But let’s be honest: Most people, even in moderate damage zones, won’t survive. Hardly anyone lives or works in reinforced concrete buildings with almost no windows, nor near a concrete bunker. (Even people who work at banks have to go to the cellar to stay in the safest place; those in the subway will get the most benefit from a station located very deep underground.) Most people live in wooden frames or other places less armored than buildings.
Dylan Spaulding, an earth scientist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said this should not be construed as a way to ensure safety during a nuclear explosion. Strong structures made of concrete with reinforcement and designed to be safe from earthquakes will survive the pressures the team has modeled, but those pressures will be enough to destroy, he said. most traditional wooden frame houses and brick structures without reinforcement.
And he points out that blast waves are only part of the story. Although it is the main source of danger in a non-nuclear explosion—like an explosion rocking Beirut in 2020caused by large amounts of flammable ammonium nitrate stored in the city’s port—nuclear weapons also release ionizing radiation and heat, followed by fallout.
Possible exposure to radiation through the skin or inhalation many harmful effects to healthincluding skin burns, organ damage, and cancer. Radiation exposure can extend for tens of miles from the epicenter, so explosion survivors could be knocked down by radiation afterward.
Drikakis’ example focuses on so-called “strategic” nuclei deployed on ICBMs, but also “tactical” nuclei, which are dropped on the battlefield by aircraft and can explode on the ground. Spaulding said such explosions take place in a variety of ways but can be deadly and destructive, potentially exposing many people to lethal doses of radiation.
Russia and the US also possess so-called low-yield nuclear weapons, yielding between 5 and 10 kilotons and slightly smaller than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. These will still cause massive destruction and cross dangerous red lines, possibly escalating conflicts to use larger weapons.
Mankind’s most destructive weapons were used in war only once, when the United States destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, with two atomic bombs at the end of World War II in 1945. They killed more than 100,000 Japanese civilians and wounded many others. And Spaulding points out that along with the experiments conducted at Nevada test sitethey offer some of the only real evidence of how the types of structures can survive an atomic explosion and how likely they are.
But last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that Nuclear weapons are not on the table during the invasion of Ukraine. While NATO leaders did not use such threatening language, the international organization conduct nuclear drills October, simulated dropping of a B61 nuclear bomb. by US President Joe Biden Nuclear posture assessment that same month abandoned the “no first use” policy he had previously advocated. One can also imagine nuclear risks in other conflicts, such as the possibility of North Korea use nuclear weapons against South Korea, or Pakistan and India use them against each other.
The world’s arsenal totals about 12,700 warheads, according to an inventory of Federation of American Scientists. This is less than the peak of around 70,000 near the end of the Cold War, thanks to arms reduction treaties. But some of them treaties have been dissolvedand dangers that never go away, as the Doomsday Clock metaphor illustrates.
This is not a game, Drikakis said. “We must maintain peace by understanding the risks of not maintaining peace,” he said.