Dr. Ira Helfand – The Consequences Of A Nuclear War, WW III
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[Dr. Ira Helfand – The Consequences Of A Nuclear War, WW III]
The Medical Consequences of Nuclear War
Physicians for Social Responsibility
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
1985 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
A presentation by Ira Helfand, MD
[Dr. Ira Helfand:] Source: LYBIO.net
I want to talk to you today about the medical consequences of nuclear war. Since the end of the Cold War, we’ve acted as if the problem of nuclear war has gone away. Unfortunately it hasn’t. There remain in the world today nearly 20,000 nuclear warheads, the vast majority 95% in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. And so it is terribly important that we understand what will happen if these weapons are used.
During the Cold War, we all understood that if there was a large war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it would be a disaster not just for them, but for the entire planet. In recent years, we have come to understand that even in much more limited nuclear war, as might take place between India and Pakistan, would also be a disaster for all humanity.
We’ve examined a scenario in which India and Pakistan fight, using about 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs on either side with these weapons targeted at urban areas. Immediate consequences in South Asia are catastrophic. Something between 20 million and 30 million people die in the first few weeks; from radiation, from fire, from blast. But as horrific as these local consequences are, it’s the global climate disruption that is really terrifying.
Because it turns out that the fire storm started by these weapons cause more than 5 million tons of debris to be lofted into the upper atmosphere, where they block out sunlight, causing temperatures across the planet to drop an average of 1.3 degrees Centigrade. This shortens the growing season, cuts down precipitation, and this disrupts food production.
In the last year we have learned that under this scenario U.S. corn production would fall about 12%, and this decline would last for a full decade. Chinese middle season rice production would drop nearly 15%. And this too would persist for a whole decade. And some preliminary studies that are just now being done, suggest the corn production in China and wheat production in China might drop even more. The world is very ill prepared at this time to deal with this kind of decline in food production. The granaries of the world hold only a reserve amounting to about 70-days of consumption. And this simply would not be an adequate buffer.
In addition, there are 870 million people in the world who are malnourished today at baseline. These people receive less than 1800 calories a day. This is just enough to maintain their body mass and to let them do a little bit of work, to gather food, to grow food. There are also 300 million people in the world, who get pretty good nutrition today, but live in countries that are very dependent on food imports.
In the event of a limited nuclear war, and a significant decline in food production, all of these people, more than a billion people total, would be at risk of starvation. This data has profound implications for the nuclear weapons policy. It tells us that it is not just the arsenals of the great powers that put the whole world at risk, but even the smaller nuclear arsenals of countries like India and Pakistan. And this has obviously immense implications for the nuclear weapons policy in South Asia. But it also has huge implications for the nuclear weapons policies of the United States and Russia.
Each U.S. Trident submarine carries 96 warheads. Each of which is 10 times to 30 times more powerful than the bombs used in the nuclear famine scenario that I’ve just discussed. That means that each Trident submarine is capable of causing the nuclear famine problem many times over. And the United States has 14 of them, and that’s just one-third of the U.S. arsenal because the U.S. also has ground-based missiles, and airplanes to deliver gravity bombs. The Russians arsenal has the same extreme overkill capacity, and so we need to know what will happen if these weapons are actually used. I want to start by describing what happens to one city, in a large scale nuclear attack, and I’m going to use the model of the 20 megaton bomb.
Now, back in the 1960’s, both the United States and the Soviet Union had 20 megaton bombs in their arsenals. Since then the arsenals have been modernized. And a modern attack on Moscow or New York would involve not 120 megaton bomb, but perhaps 15 to 20.5 megaton bombs. The megatonnage would be less, but the destruction would be even greater, because it would be spread out more efficiently over the entire metropolitan area. It’s difficult though to visualize 15 bombs to 20 bombs going off all at the same time. And so the model of a single 20 megaton bomb, even though it tends to underestimate the destruction, serves as an adequate approximation for our purposes.
Within a 1000 of a second of the detonation of this bomb, a fireball would form, reaching out for two miles in every direction, four miles across. Within this area, temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the surface of the sun, and everything would be vaporized. The buildings, the people, the trees, the upper level of the Earth itself. To a distance of four miles in every direction, the blast would generate winds in excess of 600 miles per hour, and blast pressures greater than 25 pounds per square-inch.
Forces of this magnitude can destroy anything that humans can build. Underground shelters would collapse. To distance of six miles in every direction, the heat would be so intense, that automobile sheet metal would melt. To a distance of 10 miles in every direction, the blast would still generate winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, and blast pressures greater than 10 pounds per square-inch. Forces of this magnitude, would level wood frame buildings, masonry buildings; a modern steel and concrete building would see its walls and floors swept out; just the steel skeleton would remain.
To a distance of 16 miles in every direction, the heat would be so intense, that everything flammable would burn: wood, paper, cloth, heating oil, gasoline it would all ignite. Hundreds of thousands of fires, which would over the next half hour coalesce into a giant firestorm 32 miles across, covering over 800 square miles. Within this entire area, the temperature would rise to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit; all the oxygen would be consumed, and every living thing would die.
Beyond this great firestorm the destruction would continue. And there would be hundreds of thousands if not millions of people suffering severe injuries, crush injuries, penetrating injuries, extensive burns, blindness from retinal burning. All of these people would need intensive medical care, but it would not be available, because most of the hospitals would be destroyed; most of the doctors and nurses and other health professionals would be dead. There would be no electricity to run the ventilators or cardiac monitors, most of the medical supplies would be exhausted within hours.
And the vast majority of these people would not receive any medical care it all. They would die, alone, and in great pain. And if this attack were part of a large-scale war between the United States and Russia, this level of destruction would be visited on every metropolitan area in the United States and in Russia. A study which Physicians for Social Responsibility published in 2003 showed that if just 300 of the warheads in the Russian arsenal detonated over urban targets in the United States, something between 75 million and a 100 million people would die in the first half hour.
In addition, the entire economic infrastructure would be destroyed: the transportation system, the communications network, the public health system. All the things that a modern, industrial country requires to maintain its population, all these things would be gone. And it’s probable, that in the ensuing months, the vast majority of the American and Russian population those who were not killed outright, in the first half hour of the attack, they too would die from starvation, from exposure, from epidemic disease, from radiation poisoning. As unimaginable as these direct consequences are, they are not the worst part of the story. Here too it is environmental consequences that we need to really look at. A limited war in South Asia puts 5 million tons of debris into the atmosphere, and drops global temperatures 1.3 degrees.
[Dr. Ira Helfand:] Source: LYBIO.net
A large war between the United States and Russia, using only those weapons, which is still allowed to them, when the new START Treaty is fully implemented in 2018. That war puts 150 million tons of debris into the upper atmosphere. And it drops temperatures across the globe an average of 8 degrees Centigrade. In the interior regions of North America and Eurasia, the temperature drop is even greater up to 30 degrees Centigrade.
Earth has not seen conditions like this, since the coldest point in the last Ice Age 18,000 years ago. And under these conditions, all food production, all agriculture would come to a halt. The vast majority of the human race would starve to death. And it is possible that our species would become extinct. It is important that we understand this is not just some nightmare fantasy that I’ve cooked up to scare you. This is a real and present danger, as long as the nuclear weapons exist there exists the possibility they will be used.
The United States and Russia between them maintain several thousand warheads on high alert. They are mounted on rockets which could be launched in 15 minutes and destroy the other countries 30 minutes later. This is not normal behavior. This is not the way nations which are securely at peace with each other treat each other. Even if there is not a deliberate use of these weapons, there remains under these conditions, the very real possibility that there will be an accidental war. We know of at least five occasions, since 1979 when either Washington or Moscow prepared to launch a nuclear attack in the mistaken belief that it itself was under attack.
[Dr. Ira Helfand:] Source: LYBIO.net
And the most recent of these took place on January 25th, 1995, a full five years after the end of the Cold War. The conditions which existed then have not changed substantially, and the danger of an accidental nuclear war is still with us. A scenario like the one which unfolded then, and which brought us to within minutes of nuclear holocaust, could unfold as we are sitting here today. I’ve done something really terrible by telling you all of these things. And it goes beyond just darkening this particular day in your life.
Because once you know about this information, you have an obligation to act on it. Fortunately, there are things that people can do. A movement is forming around the world to abolish nuclear weapons. The International Red Cross Red Crescent movement has called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies around the globe are organizing educational campaigns to teach people about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and its national affiliates like Physicians for Social Responsibility in the United States are continuing their work educating leaders and the general public about the medical consequences of nuclear war. And governments are beginning to listen; in the Fall of 2012, 34 nations and the Holy See joined together, in a statement calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons, and calling on the nuclear weapon states to take seriously their obligations, under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to negotiate a treaty abolishing these weapons forever.
The normal reaction that each of you is going to have, is to try to forget the things which I have talked about today. This is very difficult material, and it’s very painful to think about it. Please, don’t do that. Try to remember this message and try to act on it. Each one of us has a role to play in building an international movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
In the Hebrew Bible it is written that God said: “Behold, I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life that you and your children might live.” That is literally the choice before humanity today. And so let us all choose wisely, and act with courage and determination, so that indeed our children might live.
What I have described is no the future that must be, but it is the future that very well may be, if we don’t take action. – Ira Helfand, MD
[Dr. Ira Helfand:] Source: LYBIO.net
We’ve been given the opportunity to save the world. Please visit these websites to learn what you can do. We can prevent nuclear war.
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Dr. Ira Helfand – The Consequences Of A Nuclear War, WW III. Something between 20 million and 30 million people die in the first few weeks; from radiation, from fire, from blast. Education Transcript, Dialogue, Remarks, Saying, Quotes, Words And Text.