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This is how a nuclear war would affect our planet

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, seems to have run out of patience with North Korea, promising to attack with “fire and fury as the world has never seen” – in his words. Faced with such a threat, with North Korea simulating a missile attack on Guam (an island belonging to the United States) and an American president who continues to fan belligerent rhetoric towards this regime, we wonder what would happen to the Earth before a minor nuclear war if the multilateral disarmament initiative does not go ahead and the rest of the preventive measures end in fiasco.


What would the reality of a localized nuclear war look like?


Relatively recent research has modeled the indirect effects of nuclear detonations on the environment and climate in a supposed scenario between Pakistan and India with 100 nuclear warheads the size of the one in Hiroshima and being detonated mainly in urban areas. Many analysts suggest that this is a plausible scenario in the case of an all-out war between the two states, whose combined arsenals amount to more than 220 nuclear warheads (whose bombs are currently certified as about 2,200 times more powerful than Hiroshima’s).


In this hypothetical scenario, 20 million people would die in just one week from the direct effects of explosions, fires and local radiation ; that is, practically more deaths than in the whole of World War I.


The impact of nuclear explosions on nature

Nuclear explosions are prone to starting fires in large areas that clump together and inject large volumes of soot and debris into the stratosphere. In this India-Pakistan clash up to 6.5 million tonnes of soot could reach the upper atmosphere, blocking the Sun and causing a significant drop in mean surface temperature and rainfall around the world, with effects that could last more than a decade.

This ecological alteration would also significantly affect world food production. Thus, for example, corn production in the United States would decrease by an average of 12% in the next 10 years (the United States is the world’s largest producer of corn); rice production in China would be reduced by 17%, wheat by 31% in winter and corn by 16% … This scenario would put 2 billion people in danger of famine.

Even if there were a nuclear conflict between North Korea and the United States, the impact would not be as great as the India-Pakistan scenario, since Pyongyang’s arsenal is not as voluminous. Despite this, many people would also die and ecological damage would affect us for years.

But what if the conflict took on even more worrying heights?

A full-scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia would have a much greater impact. Most Russian and American weapons are 10 to 50 times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

In this other context, 150 million tons of soot would rise to the upper atmosphere.
Global temperatures would drop 8 ° C.

Food production would collapse and most of humanity would likely starve to death.


Although this proscenium is unlikely, it is still a possibility. Considering that nuclear weapons cannot be used to address sea level rise, extreme weather, ocean acidification, or loss of biodiversity, it is understandable that a large number of medical and public health organizations are promoting nuclear weapons are declared illegal.


Referencia: Research papers and discussions on the public health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons will be part of the Health Through Peace 2017 conference at the University of York in September. Tackling public health crises in a changing, unstable world.


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