Effects of Nuclear Weapons

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Nuclear weapons - an intolerable threat to humanity. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and most of the international community, want to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again and are eliminated entirely. Why is it so important to act now and what can we do? Article 07 August Learn more: What effects do nuclear weapons have on health, the environment and our ability to provide humanitarian assistance?

World War II.

Think nuclear weapons will never be used again? Think again. No adequate humanitarian response What would humanitarian organizations do in the event of a nuclear attack? The Red Cross' first-hand experience In August , in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese Red Cross, supported by the ICRC, attempted to bring relief to the many thousands of dying and injured. Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb explosion in Public domain.

The global health effects of nuclear war

What can we do? Depending on where you live, you can urge political leaders and those who can influence them to: Fulfill long-standing commitments to nuclear weapon reductions and elimination, Join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and Work urgently to reduce the growing risks that nuclear weapons will be used. Become a global advocate for your family, your children and your grandchildren. Their future depends on a nuclear-free world. The following table summarizes the most important effects of single nuclear explosions under ideal, clear skies, weather conditions.

Tables like these are calculated from nuclear weapons effects scaling laws. As it is only simplistic and unclassified scaling laws that are commonly encountered, that do not take important things like varying land topography into account to ease calculation time and equation length. The scaling laws that were used to produce the table below, assume among other things, a perfectly level target area, no attenuating effects from urban terrain masking , e.

Weapons of yields from to kilotons have become the most numerous in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals; for example the warheads equipping the Russian Bulava submarine launched ballistic missile SLBM have a yield of kilotons. If the effect occurs at ground zero the ground range can be derived from slant range and burst altitude Pythagorean theorem.

This is only a rough estimate since biological conditions are neglected here. Further complicating matters, under global nuclear war scenarios, with conditions similar to that during the Cold War , major strategically important cities, like Moscow , and Washington are likely to be hit not once, but numerous times from sub megaton multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles , in a cluster bomb or "cookie cutter" configuration.

This strength in numbers advantage to lower yield warheads is further compounded by such warheads tending to move at higher incoming speeds, due to their smaller, more slender physics package size, assuming both nuclear weapon designs are the same a design exception being the advanced W This concept was pioneered by Philip J. Dolan and others. It is these reaction products and not the gamma rays which contain most of the energy of the nuclear reactions in the form of kinetic energy.

This kinetic energy of the fission and fusion fragments is converted into internal and then radiation energy by approximately following the process of blackbody radiation emitting in the soft X-ray region. Some of the electrons are removed entirely from the atoms, thus causing ionization, others are raised to higher energy or excited states while still remaining attached to the nuclei.


Within an extremely short time, perhaps a hundredth of a microsecond or so, the weapon residues consist essentially of completely and partially stripped ionized atoms, many of the latter being in excited states, together with the corresponding free electrons. The system then immediately emits electromagnetic thermal radiation, the nature of which is determined by the temperature. Since this is of the order of 10 7 degrees, most of the energy emitted within a microsecond or so is in the soft X-ray region. For an explosion in the atmosphere, the fireball quickly expands to maximum size, and then begins to cool as it rises like a balloon through buoyancy in the surrounding air.

As it does so it takes on the flow pattern of a vortex ring with incandescent material in the vortex core as seen in certain photographs. Sand will fuse into glass if it is close enough to the nuclear fireball to be drawn into it, and is thus heated to the necessary temperatures to do so; this is known as trinitite. At the explosion of nuclear bombs lightning discharges sometimes occur. Smoke trails are often seen in photographs of nuclear explosions. These are not from the explosion; they are left by sounding rockets launched just prior to detonation.

These trails allow observation of the blast's normally invisible shock wave in the moments following the explosion. The heat and airborne debris created by a nuclear explosion can cause rain; debris is thought to do this by acting as cloud condensation nuclei.

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During the city firestorm which followed the Hiroshima explosion, drops of water were recorded to have been about the size of marbles. Black rain is not unusual following large fires, and is commonly produced by pyrocumulus clouds during large forest fires. The rain directly over Hiroshima on that day is said to have begun around 9 a.

The rain directly over the city may have carried neutron activated building material combustion products, but it did not carry any appreciable nuclear weapon debris or fallout, [43] although this is generally to the contrary to what other less technical sources state. The "oily" black soot particles, are a characteristic of incomplete combustion in the city firestorm.

The element einsteinium was discovered when analyzing nuclear fallout. A side-effect of the Pascal-B nuclear test during Operation Plumbbob may have resulted in the first man-made object launched into space. The so-called "thunder well" effect from the underground explosion may have launched a metal cover plate into space at six times Earth's escape velocity , although the evidence remains subject to debate. This is highly dependent on factors such as if one is indoors or out, the size of the explosion, the proximity to the explosion, and to a lesser degree the direction of the wind carrying fallout.

To highlight the variability in the real world, and the effect that being indoors can make, despite the lethal radiation and blast zone extending well past her position at Hiroshima, [45] Akiko Takakura survived the effects of a 16 kt atomic bomb at a distance of meters from the hypocenter, with only minor injuries, due mainly to her position in the lobby of the Bank of Japan, a reinforced concrete building, at the time.

With medical attention, radiation exposure is survivable to a rems acute dose exposure. If a group of people is exposed to a 50 to 59 rems acute within 24 hours radiation dose, none will get radiation sickness. If medically treated, all of the 60— rems group will survive. If the group is exposed to to rems, most if not all of the group will become sick. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article includes a list of references , but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations.

October Learn how and when to remove this template message. Play media. Main articles: Nuclear electromagnetic pulse and Geomagnetically induced current. See also: Nuclear blackout and Christofilos effect. Bomb pulse Effects of nuclear explosions on human health Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents List of nuclear weapons tests Nuclear warfare Peaceful nuclear explosion Rope trick effect Underwater explosion Visual depictions of nuclear explosions in fiction. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved J; Marvin, C. Los Alamos National Laboratory.

It was declassified in The American Mathematical Monthly. Retrieved 30 March Retrieved 30 March — via Internet Archive. The Atomic Archive. Retrieved 12 September NOTE: No citation is provided to support the claim that "a firstorm in modern times is unlikely". Various other surfaces were discolored in different ways by the radiated heat. Journal of Geophysical Research. This link is to the abstract; the whole paper is behind a paywall.

Credible deterrence through simple, effective protection against concentrated and dispersed invasions and aerial attacks. Discussions of the facts as opposed to inaccurate, misleading lies of the "disarm or be annihilated" political dogma variety. Hiroshima and Nagasaki anti-nuclear propaganda debunked by the hard facts.

Walls not wars. Walls bring people together by stopping divisive terrorists". Archived from the original on Craig, John A. Aldridge First Strike! Archived from the original on 26 April Final Report". Retrieved 30 March — via www. Initial radiation. Nuclear detonations release large amounts of neutron and gamma radiation. Relative to other effects, initial radiation is an important cause of casualties only for low-yield explosions less than 10 kilotons. When a nuclear detonation occurs close to the ground surface, soil mixes with the highly radioactive fission products from the weapon.

The debris is carried by the wind and falls back to Earth over a period of minutes to hours. By contrast, the radiation dose from fallout is delivered over an extended period, as described in Chapter 5. Most of the dose from fallout is due to external exposure to gamma radiation from radionuclides deposited on the ground, and this is the only exposure pathway considered by the computer models that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency DTRA and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL used to estimate health effects for this study. Below is a discussion of the possible.

Radiation has both acute and latent health effects. Acute effects include radiation sickness or death resulting from high doses of radiation greater than 1 sievert [Sv], or rems delivered over a few days. The principal latent effect is cancer. Estimates of latent cancer fatalities are based largely on results of the long-term follow-up of the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan.

The results of these studies have been interpreted by the International Commission on Radiological Protection ICRP 1 in terms of a lifetime risk coefficient of 0. Thus, there is no consideration of the presumed greater sensitivity to radiation of the very young and the elderly. Also, there is no consideration of the sensitivity of the fetus. From the experience in Japan, it is known that substantial effects on the fetus can occur, and these effects depend on the age stage of organogenesis of the fetus.

The transfer of radio nuclides to the fetus resulting from their intake by the mother is another pathway of concern. Radiation dose coefficients for this pathway have been published by the ICRP. Another long-term health effect that is not considered here is the induction of eye cataracts. This effect has been noted in the Japanese studies and also in a study of the Chernobyl cleanup workers. Compared to the fatalities from prompt, acute fallout and latent cancer fatalities, the absolute number of effects on the fetus is small and is captured within the bounds of the uncertainty.

The number of eye cataracts, based on the experience of the Chernobyl workers, is not small. The occurrence of eye cataracts in the now aging Japanese population is several tens of percent among those more heavily exposed. Finally, there has been a recently confirmed finding that the Japanese survivors are experiencing a statistically significant increase in the occurrence of a number of noncancer diseases, 6 including hypertension, myocardial infarction, thyroid disease, cataracts, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and, in females, uterine myoma.

There has been a negative response in the occurrence of glaucoma. A nominal risk coefficient for the seven categories of disease is about 0. The largest fraction of the risk is due to thyroid disease. Thermal radiation may make fire a collateral effect of the use of surface burst, airburst, or shallow-penetrating nuclear weapons.

The potential for fire damage depends on the nature of the burst and the surroundings. If there is a fireball, fires will be a direct result of the absorption of thermal radiation. Fires can also result as an indirect effect of the destruction caused by a blast wave, which can, for example, upset stoves and furnaces, rupture gas lines, and so on. A shallow-penetrating nuclear weapon of, say, to kilotons at a 3 to 5 meter depth of burst will generate a substantial fireball that will not fade as fast as the air blast. Detonation of a nuclear weapon in a forested area virtually guarantees fire damage at ranges greater than the range of air-blast damage.

If the burst is in a city environment where buildings are closely spaced, say less than 10 to 15 meters, fires will spread from burning buildings to adjacent ones. In Germany and Japan in World War II, safe separation distance ranged from about 30 to 50 feet for a 50 percent probability of spread , but for modern urban areas this distance could be larger.

This type of damage is less likely to occur in suburban areas where buildings are more widely separated. Once started, fire spread continues until the fire runs out of fuel or until the distance to the next source of fuel is too great. Thus, fire caused directly by thermal ignitions, fire caused indirectly by disruptive blast waves, and spread of fire are all potential, but uncertain, effects.

The area over which casualties would occur as a result of the various weapon effects outlined above depends primarily on the explosive yield of the weapon and the height or depth of the burst. The areas affected by initial nuclear radiation and fallout also depend on the design of the weapon in particular, the fraction of the yield that is derived from fission reactions , and, in the case of fallout, on weather conditions during and after the explosion notably wind speed and direction, atmospheric stability, precipitation, and so on , terrain, and geology in the area of the explosion.

The following calculations assume that the entire population is static and in the open. As an illustrative example, 7 Figure 6. As discussed in Chapter 5 , both of these weapons would produce a ground shock of about 1 kilobar at a depth of 70 meters. Figure 6. Under these conditions and assumptions, the 10 kiloton EPW is estimated to result in about , casualties, compared with , casualties for the. Thus, in this example the use of an EPW would reduce casualties by about a factor of eight compared with a surface burst with equal destructive capacity against a buried target.

Fallout is responsible for about 75 percent of the casualties from the 10 kiloton explosion compared with about 60 percent of the casualties from the kiloton explosion. The hazard to people entering the area after the explosion in these scenarios would be due largely to external gamma radiation from fallout. This hazard decreases rapidly with time: the dose rate after 1 week is 10 times less than the dose rate 1 day after the explosion, and after 2 months it is reduced by an additional factor of Figures 6. Depending on the risk that is judged acceptable by commanders,. For example, a soldier entering the 10 millisieverts per hour 1, millirems per hour contour 1 day after the explosion would accumulate a total dose of about 0.

Army guidance for situations in which troops might receive as much as 0. The estimates shown in Figures 6. The number of civilian casualties that would result from an attack depends on many variables, including the following: the distribution of the population around the point of detonation and the degree of sheltering that they have against blast, thermal, and radiation effects; weapon yield and design; height or depth of burst; and weather conditions during and after the explosion.

As shown below, the estimated number of casualties ranges over four orders of magnitude—from hundreds to over a million—depending on the combination of assumptions used. To explore in a parametric way the range of possibilities, the committee selected three notional targets:. Target A: an underground command-and-control facility in a densely populated area 3 kilometers from the center of a city with a population of about 3 million;.

Target B: an underground chemical warfare facility 60 kilometers from the nearest city and 13 kilometers from a small town; and. Target C: a large, underground nuclear weapons storage facility 20 kilometers from a small town.

Effects of nuclear explosions on human health

In each case, the committee asked DTRA to estimate the mean number of casualties deaths and serious injuries from prompt effects, and acute effects of fallout from external gamma radiation resulting from attacks with earth-penetrating weapons with yields ranging from 1 kiloton to 1 megaton, for populations completely in the open and completely indoors. The means are averages over annual wind patterns, but they ignore precipitation.

DTRA also estimated the mean number of casualties resulting from surface bursts with yields from 25 kilotons to 7. For selected cases, the committee asked the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to estimate the number of deaths from prompt effects and fallout, and to quantify the variability in acute and latent deaths from fallout owing to wind patterns.

For Figures 6. Note that for a given yield there is little or no difference between the effects of surface bursts and the EPWs. The curves for Targets B and C are steeper a. The number of casualties is similar for surface bursts of the same yield. Note that for yields of less than kilotons, fallout is responsible for more casualties than are prompt effects.

This is particularly true for Targets B and C, for which fallout is the only effect of low-yield explosions that can reach population centers.

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It is always useful to compare model predictions against relevant experience. Fortunately, the relevant experience is very limited.

In the case of the 15 kiloton device detonated over Hiroshima, an estimated 68, persons died and 76, persons were injured out of a total population of , For the 21 kiloton device detonated over Nagasaki, it is estimated that 38, persons died and 21, persons were injured out of a total population of , The Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons were detonated at a fallout-free height of about meters and therefore produced no local fallout. As mentioned, the results shown in Figures 6. Assuming that the entire population remains indoors and is thereby shielded from radiation reduces mean total casualties by a factor of up to 4 for Target A, and by a factor of 2 to 8 for Targets B and C.

Not accounted for are post attack movement or evacuation of the population, but it is unlikely that individuals could, by fleeing the area of an attack, reduce their exposure to fallout significantly more than by remaining indoors. Indeed, some people might greatly increase their exposure to fallout if they were to move through highly contaminated areas, as might occur if a major road out of the city were directly under the path of the cloud. Thus, in a population that has received no warning of an attack, the actual effects of sheltering and evacuation are likely to lie between the two extremes for a population that is assumed to be entirely indoors and one that is assumed to be entirely outdoors.

The use of an EPW instead of a surface-burst weapon generally will result in fewer casualties, because the yield of the EPW can be 15 to 25 times smaller than the yield of a surface-burst weapon for a given level of damage against a hard and deeply buried target HDBT. For Target A, casualties are reduced by a factor of 7 at low yields appropriate for target depths of less than meters and by a factor of 2 at high yields and deeper targets. For Target B, casualties are reduced by a factor of 10 to 30, and for Target C, by a factor of 15 to 60, depending on the yield and assumptions about shielding.

In general, the reduction factor is larger for targets in rural or remote areas. The DTRA results presented above do not include latent cancer deaths from fallout. In the case of Target B, however, the inclusion of cancer deaths doubled the total number of fatalities. Including cancer deaths has little effect on the ratios shown in Figure 6. The results given in Figures 6.

Casualties from fallout can be substantially higher or lower, depending on the particular wind conditions during and immediately following the attack. For Target A, estimated fatalities from fallout vary by more than an order of magnitude depending on wind direction, ranging from 90, to , for acute effects and from. For Target B estimated fatalities from fallout vary by more than two orders of magnitude depending on wind direction, from 3, to 1 million for acute fatalities, and ranging from 3, to , for latent fatalities; total fatalities vary by a factor of 50, from about 15, to , Similarly large variations in fatalities are also possible if the target is just outside a major city.

For example, if the detonation is moved 30 kilometers northwest of Target A hereafter referred to as Target A , total fatalities vary from 50, to nearly 2 million, depending on whether the wind blows away from or toward the city center. Note that these estimates do not include the effects of precipitation, which would wash out and concentrate fallout in particular areas which may or may not be populated. The committee expects that including the effects of precipitation would make the weather-related variability in the estimated number of casualties significantly greater than is suggested by this analysis.

Of course, as mentioned frequently, Figure 6. In the case of Target A, for example, the 50 percent confidence interval for deaths due to acute effects of fallout based solely on variability in wind direction is , to ,; that is, there is a 75 percent chance of exceeding , deaths from acute effects of fallout, and a 25 percent chance of more than , deaths.

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  5. The 50 percent confidence interval for total fatalities is considerably narrower: 1. If the detonation is moved 30 kilometers northwest of Target A, the confidence intervals are much wider: 13, to , for deaths from acute. For Target B, the corresponding intervals are 9, to 40, for deaths from acute effects of fallout; 10, to 60, for deaths from latent effects from fallout; and 20, to 90, for total fatalities. Although the committee has not done a comprehensive analysis of the effect of wind direction for a wide range of yields, it is apparent that the casualty-reduction factor the ratio of number of casualties for a surface burst to that for an EPW with a yield 25 times smaller could be considerably lower or higher than the mean ratios given in Figure 6.

    For example, Figures 6. Total fatalities are 10 to 40 times higher for the surface burst for Target A, depending on wind direction, with a mean 20 times higher. For Target B, the fatality ratio varies from 4 to 40, with a mean of 16; for comparison, the mean casualty ratio given in Figure 6. The model runs show significant fatalities from both an EPW and a surface-burst weapon. The numbers are larger when the attack is near a population center and if a wind that would blow the fallout into the population center is introduced in the calculations. It is also worth noting, however, that with unfavorable winds the lower-yield EPW would cause about as many deaths as would the higher-yield surface burst with favorable winds.

    For example, 40, deaths result from attacks on Target A from the 10 kiloton EPW with the wind blowing from the west and the kiloton surface burst with the wind blowing from the east. Similarly, 15, deaths result from attacks on Target B from the 10 kiloton EPW with the wind blowing from the southeast and the kiloton surface burst with the wind blowing from the northwest. These numbers suggest that wind direction can be as important as a fold difference in yield in determining civilian casualties from attacks in which fallout is the primary health hazard.

    These comparisons indicate the sensitivity to wind of collateral damage to populations. However, an unfavorable wind for an EPW is, of course, also an unfavorable wind for a surface burst; the same is true for favorable winds. A population center downwind of either weapon is an unfavorable situation.

    As noted above, the estimates produced by DTRA and LLNL of the numbers of deaths and injuries due to fallout include only the external gamma-ray dose from the deposition of fallout particles on ground surfaces. The contribution of these exposure pathways to the acute radiation dose usually is not substantial and would not significantly alter the estimates presented above. Under some conditions, however, the contribution of other exposure pathways to the risk of latent cancer could be significant.

    Nevada Test Site

    Here the contribution of these other exposure pathways is reviewed in a semiquantitative manner. For underground, surface, or near-surface nuclear explosions, the radioactive fallout is mixed with a large mass of ejecta in the main cloud or base surge. These clouds are dense, and most of the mass at. Thus, most of the external dose received by persons within several kilometers of the detonation point is due to radiation from the deposited material rather than from the airborne cloud itself.

    Also, at close-in distances, cloud passage occurs during a rather short period of time; this is another reason that the integrated exposure from cloud passage tends to be small relative to the long-term exposure from radionuclides deposited on the ground. During the s when atmospheric nuclear testing was conducted at the Nevada Test Site NTS , there were a number of sets of measurements of the rate of exposure before, during, and after the passage of clouds from a variety of types of nuclear tests.

    In general, the radiation dose received from the passage of the cloud itself is not a significant fraction of the dose received as a result of total external exposure. In addition to external exposure, individuals may also be exposed to radiation by inhalation of fallout particles, either during the passage of the cloud or subsequently owing to resuspension of deposited particles by wind, plowing, vehicle travel, or other disturbances of the surface. Based on measured external gamma-radiation exposure rates and air concentrations observed downwind of explosions at the NTS, the whole-body inhalation dose was calculated to have ranged for most organs from 1 to 20 percent of the dose that resulted from the ingestion of contaminated food.

    This larger dose is due to the entrance during cloud passage of large particles into the upper respiratory tract, from which the particles are coughed up and swallowed. The inhalation of resuspended radionuclides is a pathway of interest under only a few special circumstances—primarily with respect to the inhalation of radionuclides that do not cross biological barriers easily but can be retained over very long periods if inhaled. The most notable example of such a radionuclide is plutonium. If a nuclear device performs correctly, plutonium has not been found to be a significant source of radiation dose.

    In general, inhalation is not very significant compared with other pathways of exposure. Consideration of this pathway would not significantly increase the casualty estimates presented above. The consumption of contaminated water has not been found to be a significant exposure pathway following nuclear tests at the NTS. Although deposition on water surfaces does occur, it has not been a significant source of exposure because dilution is rapid for persons living downwind of the NTS.