What happens to humans during a nuclear attack?

A nuclear explosion, produced by the explosion of a nuclear bomb (sometimes called nuclear detonation), involves the joining or splitting of atoms (called fusion and. Many factors determine how a nuclear explosion would affect you. The size of the bomb, whether it explodes in the air or on the ground, the geographical distribution of where the bomb hits, how far you are from ground zero, and what types of buildings and materials are nearby influence how a nuclear attack could affect you. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear conflict.

What would the explosion of a nuclear bomb look like for those on the ground and what would happen next? A single nuclear weapon can destroy a city and kill most of its inhabitants. Several nuclear explosions on modern cities would kill tens of millions of people. The casualties of a major nuclear war between the United States and Russia would reach hundreds of millions. Because the expected number of deaths from a relatively low-performance nuclear EPW (3 kilotons) exceeds that of an extremely large release (10,000 kilograms) of sarin, it is highly unlikely that a nuclear attack will produce smaller total side effects than those of a conventional attack on a facility for storage or production of chemical agents.

If an enemy's nuclear weapons are not safe at one point, it is possible that a conventional attack could cause a nuclear detonation. Based on detailed numerical calculations, the report presents a series of findings that compare the effectiveness and expected collateral damage of nuclear EPW and surface nuclear weapons under a variety of conditions. Recently, the DOE and DOD initiated an engineering feasibility study, the robust nuclear ground penetration program, to determine if a more effective EPW could be designed using the core components of existing nuclear weapons. During the 1950s, when atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), there were a number of sets of exposure rate measurements before, during and after the passage of clouds from a variety of types of nuclear tests.

However, the consumption of food contaminated by the consequences of a nuclear test has proven to be a major problem both in NTS20,21 and in the Semipalatinsk industrial estate, a nuclear test site in the Soviet Union. A bomb case would produce a very destructive nuclear explosion, but not as large as that of a nuclear weapon developed for strategic military purposes. It seems likely that even an early-stage nuclear country or group would want some degree of security to preserve both the weapon and the nuclear material for the intended use. With the recent threats of terrorism, many people have expressed concern about the likelihood and effects of a nuclear explosion.

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.

Bradford Tutwiler
Bradford Tutwiler

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