The Effects of Nuclear War: How Far Does Radiation Travel From a Nuclear Bomb?

Nuclear weapons are some of the most powerful and destructive weapons ever created. When detonated, they can cause immense destruction and send radioactive materials up to 50 miles into the atmosphere. The most immediate effect of a nuclear explosion is an intense burst of nuclear radiation, mainly gamma rays and neutrons, which can last for less than a second. The lethal direct radiation from a 10-kiloton explosion extends nearly a mile.

However, with most weapons, direct radiation is of little importance because other lethal effects generally span greater distances. An exception is the enhanced radiation weapon, or neutron bomb, which maximizes direct radiation and minimizes other destructive effects. Those closest to the bomb would face death, while anyone within a distance of up to 5 miles could suffer third-degree burns. People who are up to 53 miles away may experience temporary blindness. Nuclear weapons also emit large amounts of thermal radiation in the form of visible, infrared and ultraviolet light.

The main hazards are burns and eye injuries, which can occur well beyond the range of the explosion depending on the performance of the weapon. Fires can also be initiated by initial thermal radiation, but strong winds due to the shock wave can put out almost all such fires. Whether because of the escalation of a limited nuclear conflict or as a large-scale attack, all-out nuclear war is still possible as long as nuclear nations have hundreds or thousands of weapons pointing at each other. A major consequence of such a war would be nuclear winter - a substantial reduction in global temperature that could result from the injection of soot into the atmosphere during a nuclear war. Using updated models of Cold War nuclear explosions, the Wellerstein simulator can roughly predict the number of casualties and injuries from a nuclear bomb in a given location, large or small. The concept of 'escalate to de-escalate' suggests that using some low-performing nuclear weapons could show resolution, with the expected result of the other party retracting their aggressive behavior. However, the United States has facilities to treat fewer than 2,000 burn cases, virtually all of them in urban areas that would be devastated by nuclear explosions.

A total nuclear war would leave survivors with little means of recovery and could lead to a total collapse of society. Nuclear explosions can produce clouds of dust and radioactive sand-like particles that disperse into the atmosphere, known as nuclear fallout. Even though EMP weapons are not lethal in the sense that there is no explosion or shock wave, an enemy may be unable to distinguish their effects from those of nuclear weapons. A 1983 war game known as Proud Prophet involved top-secret nuclear war plans and involved high-level decision makers, including President Reagan's Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. The debate on the national and global effects of nuclear war continues, and it is unlikely that issues will be conclusively decided without the unfortunate experiment of real nuclear war. Nuclear testing in the atmosphere prior to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty resulted in detectable levels of radioactive fission products worldwide, and some of that radiation is still present. Nuclear war would involve hundreds or thousands of explosions, creating a situation for which we simply have no relevant experience.

But you can keep your family safe if you know what to do and if you prepare if it happens.

Jerald Shiiba
Jerald Shiiba

Professional tv junkie. General zombie lover. Professional pop cultureaholic. Infuriatingly humble music scholar. Freelance travel maven.

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