Past, present and future of nuclear war

With the fear of nuclear war on the rise amid the the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, it is hard to forget our complicated past with nuclear weapons and their potentially disastrous effects on our planet. Unsurprisingly, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs declared nuclear weapons as the most dangerous type of weapon on the planet, with the power to kill millions and destroy everything in its path.

Will our planet survive a nuclear crisis? Here’s a look at what happened the last time we used nuclear weapons.

The fallout of history

The first time humans used nuclear forces was at the end of World War II. In 1945 the American atomic bombs exploded on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. the the results shocked the world, with an estimated 70,000 to 135,000 dead in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 people killed in Nagasaki. And the deadly effects of the bombs did not stop when they were detonated. In the years that followed, catastrophic health effects such as cancer due to long-term exposure to radiation haunted cities. Research has shown that increases in miscarriages and deaths have become commonplace for pregnant woman exposed to bombardments. The consequences have even followed generations, with a increased risk intellectual disabilities and stunted growth in the children of blast survivors.

The atomic bombs, composed of the radioactive elements uranium and plutonium, not only claimed the lives of thousands of people, but also completely devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Research shows that the energy released when the two bombs exploded led to immediate large-scale firestorms. Environmental contamination also remained a great concern as water, air and soil were contaminated in the cities and surrounding areas due to the large amounts of radiation emitted by the bombs and carried by the winds. black rain containing radioactive particles that fell from the sky and damaged infrastructure. These damaging effects left cities in ruins for years as Japan attempted to repair the lasting damage caused by the bombs.

Despite these consequences, some of which are still being felt today, we find ourselves in another difficult situation regarding nuclear weapons. On February 24, Russia sent its army across the border into Ukraine in an attempt to take the country by force. The invasion led to an outright war between Russia and Ukraine and the rallying support of Ukraine’s Western Allies including the United States However, with the conflict worsening daily, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened to use nuclear force in Ukraine. The possibility of history repeating itself in the form of another nuclear assault, however limited, understandably fills people around the world with fear and anxiety.

A planet on fire

How could a nuclear war unfold today and what could be the consequences? Before you answer that, consider that the the world’s combined nuclear arsenal has about 13,000 such weapons in the world, with more than 90 percent of these weapons belonging to the United States and Russia. What’s even more dangerous is that modern nuclear weapons are far more powerful than the devices used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, says Brian Toon, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado. Nuclear weapons release or exert enormous amounts of explosive force, which can be quantified in kilotons. Scientific experts have calculated that each of the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities released between 15 and 25 kilotons of energy. Today, just one of the nuclear weapons at our disposal could release 10 times that explosive energy. Or more. Much more.

Hydrogen bombs, for example, are far more dangerous than the atomic bombs of World War II. In fact, hydrogen bombs can be 1,000 times more powerful than atomic bombs. That would mean a bigger explosion and an even bigger death toll. Although the details depend on factors such as the locations where a bomb is dropped and the population density of the region, one dreads to imagine the destruction that modern nuclear weapons could cause. “The purpose of nuclear weapons is to destroy cities, that’s what they’re designed for,” Toon said.

Movies and books have long portrayed nuclear war as inevitably resulting in an uninhabitable planet with destroyed cities, collapsed infrastructure, scarce food and water, and deadly amounts of radiation. This may not be far from the truth, as described by Toon and a team of researchers in a study that charts the results of even a small nuclear crisis. The study explores the idea of ​​a nuclear war between india and pakistan, two countries with a history of rivalry and access to smaller-scale nuclear weapons. The hypothetical crisis involves the two countries triggering more than 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons that could result in between 50 and 125 million deaths. And the damage would not stop there.

The study indicates that such a conflict could lead to giant firestorms that would spread through urban and industrial areas and lead to unprecedented global shortages and famine that would haunt the world for more than a decade. If that’s not enough to scare you, it’s predicted that firestorms could also throw up large amounts of soot in the stratosphere. This could cause global temperatures to drop between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius (35.6 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit).

The results of the study provide insight into the devastating effects that even a small-scale nuclear war could have on our planet. With Russia threatening to use nuclear forces, it is chilling to draw parallels to how this scenario might unfold today. Any nuclear conflict would completely transform the world as we know it, and not for the better. This is why the nuclear-capable countries of the world have successfully resisted the deployment of such ultimate force against each other for the past 75 years – and why we all hope that this restraint will continue.

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