The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Here’s How Bad a Nuclear War Would Actually Be

We know that an all-out U.S.-Russia nuclear war would be bad. But how bad, exactly? How do your chances of surviving the explosions, radiation, and nuclear winter depend on where you live? The past year’s unprecedented nuclear saber-rattling and last weekend’s chaos in Russia has made this question timely. To help answer it, I’ve worked with an amazing interdisciplinary group of scientists (see end credits) to produce the most scientifically realistic simulation of a nuclear war using only unclassified data, and visualize it as a video. It combines detailed modeling of nuclear targeting, missile trajectories, blasts and the electromagnetic pulse, and of how black carbon smoke is produced, lofted and spread across the globe, altering the climate and causing mass starvation.

As the video illustrates, it doesn’t matter much who starts the war: when one side launches nuclear missiles, the other side detects them and fires back before impact. Ballistic missiles from U.S. submarines west of Norway start striking Russia after about 10 minutes, and Russian ones from north of Canada start hitting the U.S. a few minutes later. The very first strikes fry electronics and power grids by creating an electro-magnetic pulse of tens of thousands of volts per meter. The next strikes target command-and-control centers and nuclear launch facilities. Land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles take about half an hour to fly from launch to target.

Major cities are targeted both because they contain military facilities and to stymie the enemy’s post-war recovery. Each impact creates a fireball about as hot as the core of the sun, followed by a radioactive mushroom cloud. These intense explosions vaporize people nearby and cause fires and blindness further away. The fireball expansion then causes a blast wave that damages buildings, crushing nearby ones. The U.K. and France have nuclear capabilities and are obliged by NATO’s Article 5 to defend the U.S. so, Russia hits them too. Firestorms engulf many cities, where storm-level winds fan the flames, igniting anything that can burn, melting glass and some metals and turning asphalt into flammable hot liquid.

Unfortunately, peer-reviewed research suggests that explosions, the electromagnetic pulse, and the radioactivity aren’t the worst part: a nuclear winter is caused by the black carbon smoke from the nuclear firestorms.

Read more at Time

For more reading and an alternate view, read the article You Can Survive Nuclear War.

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.