Table of Contents
- Loss of Countless Lives
- Nuclear Winter
- Nuclear Famine
- Electromagnetic Pulse
- Nuclear Fallout
- Thermal Radiation
- Radar Blackout
- Ionizing Radiation
- Damage Due to the Blasts
- Consequences in a Nutshell
If you are one to follow the news, you probably know that the chances of a nuclear war breaking out are more likely than ever. In light of recent events, an oft-asked question is how you can survive a full-blown nuclear war. However, the question that needs to be asked is that do you even want to survive a nuclear war?
Before going into the direct and indirect effects of a nuclear war breaking out, it is important to understand that even a low profile nuclear war can wreak enough damage to make the earth inhabitable. A nuclear war isn’t just any war. As of 2018, nine countries have nuclear warheads. Five of these nine countries, France, the US, the UK, China, and Russia are part of the original owner’s club. (1) So, without any further ado, let us explain the 10 things that will definitely happen should a nuclear war break out.
Loss of Countless Lives
Unsurprisingly, the loss of countless human lives is at the top of the effects of a nuclear war. Moreover, the unprecedented loss of lives is something that will continue well after the war, courtesy of the after-effects. Hundreds of millions of innocent people will die during the war. Entire cities and their inhabitants will be vaporized. It doesn’t end there. Even after the war is long over, millions will die due to radiation exposure, cancer, and starvation. The dirt and debris that was sucked up into the mushroom clouds would be made radioactive by neutrons. A significant part of this material will fall back to the earth, resulting in radioactive fallout. Hundreds of millions will die from exposure. (2)
As nuclear firestorms vaporize cities and forests, great torrents of smoke will envelop the planet, spreading out in black clouds of ash. The ultimate result will be darkness at all times, causing the temperatures to plummet. All living things will slowly but surely die. A prolonged and severe cooling effect after extensive firestorms is the characteristic of nuclear winter. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that firestorms can cause soot to block direct sunlight, resulting in noontime darkness. (3)
Though it is difficult to estimate the total number of causalities due to nuclear winter, it is a no-brainer that most of them are caused by nuclear famine. Characterized by mass starvation, more than a third of the world’s population will starve to death if a regional conflict should erupt. (4) With a continuous winter, no crops will grow. The reduction in food supplies will only serve to raise prices, affecting hundreds of millions of people. With no crops, herbivores and carnivores will slowly starve to death. Humans will gain no reprieve.
EMP or an electromagnetic pulse is defined as a burst of electromagnetic radiation. Nuclear explosions can create an electromagnetic radiation pulse, which can disrupt or damage electronic equipment. Even a single nuclear weapon can disable all of the electronics in the United States. (5) Needless to say, EMP can disable hospitals, food storage facilities, communication, and water treatment facilities. The consequences of EMP attacks can span over months or years, resulting in a prolonged power loss. (6)
Nuclear fallout is radioactive ash and dust that is thrust into the atmosphere after an explosion. Though limited to a certain area, radioactive fallout is by no means tame. Darkened by soot, residual radioactive ash can fall in the form of black rain.
Containing radioactive isotopes such as strontium 90 and cesium 137, black rain and fallout can contaminate waterways, crops, and soil. Direct contact with such radioactive materials ultimately leads to radiation poisoning. The after-effects of radiation poisoning and exposure include prodromal syndrome, death of your bone marrow, death of the central nervous system as well as gastrointestinal death. Long-term effects of radiation exposure also include cancer, and in utero effects on the development of humans. (7) (8)
Nuclear weapons can emit large amounts of thermal radiation in the form of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light. Known as ‘flash’, thermal radiation can cause burns and eye injuries. Thermal radiation is also capable of starting fires. Constituting about 35-40% of the energy released in a nuclear explosion, thermal radiation can cause hazards like flash blindness and retinal burns.
Flash blindness is usually temporary, resulting in bleaching of the visual pigments. On the other hand, a retinal burn results in permanent damage due to scarring. Caused by the concentration of thermal energy on the retina, a retinal burn only occurs when the explosion or fireball is in your field of vision. An uncommon injury, retinal burns can occur at a considerable distance from the explosion. The actual height of the burst as well as the fireball’s size determines the extent of retinal scarring.
The heat emitted by the explosion causes ionization of the air in your surroundings. This creates a fireball. The free electrons in said fireball can affect radio waves, making a significant part of the sky opaque to radar. (9) Beta particles can also cause another blackout. Beta particles can travel longer distances, and reach the upper atmosphere. Causing ionization very similar to the fireball, beta particles can cover a wider area.
An obvious effect of a nuclear war, the pressure generated by an underground wave can travel through the ground and cause an earthquake. (10) Studies have shown that a nuclear war can cause fault ruptures and major and minor earthquakes. (11)
At least 5% of the energy released in a nuclear explosion is released in the form of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation includes neutrons, gamma rays, alpha particles, and electrons. All of these particles travel at the speed of light, gamma rays faster than its counterparts.
At the site of the explosion, the intensity of neutrons is far greater than the gamma intensity. The neutron radiation is transmuted to the matter in your surroundings, making it highly radioactive. When dust and ash are added to the radioactive material released by the bomb, a significant amount of radioactive material is released into the environment. This type of radioactive poisoning is termed as a nuclear fallout. The nuclear fallout is the chief risk of exposure to the ionizing radiation of a nuclear weapon.
Damage Due to the Blasts
Most of the damage caused by nuclear explosions are due to the blasts themselves. Nuclear explosions can cause buildings to fold under, and vaporize entirely. The high temperatures and radiation of the nuclear explosions can cause the release of a shock wave. These shock waves and compressions can weaken structures. The weakened buildings are then destroyed by blast winds. Compressions and shock waves, coupled with drag phases can exert a force that is ten times stronger than a hurricane.
Other than destroying buildings and structures, blasts can cause irreparable damages to the human body. The shock waves caused by the explosions can exert pressure waves throughout the tissues of your body. Chiefly damaging the junctions between tissues of bone and muscles, shock waves wreak havoc on your lungs and abdominal cavity. Injuring tissues having different densities, shock waves can cause severe hemorrhaging and embolisms. Both of these are highly fatal. The pressure exerted by the shock waves can damage lungs and even rupture eardrums.
Consequences in a Nutshell
It is common knowledge that the physical and biological effects of a nuclear war have certainly advanced over the years. The harmful effects of a nuclear war on the environment are in greater focus. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the socio-economic effects of a nuclear war. Though it is difficult to estimate the exact effects of a nuclear war, it is by no means an invitation for us to find out just what would happen. With fluctuating temperatures, and perpetual darkness, the planet Earth will make surviving very difficult should nukes fly.
Even if a regional war between Pakistan and India were to break out, the effects will be felt by the whole world. If the US and Russia use only a small number of their warheads, two billion people will lose their lives. This rough estimate does not include the long-term effects of a nuclear war. With a multitude of medical issues, including cancer, burns, bone marrow death, and central nervous system death, a nuclear war will certainly do in mankind. Should a nuclear war break out, the human race will, slowly but surely, die out. With constant winter, crops will die out, food prices will rise and the poorer countries will bear the brunt. Eventually, all herbivores and predators will die out, and so will humans.