But let’s be honest: most people, even in moderate damage zones, won’t survive. No one lives or works in windowless reinforced concrete buildings or next to concrete bunkers. (People in banks would also have to enter a vault to be safe; people on the subway would benefit most from a station much deeper underground.) Most people live in timber-frames or other less-armored spaces. Buildings.
That shouldn’t be interpreted as a way to protect against a nuclear explosion, says Dylan Spaulding, an earth scientist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Stronger structures made of concrete with metal reinforcement and designed for seismic safety can withstand the pressures modeled by the team, he says, but those pressures would be enough to destroy most traditional, wood-framed homes and brick structures without reinforcement.
And he explains that the blast wave is only part of the story. While this is the main source of danger in non-nuclear explosions – such as the one that rocked Beirut in 2020, caused by large quantities of flammable ammonium nitrate stored in the city’s port – nuclear weapons also emit ionizing radiation and heat. , after radioactive fallout.
Radiation exposure through the skin or inhalation can have many health effects, including skin burns, organ damage, and cancer. The range of radiation exposure can extend tens of miles from the epicenter, so people who survive the blast may fall victim to the radiation later.
Drikakis example focuses on so-called “strategic” nukes deployed on ICBMs, but there are also “strategic” nukes, which are dropped from aircraft on the battlefield and flown into the ground. Such explosions play out differently but can be deadly and destructive, potentially exposing many people to lethal radiation doses, Spaulding says.
Russia and the US also have so-called low-yield nukes, which have a yield of 5 to 10 kilotons and are slightly smaller than the 15 kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will cause even greater destruction and cross a dangerous red line, possibly escalating the conflict to the use of large arms.
Humanity’s most destructive weapons have been used only once in war, when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World War II in 1945. Together they killed over a million Japanese civilians and wounded many more. And Spaulding pointed out that with experiments conducted in Nevada test siteThey provide only real-world evidence about structures that can survive a nuclear blast, and how well.
But last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that nuclear weapons were not present in the attack on Ukraine. While NATO leaders have not used such threatening rhetoric, the international organization Did nuclear exercises In October, simulating the dropping of the B61 nuclear bomb. of US President Joe Biden Atomic Currency Review That same month he abandoned the “no first use” policy he had previously supported. One can also imagine nuclear risks in other conflicts, as well North Korea Using nuclear weapons against South Korea, or Pakistan and India Use them against each other.
The world’s arsenal adds up to about 12,700 warheads, according to one inventory Federation of American Scientists. That’s down from their peak of 70,000 near the end of the Cold War, thanks to arms reduction treaties. But some of those agreements have since been broken, and the dangers have never gone away, as the metaphor of the doomsday clock illustrates.
It’s not a game, says Drikakis. The risks of a catastrophic nuclear attack are all too real, he says: “We must make peace by understanding the risks of not making peace.”