A terrifying animation shows how 1 'tactical' nuclear weapon could trigger a US-Russia war that kills 34 million people in 5 hours
A simulation called "Plan A" produced by researchers shows how the use of one so-called tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon could lead to a terrifying worldwide conflict.
In the roughly four-minute video, a Russian "nuclear warning shot" at a US-NATO coalition is followed by a tactical nuke that leads to a global nuclear war.
The video was produced war at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and NATO, which have again found themselves at odds over a worsening war in Ukraine.
More than 91 million people in Russia, the US, and other NATO countries might be killed or injured within three hours following a single "nuclear warning shot," according to a terrifying simulation.
The simulation is called "Plan A," and it's an audio-visual piece that was first posted to to YouTube on September 6, 2019. Researchers at the Science and Global Security lab at Princeton University created the animation, which shows how a battle between Russia and NATO allies involving the use of a so-called low-yield or "tactical" nuclear weapons — which can pack a blast equivalent to if not greater than the atomic bombs the US used to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki in World War II — might feasibly and quickly snowball into a global nuclear war.
"This project is motivated by the need to highlight the potentially catastrophic consequences of current US and Russian nuclear war plans. The risk of nuclear war has increased dramatically in the past two years," the project states on its website.
The video has an ominous, droning soundtrack and a digital map design straight out of the 1983 movie "WarGames." The Cold War-era movie, in which a young Matthew Broderick accidentally triggers a nuclear war, "was exactly the reference point," simulation designer Alex Wellerstein told Insider.
But while simulations can be frightening, they can also be incredibly helpful. Governments can use them to develop contingency plans to respond to nuclear disasters and attacks in the least escalatory way, and they can also help ordinary citizens learn how to survive a nuclear attack.
"Plan A" was released as tensions between Russia and NATO allies and as Russia and the US were testing weapons previously banned under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia's war against Ukraine has once against put Russia and NATO at odds, with concerns growing that the war could see the use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine or expand into a broader conflict that goes nuclear.
The following shows how a NATO-Russia conflict involving a nuclear warning shot and the use of a tactical nuclear weapon could quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear war.
The simulation starts with a conventional war between NATO and Russian troops.
In the scenario researchers presented, conventional warfare, which is all conflict not involving the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, escalates into nuclear warfare when Russia launches a nuclear "warning shot" from a base near Kaliningrad to stop NATO advancement. Russia doesn't have a "no first use" policy since it dropped it in 1993. NATO forces respond by launching a tactical nuclear strike.
The US already has tactical nuclear weapons, such as B61-12 gravity bombs, and the Trump administration made the development of more a priority. Russia, however, has the largest arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.
These kinds of weapons are designed for targets on the battlefield, like troops or munitions supplies, as opposed to long- or intermediate-range nuclear missiles that are fired from one country to another, for example, targeting an enemy's bombers and ICBM silos — or even cities.
Tactical nuclear strikes up the ante.
If the nuclear threshold is crossed, the simulation finds, then both the US and Russia would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. Russia would send 300 warheads to NATO targets, including advancing troops, in both aircraft and short-range missiles — overwhelming force that would obliterate tanks, fortified positions and soldiers unlike anything ever seen in battle before. Supporting forces and civilians not immediately killed would be susceptible to painful and even fatal radiation exposure.
NATO would respond by sending about 180 tactical nuclear weapons to Russia via aircraft in equally devastating retaliation.
The simulation was constructed using independent analysis of nuclear force postures in NATO countries and Russia, including the availability of nuclear weapons, their yields, and possible targets, according to the Science and Global Security lab.
The tactical phase of the simulation shows about 2.6 million casualties over three hours.
Instead of the tactical weapons de-escalating the conflict, as proponents claim they would, the simulation shows conflict spiraling out of control after the use of tactical weapons.
Russia's tactical weapons would destroy much of Europe, the simulation posits. In response, NATO would launch submarine- and US-based strategic nuclear weapons toward Russia's nuclear arsenals — 600 warheads in total.
Strategic nuclear weapons have a longer range, so Russia, knowing that NATO nukes are headed for its weapons cache, would throw all its weight behind missiles launched from silos, mobile launchers, and submarines.
The casualties during this phase would be 3.4 million in 45 minutes.
This leads to 85.3 million additional casualties in the final phase of the nuclear war simulation.
In the wake of previous attacks, both Russia and NATO would launch warheads toward each other's 30 most populous cities in the final stage of of the scenario, using five to 10 warheads for each city depending on its size.
This phase would cause 85.3 million casualties — both deaths and injuries. But the total casualty count from the entire battle (of less than 5 hours) would be 34.1 million deaths and 57.4 million injuries, or a combined 91.3 million casualties overall.
But that's just the immediate conflict: The entire world would be affected by nuclear disaster in the months, years, and decades to come.
The radioactive fallout from the nuclear disaster would cause additional deaths and injuries. Studies also suggest that, even with a limited nuclear engagement, Earth's atmosphere would cool dramatically, driving famine, refugee crises, additional conflicts, and more deaths.
Update: This story originally published in 2019 has been updated and republished given concerns about tactical nuclear weapons, the war in Ukraine, and the risk of a broader war and nuclear conflict.
Read the original article on Business Insider