What Happens When A Nuclear Bomb Explodes?
Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert in the last few weeks, citing “aggressive statements” by Nato and tough financial sanctions as a reason.
As of 2019, there were 15,000 nuclear weapons on planet Earth – 90 per cent of which belong to Russia and the United States, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
In the improbable scenario of a full-scale nuclear war, humanity could be wiped out. That’s not just a direct result of the number of deaths but also the aftermath of global cooling.
What Actually Happens In A Nuclear Explosion?
There are so many factors to be considered to determine the impact: the time of day, the weather, the exact location and whether it exploded on land or in the air. Clothing is also a surprising aspect as white clothes can reflect some of the energy of a blast, while black clothing can absorb it.
The type and size of the nuclear weapon can also impact the outcome. Modern bombs start by triggering a fission reaction, according to Live Science. They explained: “Fission is the splitting of the nuclei of heavy atoms into lighter atoms — a process that releases neutrons. These neutrons, in turn, can careen into the nuclei of nearby atoms, splitting them and setting off an out-of-control chain reaction.”
That chain reaction occurs so fast, it produces a large amount of energy, which is released in the form of light and heat. Most organic objects in range of the heat-pulse are essentially vaporised.
A fission explosion would be devastating – though many modern weapons have the potential to cause even more damage. Fission bombs, also known as atomic bombs, destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. They were around 13 kilotons yield.
Atom bombs are rated in kilotons, one kiloton being the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT. Hydrogen bombs are rated in megatons, one megaton equalling one million tons of TNT.
Hydrogen bombs take over where atom boms end; there comes a point where atom bombs become too large to be transportable. Hydrogen bombs use the fusion process, which releases much more energy, and are vastly more destructive.
If a nuclear bomb were to explode on land, the explosion would cause instant death. For example, a bomb equivalent to the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs would kill 50 per cent of people in a 2-mile radius, according to a report from a Preventive Defense Project workshop. An airburst is said to have a wider blast radius.
There is also an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which creates high voltages in electrical equipment, usually damaging them beyond repair.
Causes of death go beyond the explosion itself. There would be fires, radiation exposure, collapsed buildings, flying shrapnel in a 0.5-mile (0.8 km) radius of the detonation.
The largest known hydrogen bomb tested was the Soviet Tsar Bomba in October 1961. It had a yield of 58 megatons. It caused total destruction of structures out to 21 miles.
In order to survive a hypothetical nuclear blast, you’d essentially want to avoid countries with access to nuclear weapons and those involved in nuclear agreements.
While worries are understandably high surrounding a nuclear war defence secretary Ben Wallace said Putin’s phrasing was a “battle of rhetoric”.
“This is predominantly about Putin putting it on the table just to remind people, remind the world, that he has a deterrent.”