Nuclear weapons are a unique form of destruction, capable of causing immense harm to humans and the environment. The effects of a nuclear explosion are far-reaching and can include air explosion effects, thermal flash burns, radiation, and nuclear winter. In an all-out war, there could be millions of cases of severe burns requiring specialized medical treatment, but the United States has facilities to treat fewer than 2,000 burn cases. The shock wave from a nuclear explosion can directly injure humans by rupturing the eardrums or lungs or by throwing people at high speed.
The most immediate effect of a nuclear explosion is an intense burst of nuclear radiation, mainly gamma rays and neutrons. The destructive effects of explosions extend miles from the point of detonation of a typical nuclear weapon, and the lethal consequences can cover communities hundreds of miles downwind of a single nuclear explosion. A limited form of nuclear warfare would be like conventional conflict on the battlefield, but using low-performance tactical nuclear weapons. Nuclear radiation produced in the actual detonation of a nuclear weapon and which constitutes the most immediate effect on the surrounding environment.
Nuclear weapons are also capable of producing a substantial reduction in global temperature known as nuclear winter. This could result from the injection of soot into the atmosphere during a nuclear war and could lead to unprecedented increases in ultraviolet exposure. The debate about 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. Evidence of the foreseeable impacts of a nuclear detonation is an integral part of the risk assessment of nuclear weapons.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries that promote adherence to and implementation of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia could cause a nuclear winter, destroying the essential ecosystems on which all life depends. The devastating effects of nuclear weapons on humans are clear, and it is essential that we take steps to reduce their use and proliferation.