Thoughts on the destructive capabilities of the nuclear bomb

(Operation Teapot, MET test, 22 kiloton atomic bomb blast, April 15, 1955)

Being brought up in the cold war I always thought a nuclear bomb could wipe out half a state.  That’s how people talked anyways, and I had no reason to doubt them.  I also heard it continually mentioned how we could destroy ourselves many times over with all the nuclear bombs we have. 

As I grew up I became very fascinated with nuclear bombs and how they worked.  I was particularly interested in their destructive power.  What I found shocked me.  Though the nuclear bomb is very destructive, it’s not THAT destructive.  That is to say, it can’t destroy the world.  It might cause a crater or move some earth or turn things to ash but its simply not big enough to do much damage to the earth. 

As for the living things living on earth there can be great destruction.  But its limited in how much it can destroy.  A nuclear bomb causes a radius of complete destruction, varying with the bomb size.  This radius of complete destruction can be like half a mile to around 20 or so miles.  Though that is large, it’s not large enough to ‘destroy the world’.  How many 20 miles or so radius bombs would it take to destroy humanity? 

As I talked to people about it I found that the destructiveness of the nuclear bomb was very misunderstood.  Very few people I talked to understood how destructive it really was . . . or wasn’t.  To be frank, no one I talked to has ever had an idea of its real destructiveness.  Many people seemed to think it had this unlimited power of destruction, as if a nuclear war would blow the earth in two.

This certainly is not the case but the nuclear bomb has more avenues of destruction than any other weapon of war that I know.  These different avenues of destruction include:

–  The initial radiation emission.

–  The effects of the shock waves.

–  The propelling of shrapnel and other items created by the blast.

–  The destruction of buildings, homes, power lines, etc. which can kill people or cause problems later on.

–  Residue radiation in the area.

–  The fallout.

–  Residue radiation in the atmosphere (which can last for decades).

–  The natural calamity that follows disasters.  In a nuclear war this may do more damage than the bombs. 

Most certainly, the atomic bomb is the weapon of most destructive capability.  Not only can it do tremendous amounts of damage in its initial blast but it also leaves longstanding problems afterwords.  It shows that there are gradations in nuclear destruction.  What I mean by this is that a nuclear bomb doesn’t just do a single act of destruction somewhere and thats it (like an explosion of TNT), but it destroys and then leaves diminishing levels of destruction in its wake, varying from large to minor.  Perhaps, what it leaves in its wake may be the most destructive of all?

There are many examples of this gradations of damage.  If one looks at the blast area a person can see the gradations of damage.  Naturally, the area closest to the blast is flattened.  There may be a crater below the blast.  As you go out things are damaged severely, then not-so-severely.  Then there is a point where things are somewhat damaged but standing, then theres the point where things are undamaged.  Then theres the point where things are unaffected at all.  Even in this range the damage is not consistent.  Some things can take the blast better than other things, so some things may remain standing where everything else is destroyed.  This makes it difficult to say exactly what the ‘destruction radius’ is.  Not only that, as the blast goes further away it expands out in a circle.  As a result, the circumference of the blast grows larger and larger making it diminish rapidly as it expands.  Because of this, the damage near the blast may show little difference in 100 feet.  Further away, because of the expanding circumference, 100 feet can make a remarkable difference in its destructive capabilities. 

Even the radiation has many forms of gradations of destruction, such as:

–  The initial radiation emission can burn, char, and even vaporize people and things depending on how close they are to the blast.  A 50 megaton bomb could cause 3rd degree burns 6o miles away. 

–  Anyone who survives and wanders the area could get a heavy dose of radiation from the surrounding area.

–  Fallout, which is the radiactive particles that ascend up the mushroom cloud and then slowly start to fall back to earth, can spread radiation for miles, depending on the weather.  Getting this on you or ingesting it can give heavy doses of radiation to a person.  In general, a person wants to avoid any ingesting of fallout, as once its in your system it remains in there.  They say that one of the first signs of fallout is a feeling of ‘grit’ in your teeth.  The best thing to do is to wear a mask, they say.

Many of the effects of radiation can have long lasting effects, effecting a persons whole life.  Sometimes, the effects of what seems like a low dose of radiation may not be felt for years afterwords, often coming as a cancer.   

They say that the radiation as a result of the nuclear blasts done in the atmosphere in the 50’s could still be read in the 80’s.  I’ve heard speculation that the supposed increase of cancer in the years following WWII may be a result of this radiation, but no one knows for sure.  It suggests that, had there been a nuclear war, the radiation of all the blasts would circle the globe, probably for decades.  If its true that this radiation can cause things like cancer, then it could do a lot of damage to the living organisms living on the earth, years after the war ended.  This shows the long lasting effects the nuclear destruction could have.

All in all, though, its clear that the nuclear bomb is very destructive.  It has many ranges of destructive abilities, and its effects can be long lasting.  But, still, I do not see how a nuclear war could destroy humanity and ‘life on earth’, as I’ve often heard it said during the cold war. 

Here is a link showing the largest bomb ever detonated:

Quite a menacing image.  It is the ‘Tsar Bomba’, detonated on October 30, 1961 by the Soviet Union.  It was a 50 megaton bomb.  It did a destructive radius of about 22 miles.  Supposedly, they were going to do a 100 megaton bomb but were concerned about fallout. 

However large and destructive this may be, we must remember that its only a dot on the overall world map.  Most certainly anything in the blast zone would be wiped out and fallout would affect the surrounding area.  Though the blast is very large and could kill many people in a heavily populated area, it seems to me that it would require an unbelievable amount of bombs like this to destroy humanity.  The world is too large of a place.

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