Effects of Nuclear Detonations - Study

I recently received a challenge to present information specific to the effects of nuclear detonations. To the point, it was a challenge to present data sufficient to confirm or deny my own assertions, regarding the accuracy of specific claims made by another.

unionThe source material for the data presented to, well, basically the entire Twitterverse, was a video posted on YouTube by an M.D, who has very strong feelings about the results of a nuclear exchange. While I keep certain information resident on my hard drives, I wanted to present the results of a variety of studies and simulations, so I am collecting a bit more in order to create a balanced work. It also allows me to update a few things. I hope to be able to share the results of this compilation with you all sometime this weekend. The work will have proper references, source links and attributions.

While the upcoming post takes into consideration the effects of an air burst of a 25 megaton device, I must share with you that the super weapons of the 50s and 60s are thankfully out of use, because they are technically, strategically and economically out of date. Even the mid-range weapons have fallen out of inventory, and if they exist at all, it is only as disassembled components incapable of any reasonable reactivation. Today’s US stockpiles commonly include warheads in the 100 kiloton to 550 kiloton range.  Some are even “dial-a-yield”, giving war planners the ability to tailor a device to its target. The Russians and Chinese have some larger units, but nothing like the monsters that attacked our imaginations so many years ago. To represent the effects of a nuclear weapon popping in a city near you, the reported effects must necessarily reflect the yields likely to be used. This great error was the genesis of my inquiry into the source data for the report made, and then regarding the video that I later discovered was the sole source of information for that report.

The larger “super” weapons were necessary for a number of reasons…

Initially, there were no missiles capable of delivering them. They were simply too large and heavy. Airborne tests of super weapons required modified bombers that could not retain their designed range after their alteration, and the loading of these beasts. (The Soviet Tsar Bomba project was a perfect example of this.) As a result, “smaller” weapons were developed. These made possible delivery by strategic bombers, though they were dropped “dumb”. The only guidance was from a traditional bombardier or inertial guidance equipment on board the plane. Once let loose, they had no way to correct their course to target. As a result, the accuracy required to do the job suffered, which required that the device be larger in explosive yield to account for a wide circular error of probability. The delivery means dictated the weapon yields.

Bombers were subject to a wide range of countermeasures. It was very likely that losses to fighters, interceptor missiles and even nukes would be high. So naturally, the remaining sorties would need to be carrying enough tonnage to complete the missions. Having them carry low yield weapons would require that many more planes be dedicated to each target, especially high value targets. This was an unacceptable strategy, even more so if the scenario called for the availability of only a single strike wave, due to successful counter-target actions by the enemy.

Smaller weapons capable of intercontinental delivery via missiles eventually became the norm. They were less expensive and cheaper to maintain. They could be delivered in multiples to a single target, blanketing it with a much more uniform overpressure. Their reliability increased. Their CEP reduced thanks to remarkable guidance systems. Since each individual warhead had a great likelihood of hitting its target, with little chance of loss en route,  and could do this within a reasonable cost structure, the big boys were pulled from service.

When you finish with the post coming down the pike, you’ll have tools to evaluate your own situation, and to check your findings against more than a few sources. It’s isn’t one single supporting resource that one should search out, but many that agree in a manner close enough to each other as to provide weight to a given opinion.

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