“Any use of nuclear weapons can escalate into a full nuclear war.”

Lee Heidhues 11.15.2022

Nothing is more terrifying than the prospect of Nuclear conflict.

Today the Russians fired missiles which landed in Poland, killing at least two Polish citizens. This is a serious provocation and raises the stakes as Putin pursues his War of Aggression against Ukraine. Now nearly 10 months and counting.

Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 11.14.2022

“Any use of nuclear weapons can escalate into a full nuclear war between NATO and Russia, and would produce a nuclear winter,” Professor Alan Robock told DW. “Almost all war games played with military officers result in this once nuclear weapons are used. There is not much chance that a nuclear war can be stopped once started.  Panic, fear, miscommunication, and bad information would result in commanders using the weapons they have.”

Robock, a professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University in the US, was one of the authors of the Nature study.

Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and meltdowns at the Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants clearly affected people’s health. But experts say it’s hard to predict the fallout from a nuclear war today.

When we think about the war in Ukraine and the nuclear threat that it poses, we often think of two scenarios: an accident at a Ukrainian nuclear plant or the fallout from nuclear weapons.

In the first article of this series, DW looked at accidents at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, and at Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant in 1986, analzying the impact those accidents had on the surrounding populations. And we compared those accidents and to what might happen in the event of fallout from an accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been central to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

In this second article, we will look into the short and long-term health effects that the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on surrounding populations in 1945.

Hiroshima, Japan following Nuclear attack by the United States – August 1945

Experts use the study of those bombings at the end of World War II to understand what might happen if a nuclear weapon were detonated today.

The detonation of a weapon in the air can kill many people at once, with less of a long-term impact on radiation in the surrounding population and environment.

The detonation of a weapon near the surface of the Earth could both kill many people at once and taint the environment and food supply for years.

This can be illustrated by the US bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of WWII and the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine. The attacks killed between 60-80,000 people in Nagasaki and between 70-135,000 people in Hiroshima in the months that followed.

Mushroom cloud from the world’s first hydrogen fusion blast. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Us Air Force/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The bombings released about 40 times less radiation into the environment than the 1986 Chernobyl accident, but killed hundreds of thousands more people in the immediate aftermath.

Today, people can safely live in Nagasaki and Hiroshima without fear of lingering radiation, but the Chernobyl exclusion zone remains radioactive and uninhabitable.

Other effects of the 1945 bombings include an abnormally high increase in leukemia among people in surrounding areas, particularly among children. Other cancers increased, but in lower numbers.

Further long-term impacts of the radiation included increased instances of small head size, slower physical growth, and mental disability among children still in the womb when the explosions occurred some studies have suggested. This generally wasn’t the case for children conceived after the bombings, as other research has shown.