How a nuclear war would kill you — and almost everyone else.

By François Diaz-Maurin, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

This summer, the New York City Emergency Management department released a new public service announcement on nuclear preparedness, instructing New Yorkers about what to do during a nuclear attack. The 90-second video starts with a woman nonchalantly announcing the catastrophic news: “So there’s been a nuclear attack. Don’t ask me how or why, just know that the big one has hit.” Then the PSA video advises New Yorkers on what to do in case of a nuclear attack: Get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned to media and governmental updates.

nuclear bombs falling across the globe

But nuclear preparedness works better if you are not in the blast radius of a nuclear attack. Otherwise, there’s no going into your house and closing your doors because the house will be gone. Now imagine there have been hundreds of those “big ones.” That’s what even a “small” nuclear war would include. If you are lucky not to be within the blast radius of one of those, it may not ruin your day, but soon enough, it will ruin your whole life.

Effects of a single nuclear explosion

Any nuclear explosion creates radiation, heat, and blast effects that will result in many quick fatalities.
Direct radiation is the most immediate effect of the detonation of a nuclear weapon. It is produced by the nuclear reactions inside the bomb and comes mainly in the form of gamma rays and neutrons.

Direct radiation lasts less than a second, but its lethal level can extend over a mile in all directions from the detonation point of a modern-day nuclear weapon with an explosive yield equal to the effect of several hundred kilotons of TNT.

Microseconds into the explosion of a nuclear weapon, energy released in the form of X-rays heats the surrounding environment, forming a fireball of superheated air. Inside the fireball, the temperature and pressure are so extreme that all matter is rendered into a hot plasma of bare nuclei and subatomic particles, as is the case in the Sun’s multi-million-degree core.

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