Study details catastrophic impact of nuclear attack on US cities

thick in downtown areas with buildings 10-stories or higher. Roughly half of the population in downtown areas would be killed, mainly from collapsing buildings. Most of those surviving the initial blast in downtown areas would be exposed to a fatal dose of radiation.

  • While the main effects from a 20-kiloton explosion would be from the blast and the radiation it releases, a 550-kiloton explosion would create additional and substantial casualties from burns. Such an explosion would superheat the blast zone, causing buildings to spontaneously combust. Mass fires would consume cities, reaching out nearly four miles (6.3 km) in all directions from the detonation site.

  • A 550 kiloton detonation in New York would result in a fallout plume extending the length of Long Island, resulting in more than 5 million deaths.

  • A 550 kiloton detonation in Washington, D.C. would destroy hospitals in the District, but its fallout plume would also incapacitate hospitals in Baltimore, nearly 40 miles away.

The researchers note that in all four cities studied, hospitals are concentrated in the area most likely to be destroyed. Another weak link is the inability of the nation's hospital system to treat the burn victims a 550-kiloton detonation would create. A 550-kiloton detonation in Atlanta, the least densely populated of the four cities studied, would result in nearly 300,000 serious burn victims.

"The hospital system has about 1,500 burn beds in the whole country, and of these maybe 80 or 90 percent are full at any given time," Bell said. "There's no way of treating the burn victims from a nuclear attack with the existing medical system."

Dallas acknowledges that the consequences of a nuclear attack would be grim, but stresses that there are ways that tens of thousands lives could be saved.

"If a nuclear detonation were to occur in a downtown area, the picture would be bleak there," Dallas

Contact: Sam Fahmy
University of Georgia

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