise to a mushroom cloud of deadly radioactive split atoms, which drop out of the mushroom cloud as wind carries it across the landscape, exposing post-war/post-blast survivors to lethal and/or near-lethal doses of ionizing radiation. These lethal effects last days-to-weeks.
Today’s nuclear warheads are 10-times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped in Japan in the 1940s. As such, a direct hit on NYC would kill 1,000,000 people within 24 hours along with more than 2,000,000 serious injuries.
A regional war, for example, between India and Pakistan, involving 100 1.5-kiloton nuclear devices launched at high population sites would kill 27,000,000 people quickly. By way of contrast, and beyond regional war, an all-out nuclear war between, say Russia and the US, with over 4,000 100-kiloton nuclear warheads, at a minimum, would kill 360,000,000 quickly. Two years thereafter the nuclear war famine would likely be 10 times as deadly a force as the original bomb blasts.
Incomprehensively, according to The Bulletin, some military/policy circles, as of today, believe that a limited nuclear war can be successfully fought and won. But that line of reasoning presupposes a limited nuclear war that does not morph into an all-out thermonuclear battle possibly engineered by a revengeful/maddened leader, like General Ripper of Dr. Strangelove. If the abominable fantasy of a crazed general/leader of a regional contest were to morph into an all-out exchange, it would likely bring in its wake the death of more than one-half of the human population on the planet.
Accordingly, the post-blast nuclear winter scenario would bring a quick drop in land temperatures with massive widespread agricultural collapse. New research into the advent of a nuclear winter scenario demonstrates much more severe longer-lasting damage than earlier studies.
A regional nuclear war, for example between India and Pakistan crazily bombing one another, would lead to widespread firestorms so powerful in cities and industrial areas that it would cause severe global climatic change, disrupting all forms of life for decades. For example, with India and Pakistan each launching 100 warheads it would emit a stratospheric injection of five million tons of soot or pulverized superheated dust, heating the stratosphere, and forcing serious ozone depletion, whilst cooling land surface under the cloud of soot.
Once the injections of soot hit the atmosphere, they’ll stay for months-to-years, blocking sunlight and rapidly decreasing land temperatures. In turn, stratospheric temperatures increase by up to 30°C within four years, thereby causing more loss of ozone and removing its protective shield against excessive ultraviolet radiation thus burning-up vegetation as well as humans, in fact, most life on Earth, as loss of the all-important ozone layer leads to a tropical UV index above 35 within three years, which will last for four years. According to the US EPA, a UV index of 11 is categorized as “extreme danger,” severely damaging humans as well as inhibiting photolysis reaction needed for leaf expansion and plant growth.
Moreover, a large-scale nuclear winter, e.g., a US-Russia war, would cause below freezing temperatures throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere, even during summer. Under the circumstances, global temps will drop by 8°C, bringing the onset of a mini-ice age. Meanwhile, global ocean temperatures would drop by 3.5°-to-6.0°C. depending on the scale of warfare, resulting in a marine food web deficiency as total available seafood production suffers a 20-40% drop, at a minimum, and stays at reduced levels for at least four years.
According to a recent meeting of the UN Security Council d/d March 31, 2023, the risk of nuclear weapons use is higher than at any time since the Cold War.
“Risks of a direct military confrontation between the two nuclear powers, Russia and the United States, are steadily growing, the TASS news agency quoted a senior Russian diplomat as saying on Tuesday.” (Reuters, April 25, 2023)
Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.