You could survive a nuclear blast, if you have the right shelter.

You could survive a nuclear blast, if you have the right shelter.

But let’s be honest: most people, even in the moderate damage zone, won’t survive. Almost no one lives or works in reinforced concrete buildings with almost no windows, nor in the immediate vicinity of a concrete bunker. (Even people in a bank would have to go into the vault to be in the safest place; people in a subway would get the most benefit in a station that is very deep.) Most people live in wooden structures or other less armored structures. buildings

This should not be interpreted as a way to be safe in a nuclear explosion, says Dylan Spaulding, an earth scientist and nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Strong structures made of metal-reinforced concrete and designed for seismic safety would survive the pressures the team modeled, he says, but those pressures would be enough to destroy most traditional wood-frame and brick-frame homes without booster.

And he points out that the shock wave is only part of the story. While it is the main source of danger in a non-nuclear explosion, such as the one that rocked Beirut in 2020, which was caused by a large amount of flammable ammonium nitrate stored in the city’s port, nuclear weapons also spew ionizing radiation. And heat. , followed by 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 could extend tens of miles from the epicenter, so people who survive the blast could be knocked down by radiation later.

Drikakis’ example focused on what is called a “strategic” nuclear bomb deployed on an ICBM, but there are also “tactical” nuclear bombs, which are dropped by aircraft on a battlefield and explode on the ground. . Such explosions play out differently, but they can be just as deadly and destructive, potentially exposing more people to lethal doses of radiation, Spaulding says.

Russia and the US also possess so-called low-yield nuclear weapons, which have a yield of 5-10 kilotons and are slightly smaller than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. These would still inflict massive devastation and cross a dangerous red line, possibly escalating a conflict to the use of larger weapons.

Mankind’s most destructive weapons have been used in war only once, when the US demolished Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, with two atomic bombs at the end of World War II in 1945. Together they killed more than 100,000 civilians. Japanese and wounded many more. And Spaulding notes that, together with the experiments conducted at the Nevada test site, they offer some of the only real-world evidence of the types of structures that can survive an atomic blast, and how well.

But last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted that nuclear weapons are not out of the question in his attack on Ukraine. While NATO leaders have not used such threatening rhetoric, the international organization held nuclear exercises in October, simulating the launch of B61 nuclear bombs. US President Joe Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review the same month abandoned a “don’t be first-mover” policy he previously supported. One could imagine nuclear risks in other conflicts as well, such as the possibility of North Korea using a nuclear bomb against South Korea, or Pakistan and India using them on each other.

The world’s arsenals number about 12,700 warheads, according to an inventory by the Federation of American Scientists. That’s less than its peak of around 70,000 near the end of the Cold War, thanks to arms reduction treaties. But some of those pacts have since dissolved, and the dangers never went away, as the Doomsday Clock metaphor illustrates.

This is not a game, says Drikakis. The risks of a devastating nuclear attack are all too real, he says: “We have to keep the peace by understanding the risks of not keeping the peace.”

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