Thursday, November 16, 2023

Fear Pron

Article making the rounds.

Their "worst case scenario" involves running 365 simulations based on daily weather patterns and adding up the dead. 

It also assumes an attack launched by a super-power capable of delivering 450, HUGE nuclear warheads and every one of them hitting their target. And, I assume, they assume the fallout will include the plutonium in the warheads in the silos that the incoming weapons are supposed to vaporize.

This post was written in 2013 by Alex Wellerstein and I think it contains a lot of useful information. In my humble opinion, it is not "Fear Pron".

Key points:

...terrorist nuclear weapon manages to combine the worst aspects of both: targeting civilians and kicking up a lot of fallout, for lack of a better delivery vehicle.  ERJ adds: and have low fission yields so much of the plutonium is not consumed

...fallout mitigation is one of those areas were Civil Defense is worth paying attention to. You can’t avoid all contamination by staying in a fallout shelter for a few days, but you can avoid the worst, most acute aspects of it.
Weapons that are designed to flatten cities, perhaps surprisingly, don’t really pose as much of a long-term fallout hazard. The reason for this is that the ideal burst height for such a weapon is usually set to maximize the 10 psi pressure radius, and that is always fairly high above the ground. (The maximum radius for a pressure wave is not intuitive because it relies on how the wave will be reflected on the ground. So it doesn’t produce a straightforward curve.) Bad for the people in the cities themselves, to be sure, but not such a problem for those downwind.

Personally, I think we will see terrorists-type nuclear attacks before we will see broadside exchanges. Any nation-state competent enough to pull off the broadside is smart enough to weaken us by using a proxy. Sort of like those tiny spears the clowns jam into the bull's shoulders to make it lower its head before the matador enters the ring.


  1. At the risk of become a cynic, I find it fascinating the same sort of of analysis was not done for every other country that holds nuclear weapons. If it is truly miserable folly, then it should so for everyone, not just the US.

    I find even my patient self is becoming tired of the endless fear porn making the rounds.

  2. It's not only pacifist fear mongering, it's also plain wrong.
    Prevailing winds carry any fine particulate generally Eastward (forest fire smoke, fallout particles, volcanic ash, etc), but it takes time, during which most of the hazard from fallout dissipates. Also, this means those NOT in the prevailing wind dorectiyget essentially no radiation dose.
    Additionally, this study show LOTS of warheads hitting the missile fields and nothing hitting anywhere else, which is frankly stupid - anyone doing a large scale strike is going to hit other targets as well
    (And FYI, only Russia and the US even have 450 deliverable warheads, so nobody else could even attempt this).

    This is fear mongering and deliberate distortion by people who think we are better off without nukes, but they don't mention a way to get other countries to give up their nukes...

  3. Yesterday I came across a box containing various magazines from the late 1960s through to early 1990s.
    Life, Newsweek, Scientific American magazines. Also, some newspaper editions.

    Many articles on what is coming, or what has happened and what does it mean for the future (the fallout), and such like that.

    Fair to say they were as OMG!!1 scary as they are today. I call them Things That Did Not Happen.

  4. I can see a terrorist element getting a full sized party favor and opening up the canned sunshine in the center of metropolis. There are too many people who have them, namely the US Gubmint!

  5. The core of the Little Boy bomb weighed 64Kg. Less than one Kg of that underwent fission and only 0.7 grams was converted to energy. The vast majority of the bomb became radioactive material scattered by the blast force. Nuclear warheads are notoriously inefficient. An air burst produces less fallout and most military strategy calls for air bursts. Attacking silos and hardened structures produce much more would a terror weapon which would almost certainly be detonated at ground level.

  6. Fear Porn is a good description of that article.

    As noted by previous commentators, fallout from the detonation of a nuclear weapon is largely the result of mixing the neutron-irradiated debris from a surface burst with the fireball. That material gets lifted into the atmosphere, and subsequently settles out- 'where' and 'how much radiation' depends on the fission fraction, the yield, ambient temperature, wind speed and direction, and other factors.

    In general, the important factors for protection from fallout are Time, Mass, and Distance. With regard to the effects of time, while the specifics of a fallout plume may vary, a rough rule of thumb is the Rule Of Sevens- Every 7 to the N hours after detonation, fallout decreases in intensity by 1/10 to the N. 7 hours afterwards, (7 to the 1st power) the fallout is 1/10 as intense as at H+1 (7 to the 0 power). At H+49 or 7 squared hours) the intensity of the fallout is about 1/100 the H+1 value. After 2 weeks, the intensity has dropped to 1/1000th of the H+1 value.

    Not going to get into the weeds with this comment, but fallout should be a major concern primarily for those folks who are downwind of and within a hundred miles of primary surface burst targets. These are places like Federal command and control centers, missile silos, nuclear weapons storage areas, etc.

    For those who may be interested in learning more, useful references are:
    - Kearney's "Nuclear War Survival Skills," latest edition, which is available from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Highly recommended. (I do NOT recommend the Amazon version, which is a reprint of the original USG version;)
    -"Fallout Survival" by Bruce Clayton- out of print, but you can find used copies on eBay and Amazon. Highly recommended.

    Fallout is something that is relatively easy to prepare for ahead of time. Understanding the basics and how they apply to you and yours is a good start.


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