Nuclear War

I used to believe, that a horrible nuclear winter would come after the nuclear World War IIIin which almost everyone dies. Then there would be so much radioactivity around, that almost every survivor would die. And then, that in a nuclear winter after, almost every double survivor would perish. It was a standard Cold War view and I was also stupid enough to believe it.

I don’t believe that anymore and I have several good reasons. Here’s a few. How come, people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki live normal lives? Why is no atomic desert in Japan where those atomic weapons were actually used? I acknowledge the horrific fate of ten of thousands and even hundred of thousands of people caught there in August 1945. But no nuclear desert there in the aftermath. How so, if the whole Earth would become a nuclear desert after using 10 thousand times more nuclear  material on one million times greater area? How that could be? And then, after so many nuclear tests, when at least a few percent of the nuclear arsenal was already spent in the wild, how is that we can’t see something nasty happening as a result?

Frankly, I believe Carl Sagan was full of shit with this “nuclear winter” propaganda. Of course, we don’t want a nuclear war, but it wouldn’t throw as back to the stone age. Albert Einstein was often full of shit as well.

We had some sobering suggestions even back then. If the nuclear bomb is 1000 stronger, they told us, its killing radius is just 10 times bigger. Good to know, thank you!

And the radioactivity per Mt of TNT ratio falls if you use bigger bombs. Also good to know.

And then we have learned that a sub-kilometer wide asteroid outperforms all the nukes we posses – many, many times over.

I think, that there will be a nuclear war, if everything stays basically the same as it is today. Only a technological breakthrough may prevent it.  This technological breakthrough may result in a swift victory without much fus, but it may also result in an even more horrific war than a nuclear one would be.

But  if everything stays the same, there will be “some nuclear war to end all nuclear wars”. Except there will be sooner or later another nuclear war, a much greater one. This mess may go on for quite a long time, if everything stays the same.

And this stability of circumstances will not happen. The opportunity window for a nuclear war is closing, because of AI at least. Which by itself may trigger one, as Schwarzenegger in Terminator taught us decades ago.


4 thoughts on “Nuclear War

  1. guest says:

    Not only is there no atomic desert where those atomic weapons were used, background radiation there is no different than elsewhere in Japan, the cancer rates aren’t higher either! Fun fact, did you know that Vietnam was the most intense aerial bombing episode in history, not Japan?

    “The United States Air Force dropped in Indochina, from 1964 to August 15, 1973, a total of 6,162,000 tons of bombs and other ordnance. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft expended another 1,500,000 tons in Southeast Asia. This tonnage far exceeded that expended in World War II and in the Korean War. The U.S. Air Force consumed 2,150,000 tons of munitions in World War II – 1,613,000 tons in the European Theater and 537,000 tons in the Pacific Theater – and 454,000 tons in the Korean War.”

    Vietnam War bombing thus represented at least three times as much (by weight) as both European and Pacific theater World War II bombing combined, and about fifteen times total tonnage in the Korean War. Given the prewar Vietnamese population of 32 million, U.S. bombing translates into hundreds of kilograms of explosives per capita, more than the entire weight of the Vietnamese nation. For another comparison, the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had the power of roughly 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT, respectively (Grolier 1995). Since general purpose bombs – by far the most common type of bomb used in Vietnam – are approximately 50% explosive material by weight, each atomic bomb translates into roughly 30,000 to 40,000 tons of such munitions. Measured this way, U.S. bombing in Indochina represents roughly 100 times the combined impact of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.”

    Someone here also calculated that it would take 1,241,166 heavy duty nukes to completely wipe out civilization, or 99,292 to wipe out city dwellers, or in other words it will never happen, a nuclear exchange today with existing arsenals wouldn’t even match the casualties of the second world war.

    More fun facts, people aren’t aware, but most nuclear blast videos have explosion sound effects superimposed. Because in reality, from an observers view, nuclear detonations happen in eery silence, at zero you only see a blinding flash and feel almighty heat, light is so bright that people can see bones showing through hands covering their closed eyes. The actual shock wave and loud bang arrive half a minute delayed, in the case of a 16 kiloton device 6.6 miles away, for example. Which can be seen, and heard, first hand in the following unedited video with original audio, the detonation is at 0:26, and the bang follows only at 0:57.

    “The sound of a nuclear blast is distinctive as more of a bang than a boom because thermal energy is directly proportional to low frequency absorption. or heat soaks up low frequencies. There is a hell of a lot of heat in a nuclear bomb – hence the higher pitched bang sound than you would expect from such a massive explosion.” To quote a YouTube commenter.

    Nigel from the Glasstone blog, a blog all about contradicting the widespread superstition that nuclear wars are unsurvivable and debunking hardened dogma of exaggerated nuclear effects, even explains what comes first, the shock wave or the loud bang:

    “A simple calculation of the arrival time of “sound” corresponds roughly to the arrival time of zero pressure AFTER the shock wave! At very long distances where the shock velocity decays to sound velocity, the blast duration peaks and ceases to increase further. So you can get an idea of the blast wave or sound wave duration by subtracting the calculated sound wave arrival time from the shock wave arrival time!

    Some examples. Sound takes 4.7 seconds to travel one mile. So if you are at 10 miles from a 1 megaton low air burst over Trafalgar square, the shock front arrives at 40 seconds after the first flash of the explosion, and zero pressure (sound arrival time) is about 47 seconds, so the total shock duration is around 7 seconds!

    There’s some interesting physical mechanisms. Because sound is a longitudinal pressure wave, and is not a transverse wave, it is basically an outward force (pressure = force/area). So you get some simple basic concept physically, like Energy = Force x Distance, or more precisely: Energy = Integral of Force over distance. The distance here is the distance of the outward pressure phase of the shock. Then by Newton’s 3rd law of motion, you get the prediction of the negative (inward directed) pressure phase, which has lower peak (negative) pressure, and so has a somewhat longer duration. Of course, in the very early phase of the blast wave there is no negative pressure, because when the pressure wave is isothermal, Newton 3rd law reaction force consists entirely of the blast going out in the opposite direction, e.g. before the negative phase sets in, the reaction force of the blast force which is going Southwards is simply the blast force that’s going Northwards. After the pressure in the middle drops to ambient due to outward motion of most of the air in the shock front, this reaction force is replaced by the negative phase (reversed blast winds). So it’s possible to get a physical, intuitive feel for the physics of all the details of the blast wave.

    The first sound in actual nuclear blast, regardless of the blast duration, is like a pistol shot, according to Jack W. Reed, who saw more atmospheric nuclear tests than anyone else in the West while in the Nevada long-range nuclear blast prediction unit (which had to predict blast reflections from atmospheric temperature inversions to prevent broken windows and injuries in Las Vegas, etc.). Humans can only hear sounds with frequencies of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, so a 1 second blast duration is 1 Hz and is too low to hear. So all you hear in a nuclear explosion is:

    1. The crack-like (pistol shot) sound of the abrupt rise in pressure when the shock front arrives (if it takes 1 ms to go from ambient pressure to peak overpressure, that is a frequency of around 1 kHz).
    2. The sound of the wind blowing behind the shock front (which is only 40 miles/hour peak wind speed at 10 miles from 1 megaton, but is much higher closer in).
    3. Sounds from damage caused like breaking windows, impacts of blown debris.”

    I didn’t know that the speed of sound is dependent nearly only on temperature, at 0°C it’s 331.3 m/s and at 25°C 346 m/s, slightly faster. While changing atmospheric pressure does not change the speed of sound, for sound pressure without the medium (air) there is no speed, according to this site.

    And even more:

    “The thermal influence never vaporized anyone at ground zero and has never vaporized more than 1 mm of wood from such a weapon, regardless of distance; while Oughterson and Warren’s Medical Effects of the Atomic Bomb in Japan in 1956 proved that duck and cover prevented burns and the burns-radiation synergism which killed so many. Most of the casualties in both cities were due to blast and thermal radiation, with infected wounds made worse by the synergism of initial radiation exposure, which lowers the white blood cell count.”

    A first person account from the first British atomic device test in 1952:

    “Unfortunately the gurus forgot to tell us about the shock wave, so after the flash, me and a couple of other chaps, we jumped on the back of a truck that was close by, to get a better view, then we suddenly saw the trees in front of the thing bend over towards us, and then the next thing we knew we’ve been blown off the truck, because we’ve forgotten about the blast.”

    They were 20 miles away and the shock wave took 1.6 minutes to arrive, that’s enough time to even properly stretch before heading for cover! Duck and cover makes sense after all, who knew? Yet everyone makes fun of it.

      • guest says:

        “This was a test of the Genie air-to-air rocket and its W25 warhead. The rocket, fired by an F89J, traveled 4,240 meters in 4.5 seconds before detonating.

        For what it’s worth, we manufactured 10,171 Genies, which were operational from 1957-84. Total cost was about $1 billion in today’s dollars (excluding the cost of the nuclear warhead). Approximately half (5,000) were nuclear-armed. The Genie was in large measure a response to the 1955 bomber gap (as was almost everything else we poured into continental air defense from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s). All told, 11,000 warheads, nearly sixteen percent of all nuclear warheads we ever produced (and thirty-four percent of all operational weapons in 1965) were intended to counter and defeat what was at best a marginal Soviet airborne threat.”

        via nuclear secrecy

        Tho my personal favorite remains the artillery fired atomic projectile!

        Notice the vertical smoke trails in those videos?

        “The vertical smoke trails present in many nuclear test films are there so they can “see” the shock wave on film as it propagates and affects the smoke trails. Right before detonation a row of rockets are launched vertically to create the smoke trails.” by some commenter on slashdot

      • We are not that afraid of nuclear weapons, to count them as an x-risk.

        Accordingly, those plans to bomb the Moon by Americans and Soviets were possibly abandoned because it would be nothing to see at all.

        A brief bright flash and not a lot of devastation. If an astronaut was on the Moon during a near nuclear blast, almost every rock would be a sufficient protection for a couple of seconds. There would be almost no aftermath. Some flying rocks, ejected to a near Lunar orbit perhaps.

        That would be about all. Nothing spectacular to see from here.

        Watching a nuclear war on our planet from the Moon, would be a bit more interesting.

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