The principle of operation of nuclear weapons has not changed, but their effectiveness and lethality have increased. If there were a nuclear war, the world would not remain the same.
The war between Ukraine and Russia has been going on for a year now. Developments to date and published reports have divided the company into several groups.
One of them believes that the war will end in a matter of weeks, another expects a protracted conflict, and the one that prefers catastrophic scenarios is preparing for a global nuclear conflict.
Whether the threat of using nuclear weapons is real is for each of you to consider. However, it is not out of place to recall some general information about how nuclear weapons work and the impact their use would have on humanity.
How modern nuclear weapons work
According to available information, Russia and the United States of America possess up to 90% of all nuclear weapons in the world. The Russian Federation possesses around 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting targets more than 5,500 kilometres away.
The United States of America owns a similar number of such missiles, namely almost 1,650. Both countries also have so-called tactical nuclear weapons, which are used to achieve success in specific, i.e. local, combat operations.
Tactical nuclear weapons aim to weaken the adversary, especially by attacking critical infrastructure. By themselves, they do not have the range of strategic nuclear weapons, but they can be the cause of escalation of fighting, resulting in a global nuclear conflict.
On the contrary, it portends the deployment of notified strategic nuclear weapons. The basic principle of the operation of nuclear bombs is the creation of a critical state in the fissile material. This is preceded by the fission of the nuclei of heavy atoms into lighter atoms, during which neutrons are released.
The released neutrons then collide with the nuclei of the surrounding atoms, splitting them and thus starting an uncontrollable chain reaction that releases huge amounts of different types of energy.
Currently, the most used type is the so-called implosion bomb (a modernized version of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945). It uses plutonium and the source of neutrons is a so-called nuclear fuse, which releases a significant amount of neutrons for further fission and thus contributes to the initiation of a chain reaction.
The implosion bomb also has an improved outer shell that can return neutrons back into the fission reaction. Its advantages are lower requirements for the amount of nuclear material and smaller dimensions.
The explosion is equivalent to several hundred to millions of tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) explosives. Other feared weapons are the so-called thermonuclear bombs, which after their explosion create a ball of fire with temperatures corresponding to the heat in the centre of the Sun.
The world would be irrevocably changed after a nuclear war
In the event that the world faced a nuclear war, the extinction of humanity would most likely occur. People who would be in the epicentre of a bomb explosion would basically be lucky (they would die faster).
According to available sources, in the case of dropping an equally powerful atomic bomb like those used in the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 50% of all those within a radius of 3.2 km from the epicentre of the explosion would die immediately after the explosion.
In the event of an explosion in mid-air, the circuit would be enlarged. The cause of death would be, among other things, caused by fires, radiation and physical injuries.
The surviving half would die a little later due to the high level of radiation and the lack of first aid – in the epicentre of the bomb blast, all infrastructure would be destroyed, making effective medical aid and food distribution impossible.
People who were further away from the explosion sites would be exposed to a high amount of radioactive fallout, which would cause them acute radiation poisoning.
Those who would survive the radiation would face an extremely increased risk of developing cancer throughout their lives. A nuclear war would also mean a disaster for the environment.
In the event of a world conflict, the presence of soot and ash in the atmosphere would cause global climate change, accompanied by a cooling of as much as 2°C.
This would lead to crop failure and famine. Crops that could still be grown would contain a significant amount of radioactive fallout, which would have entered the soil immediately after the conflict.
People would thus be exposed to the risk of developing various related diseases.
Milk, which is a source of iodine, would also become a problem. After a nuclear war, the iodine in milk would be radioactive, which would lead to an increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer, for example.
In the end, we would all, well, the ones of us still alive, be in a completely different world. A place that non of us has ever experienced and no matter how much we prepare we will truly never be ready to face. But that’s all we can do, however. Prepare, practice and repeat.