Friday, September 11, 2015

Nuclear Strike of the Month (September 2015): Target Big Cities

Nuke by Emir Simsek

Note on the Nuclear Strike of the Month Series: In this series I want to illustrate various ways attacks using nuclear weapons can play out.  I will be using Dr. Alex Wellerstein's online NUKEMAP tool to generate the estimates of the blast and follow-on effects and we'll be turning to concepts found in Nuclear Emergencies to help evaluate consequences.

My rationale is to show a wide range of nuclear attack scenarios short of all-out thermonuclear war. The idea is to give readers a feel for the destructive power of nuclear weapons, provide scenarios as thought experiments for your own planning, and to discuss what nuclear weapons can and (sometimes more importantly) what nuclear weapons can't do.

For a variety of reasons, it is my opinion we will see nuclear weapons used in warfare sometime between now and 2030. We might as well brush up on the basics. 

Nuclear Strike of the Month:  Selected Large Cities

This month we will step back from our postulated war scenarios and instead step through what an attack on several large cities would look like (both air burst and ground burst). I want to use this month's post to let you get a feel for blast coverage for a large city and hopefully help spark further thoughts that will apply to your specific situation.

The Scenario
The attacks scenarios will use a 150 kT shot and 1 MT shot for each. A 150 kT weapon is reasonable for MIRV'd ICBMs and a 1 MT weapon is reasonable (if possibly on the low end) for the bigger weapons in various arsenals around the world.

We'll show a ground burst and air burst for each, so you can see how significant fallout can be in a nuclear attack.

The Attack
First, let's start with everyone's favorite target: New York City

Over 890,000 dead and nearly 1.6 million injuries.

If you follow the link and note the casualties, you'll see a significant drop-off, down to the 400,000s of dead. In a densely populated city like New York, sparing several blocks can mean saving many lives and a ground burst means much more of the energy is going into the earth instead of maximizing the devastation. On the flip side, the fallout scar across the landscape will be a problem for many months (and in some places, years), though all those large concrete and steel buildings will help keep the deaths from fallout exposure from rising terribly high (assuming citizens can shelter in place - even a day will make a dramatic difference).

This attack leaves over 2 million dead and 3 million more injured. Remember, the U.S., Russia, and China have weapons larger than this 1 MT yield we are modeling here.

Another eye-opener on the potential impact of fallout. Be aware the casualty engine used by NUKEMAP is giving you a rough guess. 

Since the media and Western politicos tell us we need to hate and fear Putin, and our leaders love us and cherish us and have only our best interests in mind when they pimp that out, let's serve up our next target: Moscow

As we saw with New York - high density urban areas will suffer big casualties from a detonation optimized for destruction.

That is a dramatic effect from a single weapon clocking in at rougly ten times the power of the bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A 1 megaton shot over Red Square and you are seeing third degree burns almost to the outer ring road. 


Well over a half million dead, over 1.5 million casualties, and a scar of fallout for hundreds of kilometers. Again, ground bursts truly complicate the post-war picture.

And how can you have a nuclear scenario without getting the Middle East involved? That's right, you can't. So let's do what a lot of Congressional reps who have never seen battle want to do and nuke Tehran:

An optimized air burst right on top of the Azadi Tower. 600,000 dead and nearly 1.8 million injured.


More of the same. Note the idealized fallout pattern over the mountains. I have to assume actual weather patterns would probably leave much of the fallout pasted on the southern faces of the Elburz Mountains and will put a crimp in the skiing industry for quite a few  years to come...

Two million dead. Well over three million casualties.

Nearly three million dead and wounded in this scenario. Again, be wary of the very idealized fallout pattern for the particular geography.

The Aftermath
If the world gets to a point where major population centers are being targeted by nuclear weapons, then I am assuming we will have tipped over into a large-scale nuclear war. Limited wars and limited exchanges of nuclear weapons over military targets and/or critical infrastructure leave a lot of room to recover and maneuver. Just looking at these maps, especially of the 1MT ground shots, one gets that sinking realization that so many strategists came to during the Cold War. Yes, you can postulate how a country could survive a major nuclear war, but with the destruction of so much of the infrastructure of modern life and the fact that the United States no longer has a deep network of small mixed farms (too inefficient for modern agribusiness - some day being too efficient and not resilient enough will come back to haunt us) it becomes tough to see how life post-nuclear war is anything but a tough slog in a devastated landscape.

Thoughts and Plans
These are the scenarios for which bomb shelters were envisioned. You can play with your own situation in terms of warning time, what the traffic situation out of a major urban area might look like during a war scare, consider how the attacks and the consequent fallout might disrupt the transport networks that modern, efficient, corporate America relies on to feed this nation of consumers and TV watchers.

On that sobering note, have a good weekend.

Clown Show Disclaimer

Due to the subject matter of this post, it will be necessary to provide the following disclaimer. Blog posts like this tend to bring out comment trolls ready to gin up the Clown Show of name-calling, knee-jerk willful misinterpretation, and angry discourse generating much sound and fury, but which in the end, signifies nothing. Such comments will be deleted. 

I am not promoting nuclear war. I am not attempting to wish such an attack upon any population anywhere.  I am attempting to provide a plausible scenario which might lead to the use of nuclear weapons. My expectation is that you will use this scenario to war game whatever plans you may be putting into place to deal with this new era we find ourselves in and see if you are as ready as you hope.