June 21, 2024

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What is the nightmare of a potential nuclear war?

What is the nightmare of a potential nuclear war?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was intended to be short and effective. But the country resisted the military offensive for more than eight days, with which the war escalated to the point that Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened last Thursday to use its nuclear arsenal in the face of imposed economic sanctions.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticized in Geneva the raising of the alert level for nuclear weaponsand many other leaders, including President Ivan Duque, denounced the aggression against Ukraine and expressed their support for United Nations resolutions to punish Russia for this act of war.

Although Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons, the fear is that Russia will attack, and NATO, whose members have these weapons, will respond, which will start a third world war, which will be essentially nuclear. This scenario was designed by a group of scientists at Princeton University. At first, the war was fought between Western countries and Russia, but as soon as the main European capitals were bombed, the conflict is centered between the United States and Russia.

According to this simulation, there will be 3.1 million deaths in 45 minutes. Today this possibility does not seem far-fetched. Last week, Joe Biden said that “the United States and its allies will defend every inch of the territory of the countries that belong to NATO.” All this prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to update the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight.

Little is known about the consequences of a war of this magnitude. The case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is no longer an honest reference because “today’s nuclear bombs are more complex and many countries have this kind of arsenal,” says Diego Torres, professor of nuclear physics at the National University. Only with the United States and Russia there will be more than 11,000 of these weapons in the world, according to data from the Federation of American Scientists, and “the newer ones are 20-30 times more powerful than those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” according to Tara Drozdenko, director of the Security Program World Federation of Concerned Scientists.

The best reference would be The Day After (1983), which depicted a devastated and dark planet following the nuclear attacks between Russia and the United States. Thus, there are only scientific models that predict what might happen in different scenarios of nuclear conflict.

The first thing experts note is that the damage depends on several factors, including the weather and when the bomb fell, the geographical distribution of where it fell, and whether it exploded on the ground or in the air.

The United States and Russia have a highly developed and destructive nuclear arsenal. – Photo: AP/Getty Images

In addition, the effect is largely due to the type and number of bombs used. “There are two types of bombs: fission bombs, like those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of which 7,000 were miscalculated,” Torres says. If one of those standard bombs fell on the capital, according to Torres, it would destroy the area from downtown to the National University. “But there are other types of merging. It is a thousand times stronger and one of them will evaporate from the entire savannah in Bogota.”

In general, there are some stages that can be predicted. The explosion will result in a large flash of light and a giant fireball reaching the lower layers of the atmosphere. The effect would instantly kill those who were at the center of the blast, but those a little further away might suffer third-degree burns.

The explosion of a bomb of this size also causes sudden changes in air pressure, which can crush objects and topple buildings 6 km away. Humans can withstand this pressure, but most of them will die from collapsed buildings.

But if they shoot not one, but several, then Drozdenko’s calculations predict the number of dead, up to millions of people. The soot emitted by a nuclear bomb will cause clouds to spread in the atmosphere. Any exposure to these radioactive elements would cause damage at the cellular level. In the short term, those clouds will block out the sun’s rays, and the world will become a refrigerator unsuitable for growing food.

This is known as nuclear winter, a phenomenon that would cause famine on the planet. According to a study that examined three years after the nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia, this layer would lower global temperatures by more than 10 degrees Celsius. The world will be much colder than it was during the last Ice Age. “The size and quantity of the bombs predict whether there will be a nuclear winter or autumn, says Joshua Pearce, a professor and researcher at Western University in Canada. “With autumn there will be a shortage of food, but enough sunlight to grow some crops, such as potatoes.”

The United States and Russia possess nearly all of the world's available nuclear arsenal.
The United States and Russia possess nearly all of the world’s available nuclear arsenal. – Photo: Source: Federation of American Scientists

No one doubts that the worst-case scenario will be a nuclear confrontation between the United States and Russia. Christensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project: “Not only will it kill millions of people, but it will contaminate very large areas with radioactive particles with a permanent climate impact.” For Drozdenko, such a scenario simply means “the end of civilization.”

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Recent studies have indicated that a “small” nuclear war, involving less than 1 percent of the world’s arsenal, could have catastrophic consequences, destroying the world’s food supply and depleting the ozone layer, and leaving humans vulnerable to harmful ultraviolet radiation. The danger lies in the possibility of such regional nuclear confrontations.

A study examining a possible nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan indicated that such a war would result in billions of deaths not only due to the direct impact, but due to the effects on agricultural production. For all of the above, according to Professor Torres, Russia is unlikely to launch a nuclear bomb in Ukraine. “It would be like shooting yourself in the foot,” he explains, because the devastating effects of the explosion would be felt on his land.

For him, the nuclear power of these weapons is so great that this is what prevents their use. “They are destroying the neighbor’s house and theirs,” he adds. In addition to the billions killed, ocean chemistry will change and coral reefs and other marine ecosystems will likely be decimated. Any nuclear conflict, no matter how local, will have devastating global repercussions. In any case, with the possibility that, if it did happen, the epidemic, by comparison, would be a party.

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