A ‘Limited’ Nuclear War Quickly Could Kill 90 Million People

David Axe

A “small” nuclear war would kill or injure more than 90 million people within just a few hours.

That’s the startling conclusion that a team of researchers at Princeton University reached when they simulated an exchange of small-yield “tactical” nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia.

Princeton’s Science and Global Security project team on Sept. 6, 2019 released a video of the simulation, with tiny missiles arcing over continental maps and pinprick blasts erasing cities and countries as the body-count rises.

The video underscores what experts for years have been saying. There’s really no such thing as a small nuclear war. Any wartime use of atomic weapons would be catastrophic, even civilization-ending.

The Science and Global Security team developed the simulation to depict what it described as “a plausible escalating war between the United States and Russia using realistic nuclear force postures, targets and fatality estimates. It is estimated that there would be more than 90 million people dead and injured within the first few hours of the conflict.”

The Princeton simulation relies in part on NUKEMAP, an on-line atomic-strike simulator that historian Alex Wellerstein developed. “We live in a world where nuclear weapons issues are on the front pages of our newspapers on a regular basis, yet most people still have a very bad sense of what an exploding nuclear weapon can actually do,” Wellerstein explained.

“This project is motivated by the need to highlight the potentially catastrophic consequences of current U.S. and Russian nuclear-war plans,” the Princeton team stated.

“The risk of nuclear war has increased dramatically in the past two years as the United States and Russia have abandoned long-standing nuclear arms control treaties, started to develop new kinds of nuclear weapons and expanded the circumstances in which they might use nuclear weapons.”

As part of the wider strategic escalation between the two countries, the United States under Pres. Donald Trump has moved to acquire new, smaller-yield nuclear weapons -- and has begun writing doctrine for employing them even in cases where the threat is non-nuclear.

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