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Nuclear Weapons
The Death Star of Life on Earth
nuclear detonation of Castle Romeo “test”, 26 Mar 1954, Bikini Atoll Sacrifice, 11 megatons
Nuclear Detonation of Castle Romeo “test”, 26 Mar 1954, Bikini Atoll Sacrifice, Marshall Islands, 11 megatons; second detonation of Operation Castle, the Bravo explosion at 15 megatons being the first and largest ever US nuclear blast.

March 1, [2018], is the [64th] anniversary of the Castle Bravo nuclear test. I’ve written about it several times before, but I figured a discussion of why Bravo matters was always welcome. Bravo was the first test of a deliverable hydrogen bomb by the United States, proving that you could not only make nuclear weapons that had explosive yields a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, but that you could make them in small-enough packages that they could fit onto airplanes. It was what truly inaugurated the megaton age (more so than the first H-bomb test, Ivy Mike, which was explosively large but still in a bulky, experimental form). As a technical demonstration it would be historically important even if nothing else had happened.

But nobody says something like that unless other things—terrible things—did happen. Two things went wrong. The first is that the bomb was even more explosive than the scientists thought it was going to be. Instead of 6 megatons of yield, it produced 15 megatons of yield, an error of 250%, which matters when you are talking about millions of tons of TNT. The technical error, in retrospect, reveals how grasping their knowledge still was: the bomb contained two isotopes of lithium in the fusion component of the design, and the designers assumed only one of them would be reactive, but they were wrong. The second problem is that the wind changed. Instead of carrying the copious radioactive fallout that such a weapon would produce over the open ocean, where it would be relatively harmless, it instead carried it over inhabited atolls in the Marshall Islands.

—Alex Wellerstein Castle Bravo at 60 Nuclear Secrecy Blog, 28 Feb 2014
Kathy Jetnil-Kijner conveying her anguish and anger at the contamination of her home and people in the Marshall Islands:

At 15 I decided to do my history project on nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. Time to learn my history, I decide. I leaf through book after article after website all on how the U.S. once used my island home for nuclear testing. I sift through political jargon. Tables of nuclear weapons with names like Operation Bravo, Crossroads, and Ivy. Quotes from generals like, ‘Nine thousand people are out there; who cares?’

I’m not mad at all really. I already knew all of this. I glance at a photograph of a boy, peeled skin, arms, legs suspended, a puppet next to a lab coat lost in his clipboard. I read first-hand accounts of what we call jelly babies: tiny beings with no bones, skin, red tomatoes. The miscarriage is gone, unspoken, the broken translations. ‘I never told my husband. I thought it was my fault. I thought there must be something wrong inside me.’

I flipped through snapshots of American marines and nurses branded white with bloated grins, sucking beers and tossing beach balls along our shores. And my Islander Ancestors, cross-legged before a general, listening to his fairy tale about how, ‘It’s for the good of mankind’ to hand over our islands. Let them blast radioactive energy into our lazy-limbed coconut trees, our sagging breadfruit trees, our busy fishes that sparkle like new Sun, into our coral reefs brilliant as an aurora borealis woven beneath a glassy sea. ‘God will thank you,’ they told us. Yeah, as if God himself ordained those powdered flakes to drift onto our skin, our hair, our eyes, to seep into our bones. We mistook radioactive fallout, for snow.

‘God will thank you,’ they told us. As if God’s just been waiting for my people to vomit, vomit, vomit all of humanity’s sins onto our impeccable white shores, gleaming like the cross burned into our open scarred palms.

At one point in my research I stumble along a photograph of goats tied to American ships bored and munching on tubs of grass. At the bottom a caption read, ‘Goats and pigs were left on naval ships as test subjects. Thousands of letters flew in from America protesting animal abuse.’

At 15 I want to make it tonnes of TNT radioactive energy in a fancy degree—anything and everything I could ever need to sever balls of death through people who put goats before human beings so their skin can shrivel beneath the glare of hospital room lights three generations later, as they watch their grandmother, their mother, their cousins’ life drip across that same black screen, knots of knuckles tied to steel beds, cold and absent of any breath. But I’m only 15.

So I finish my project, graph my peoples’ death by cancer and can fu (?) diabetes on flowcharts in 3-D. Gluestick my ancestors’ voice onto a poster board I bought from OfficeMax. Staple tables screaming the millions of dollars stuffed into our mouths generation after generation after generation. And at the top I spray-painted in bold stenciled yellow, “For The Good Of Mankind” and entered into a school district-wide competition called History Day. My parents were quietly proud and so was my teacher. And when the three balding white judges finally came around to my project, one of them looked at it and said, ‘Yeah. But it wasn’t really for the good of mankind though, was it.’ And it lost.

For more on the legacy of willful U.S. contamination of the people on the Marshall Islands see: For the Good of Mankind: A History of the People of Bikini and Their Islands by Jack Niedenthal, Bravo Publishing (2nd Ed., 2013) ISBN 9789829050021.

Excerpt from:
Nuclear War: An Unrecognized Mass Extinction Event Waiting To Happen
by Steven Starr
Associate of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, former board member and senior scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Symposium: The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction
The New York Academy of Medicine, 28 February - 1 March 2015

A war fought with 21st century strategic nuclear weapons would be more than just a great catastrophe in human history. If we allow it to happen, such a war would be a mass extinction event that ends human history. There is a profound difference between extinction and “an unprecedented disaster,” or even “the end of civilization,” because even after such an immense catastrophe, human life would go on.

But extinction, by definition, is an event of utter finality, and a nuclear war that could cause human extinction should really be considered as the ultimate criminal act. It certainly would be the crime to end all crimes.

The world’s leading climatologists now tell us that nuclear war threatens our continued existence as a species. Their studies predict that a large nuclear war, especially one fought with strategic nuclear weapons, would create a post-war environment in which for many years it would be too cold and dark to even grow food. Their findings make it clear that not only humans, but most large animals and many other forms of complex life would likely vanish forever in a nuclear darkness of our own making.

The environmental consequences of nuclear war would attack the ecological support systems of life at every level. Radioactive fallout, produced not only by nuclear bombs, but also by the destruction of nuclear power plants and their spent fuel pools, would poison the biosphere. Millions of tons of smoke would act to destroy Earth’s protective ozone layer and block most sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface, creating Ice Age weather conditions that would last for decades.

Yet the political and military leaders who control nuclear weapons strictly avoid any direct public discussion of the consequences of nuclear war. They do so by arguing that nuclear weapons are not intended to be used, but only to deter.

Remarkably, the leaders of the Nuclear Weapon States have chosen to ignore the authoritative, long-standing scientific research done by the climatologists, research that predicts virtually any nuclear war, fought with even a fraction of the operational and deployed nuclear arsenals, will leave the Earth essentially uninhabitable.

Some of the more recent of these scientific studies appeared in print almost 9 years ago. Yet their predictions have not been publicly acknowledged or discussed by any American or Russian President, nor by any of their top military leaders. In fact, none of the current leaders of any of the nations that possess nuclear weapons have ever made such a public acknowledgment.

It is not clear that these leaders are even aware of the findings of this research, since they have consistently refused to meet with the scientists who did the studies.

No Nuclear Weapon State has ever attempted to evaluate what consequences the detonation of their nuclear arsenals would have upon the global biosphere and ecosystems.

As a result, the grave threat to continued human existence posed by existing arsenals of nuclear weapons is a subject not included in the global debate on nuclear weapons.

The existential danger of nuclear war has not been mentioned during American presidential campaigns or debates for more than 40 years. Such considerations have never been included in any military planning or as part of any national strategic review of US military force requirements.

Why is this? According to our best scientists, the deployed arsenals of nuclear weapons pose a clear and present danger to the survival of our species. How is it that our leaders are unable or unwilling to even talk about this grave danger?

In the 1980s, the American public was generally aware of the existential threat posed by nuclear war. That awareness no longer exists today.

This is in part because US public schools do not teach students about nuclear weapons. A couple of generations of Americans have grown up with essentially no knowledge of the effects or consequences of nuclear war.

This may be why our political and military leaders continue to focus upon the numbers of nuclear weapons rather than the consequences of their use. This makes no sense when a single ballistic missile now carries almost three times more nuclear explosive power than all the bombs that were detonated during World War 2.

A universal ignorance of basic nuclear facts ultimately creates a very dangerous situation, because leaders who are unaware that nuclear war can end human history are likely to lack the gut fear of nuclear war that’s needed to prevent them from leading us into a nuclear holocaust.

I teach an online class on nuclear weapons at the University of Missouri [Nuclear Weapons: Environmental, Health and Social Effects], and I get smart students but virtually none of them that come into my class know anything about nuclear weapons; they don’t know the difference between an atomic bomb and a strategic nuclear weapon, they don’t know that large arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons even exist.

Without this basic knowledge, it is almost impossible for anyone to understand the immense dangers posed by nuclear war. Thus I am now going to take some time to explain these facts, to try to insure my message today is clear.

Immense Destructive Power: Hiroshima Atomic Bomb: 15,000 tons TNT; Strategic Nuclear Weapon: 15,000,000 tons of TNT

Atomic bombs were the first nuclear weapons to be invented. It was an atomic bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima at the end of the World War 2. A typical atomic bomb has an explosive power of about 15,000 tons of TNT, also called 15 kilotons. Atomic bombs are much less powerful than the hydrogen bombs, or thermonuclear weapons, which were invented in the 1950s. These “super-bombs” often had explosive powers one thousand times greater than atomic bombs.

The photo compares the relative size of the mushroom cloud produced by an atomic bomb to a mushroom cloud produced a thermonuclear weapon that had an explosive power of 15 million tons of TNT, which was tested by the United States in 1954.

Today, thermonuclear bombs are called “strategic nuclear weapons,” and they generally have an explosive power ranging from 100,000 tons to more than 1 million tons of TNT.

Of course, while an atomic bomb is much less powerful than a strategic bomb, it will still completely destroy any city.

Nuclear Firestorm from an Atomic Bomb: 15,000 tons of TNT explosive power; Fire zone: 3 to 5 sq miles (7 to 13 km)

This graphic illustrates the detonation of an atomic bomb above Midtown Manhattan, where we are now, in the heart of New York City. The solar temperatures of the bomb would almost instantly ignite a nuclear firestorm covering 3 to 5 square miles. It was an atomic bomb of this size—close to this size at least—that destroyed the city of Hiroshima in 1945.

City of Hiroshima before the first atomic bomb was dropped on it on August 6, 1945

It is shocking to see what the atomic bomb did to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Panorama #1
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Photo by Shigeo Hayashi - RA119-RA134
Hiroshima Panorama #2
360 degree view span                                  Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Photo by H.J. Peterson - K-HJP001-K-HJP013
Hiroshima Panorama #4
360 degree view span                                  Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Photo by Shigeo Hayashi A723-A742

More than 4 square miles of the city were utterly destroyed, transforming it into a barren wasteland.

Atomic Bomb compared with Thermonuclear (strategic) Bomb

However, the firestorm produced by a strategic nuclear weapon is vastly larger than that produced by an atomic bomb. This graphic illustrates the most likely size of a fire zone, created by an 800 kiloton strategic nuclear warhead. This graphic shows it also being detonated above where we are now in New York.

[See: “What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?
by Steven Starr, Lynn Eden, Theodore A. Postol, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, February 25, 2015]

On an average day, the detonation of the warhead would instantly ignite fires over a total area of approximately 90 to 152 square miles. 20 to 30 minutes after the detonation, these fires would have joined together to form a single, immense firestorm.

Air temperatures in the fire zone would be above the boiling point of water. Hurricane force winds would blow towards the center of the firestorm, driving the flames horizontally, causing everything remotely flammable to burn. There would be no survivors in the fire zone.

Remember, 800 kilotons equals 800,000 tons of TNT. Russia has 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads that it can launch with less than 15 minutes warning, and 700 of these have an explosive power of 800 kilotons. In a war with the US, it would require about 30 minutes for these warheads to hit US cities.

Imagine a nuclear war in which hundreds or thousands of such firestorms were ignited in the course of less than one hour. There would be hundreds of cities, and hundreds of thousands of square miles, all burning at the same time.

That would probably be the one of the first consequences of a US-Russian nuclear war.

Additional Sources Provided by Steven Starr Regarding
Global Stockpiles of Nuclear Weapons
Estimated Global Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2014. Source: Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris
Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris:
Estimated Global Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2014.
World Nuclear Weapon Stockpile, Ploughshares Fund,
(accessed 07/20/15), Updated 23 June 2015
Status of World Nuclear Forces, Federation of American Scientists
US nuclear forces, 2015,” Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 Feb 2015, doi: 10.1177/0096340215571913
Russian nuclear forces, 2015,” Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 April 2015, doi: 10.1177/0096340215581363
So Many Exist Ready To Be Used--The World's Nuclear Warheads Count, Aug 2014
So Many Exist Ready To Be Used
The World’s Nuclear Warheads Count, August 2014
Created by the Nuclear Warheads Monitoring Team at the
Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA),
Nagasaki University
Nukes Ready To Fly
Nukes Ready To Fly
From “Graphic: The World’s Nuclear Missiles,”
by Andrew Barr and Richard Johnson, National Post Staff, 4 May 2012
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