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  #1  
Old 04-16-2010, 10:42 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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How long after a nuclear weapons attack would it take for a place to be habitable again?

The title says it all but basically I am asking if a nuke were dropped on Irkutsk or Seattle, how long would it be before people could safely re-inhabit the areas?
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  #2  
Old 04-16-2010, 11:00 PM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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The actual details of weapon type, burst altitude, prevailing winds, underlying strata irradiated in a ground burst. . . and a bunch of other factors make it silly to predict.

Fallout shelter managers use a 7/10 rule. each seven fold increase in time provides a 10 fold decrease in dose rate. e.g. Peak radiation level one hour after the blast. Seven hours later, most level areas will have 10% of the peak dose rate. Two days later, 1%. Two weeks after that, 0.1%. With a "clean" bomb, and an Air burst, you get to begin foraging out from your shelter then, sending the old women first. (They are least vulnerable to long term effects, other than mutation of germ tissue, which they are unlikely to use.) Trips of an hour a day to find needed supplies, and bring back small loads. The old men come out after those are located, to do the heavy lifting. Young women and children remain in the shelter for three more months, and then, if possible move to less affected areas.

This plan is, based on the Massive First Strike model, where you can't be sure of any outside help. In a more forgiving scenario, you can evacuate to a clear area in well shielded vehicles in seven hours, counting on very rapid transit out of the zone. Of course you get stripped, shaved, and hosed down a few times, dosed with crap, and isolated. You are at risk of cancer for the rest of your life.

Also, stream beds, sewer junctions, ditches, and low lying areas will remain more highly radio-active for years.

Now, if the bomb is salted with cobalt, or iodine, or just set off in a shallow gypsum pit mine, those numbers get inflated by factors of 5 or a thousand.

If the bomb hits a nuclear plant, or nuclear waste disposal site, it becomes geologic in timescale, and not a brief event, even on those levels.

Tris
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Old 04-17-2010, 12:40 AM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Hiroshima and Nagasaki are inhabited now, so it's certainly less than 60 years. How much less, I'm not sure: I don't know when re-settling started.

One may object that those were lower-tech bombs, but modern bombs, unless specifically designed for high fallout, are actually cleaner than those used on Japan. Basically, a lot of the fallout is from what you might call "unburnt fuel", and modern bombs burn their fuel more efficiently.
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Old 04-17-2010, 12:48 AM
NOLA Cajun NOLA Cajun is offline
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Doesn't a factual answer on this require a size of the actual nuke used? Plus, land, air, launched from a sub? Where does it hit? Just one nuke no retaliation strike/s?
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Old 04-17-2010, 01:10 AM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Hiroshima and Nagasaki are inhabited now, so it's certainly less than 60 years. How much less, I'm not sure: I don't know when re-settling started.
Japan passed a Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law in 1949 and reconstruction started in 1950. So about 5 years.

The question in the OP is too vague to answer very effectively. It's like asking if a city were bombed, how much would be destroyed.
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Old 04-17-2010, 01:17 AM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Wait. Old women are the ones least affected by radiation? Wow. Never would have guessed.
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Old 04-17-2010, 04:35 AM
appleciders appleciders is offline
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Low doses of radiation (from weak sources or short exposures) are most likely to cause harm by either killing a cell outright (which is not a big deal, unless you lose a lot of them) or by mutating a cell, which goes on to either die (the most likely scenario) or become cancerous (rare, but if you get enough cells mutated, it can happen). However, a small mutation in a an egg or sperm cell is often disastrous for any fetus produced by that cell, so you try to keep young women protected, because they're still likely to reproduce and have all their eggs already on board, so to speak.

Another major danger comes from fallout, which can be ingested and remain inside your body, continuing to irradiate you. This doesn't provide much risk to an older person, because they're probably already going to die from natural causes before the added risk from irradiation can build up. Young people will continue to receive radiation from that fallout for decades, though, which increases the likelihood of cancer, and again, irradiating those germ cells.

So it's not that old women are somehow protected from radiation, it's that the stakes are lower, because they're unlikely to reproduce (being post-menopausal) and old enough that they're more likely to die from natural causes before radiation-generated cancer can set in.

Last edited by appleciders; 04-17-2010 at 04:36 AM..
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  #8  
Old 04-17-2010, 06:32 AM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
How long after a nuclear weapons attack would it take for a place to be habitable again?

An Gadai--there are other ways of settling quarrles with your next door neighbor, & you cannot solve your cockroach problem by these means.
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  #9  
Old 04-17-2010, 07:54 AM
cckerberos cckerberos is online now
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
Japan passed a Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law in 1949 and reconstruction started in 1950. So about 5 years.
That was the beginning of major reconstruction of the city, but I don't believe that the city's population was ever evacuated.
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Old 04-17-2010, 08:20 AM
bonzer bonzer is offline
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
Japan passed a Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law in 1949 and reconstruction started in 1950. So about 5 years.
However, people had been living continuously in the ruins from immediately after the bombing. By the end of 1945 you had a permanent population living in huts in the centre, many streets had been cleared, the water supply had been restored and a municiple administration installed in partially damaged building. Much of this was in the face of official disapproval, but that was partly because the planners of the reconstruction were envisaging a "blank canvas" and saw such repopulation as a future obstacle. The 1950 date is more about the delays in the official reconstruction plans than what people were doing out of necessity on the ground.
The city's website has a history, while Robert Jungk's old Children of the Ashes can be especially recommended as a portrait of what happened in the city in the years afterwards.

Note that the residual radiation in the two cities was already found to be minimal when the first US observers reached them in early September. All the already stated caveats about the circumstances of use obviously apply.

Last edited by bonzer; 04-17-2010 at 08:22 AM.. Reason: Spelling
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  #11  
Old 04-17-2010, 05:19 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Apologies that my OP was too vague.

Essentially what I'm trying to find out is whether long lasting radiation "hot zones" that were fatal (either immediately or within say months) would exist after a nuclear war. Nuclear war fiction often has references to hot zones, forbidden zones but would such areas be likely to exist after, for example, a full scale nuclear war between the US and Russia? Fictionalised accounts (and IIRC governmental guidelines) refer to a two week period wherein fallout should be avoided but how much danger would exist after this period?
Again, assume a full scale nuclear war, not a single incident.
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Old 04-17-2010, 06:10 PM
jtgain jtgain is online now
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Interesting topic. I've heard that if Three Mile Island had been a total meltdown (or whatever the Worst Thing Possible was) that the whole east coast of the U.S. would be a radioactive wasteland for thousands of years.

But the OP posits a good scenario and I believe that if I restate correctly, then what would be of the family in East Rural Bumscrew, WV that emerges from its well-built fallout shelter two weeks after the initial strike? Do they live otherwise healthy and happy lives? Their kids? Their kids' kids?
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  #13  
Old 04-17-2010, 06:51 PM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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Nuclear reactor accidents release very different radioactive substances vs. nuclear explosions.

If the US & Russia went at it full blast, but avoided directly uprooting each other's nuclear power plants, then, as descibed by the others above, radiation levels would be down to short-term survival levels within 2 weeks. Some spots would be hotter than others, but most land, even that which had a good dose at minute 1 would be OK-ish. A month later things'd be even better.

You'd have some elevated rate of long-term cancer in the immediate survivors. So for example, instead of 15% of the kids exposed dying of cancer some time after after age 70, it might be be 25%. It wouldn't be 95%.

Instead of 1 in 500 kids being born with birth defects, it'd be 1 in 250. And the next generation would be normal.

Of the people still alive to emerge fom their shelters after 2-4 weeks, the key obstacle to both near- & long-term survival would be finding enough to eat, not avoiding radiation.


Radiation zombies, people with two heads, widespread mutations, and long-term hot zones are all fiction. The last of these is not fiction, IF sombody blows up a nuclear powerplant and spreads the mess some distance. Witness Chernobyl.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 04-17-2010 at 06:54 PM..
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  #14  
Old 04-17-2010, 06:54 PM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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Wait. Old women are the ones least affected by radiation? Wow. Never would have guessed.
No. Old women are the ones whose ability to benefit the group is compromised at a rate which limits their overall benefit to the survival of the group the group the least. Fallout shelter management isn't a nice science.

Tris
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  #15  
Old 04-17-2010, 06:57 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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After about a year, the biggest radiation hazard would not be whole-body radiation exposure from the surrounding environment but the uptake and storage of radioactive isotopes like Strontium-90 and Cesium-137. I don't know of any preventative for strontium-90 but medical grade Prussian Blue can be used to bind to ingested cesium and help remove it from the body.
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Old 04-17-2010, 07:13 PM
Dallas Jones Dallas Jones is offline
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Originally Posted by Triskadecamus View Post
No. Old women are the ones whose ability to benefit the group is compromised at a rate which limits their overall benefit to the survival of the group the group the least. Fallout shelter management isn't a nice science.

Tris
Wow, so we should probably eat them first too? That is just putting me off my feed.

This nuclear war thing is sounding more and more like a bad idea.
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  #17  
Old 04-17-2010, 09:24 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Interesting topic. I've heard that if Three Mile Island had been a total meltdown (or whatever the Worst Thing Possible was) that the whole east coast of the U.S. would be a radioactive wasteland for thousands of years.
What happened at Three Mile Island was in fact a worst case scenario for that design of reactor. It wasn't nearly as bad as Chernobyl, but the design of Chernobyl would be best described as insanely idiotically asinine.
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Old 04-18-2010, 01:19 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Radiation zombies, people with two heads, widespread mutations, and long-term hot zones are all fiction. The last of these is not fiction, IF sombody blows up a nuclear powerplant and spreads the mess some distance. Witness Chernobyl.
Well, mutation is possibly not the right word for it, but a robot brought back mushrooms growing inside Chernobyl's reactor that have evolved to feed off the hot radiation in there, essentially doing a kind of "photosynthesis" from gamma rays.

It's wicked cool, extremely Fallout-y and a testament to the fact that, however we may mess the planet up, life will just adapt and go on.
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Old 04-19-2010, 09:18 AM
Sailboat Sailboat is offline
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It's worth noting that a lot of popular understanding of nuclear fallout probably comes from the Cold War discussions about cobalt-salting hydrogen bombs specifically to cause long-term radiation damage.

I don't think even the rationale of cold warfare made it desirable to affect people in the enemy's territory thousands of years into the future. Originally Leo Szilard described the possibility as a thought experiment to emphasize the possible large-scale dangers of nuclear weapons. Discussion of the possibility of cobalt-salting continued because people were fascinated by the horrific possibility of intentionally destroying the earth's habitability; it may also have had some warped Cold War appeal as a "deterrent."

I once read that as few as 18 large cobalt-salted hydrogen bombs, properly placed with regard to prevailing winds, could render the entire Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable.

It's unclear if any cobalt-salted weapons were ever actually built. Let's hope not.
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Old 04-19-2010, 04:07 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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I thought that cobalt would result in intense mid-term (5-20 years) fallout, not uninhabitability on the order of centuries. IOW, it was specifically intended to increase the amount of radiation mid-term at the expense of long-term lingering radiation.

In any event, the Wiki page on nuclear weapons design claims that although salted weapons might yield proportionally more mid-term fallout, the standard U-238 cladding used in multistage thermonuclear designs yields more total fallout per bomb by increasing the power of the device. In other words, salting is a waste of potential.
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  #21  
Old 04-19-2010, 04:13 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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I once read that as few as 18 large cobalt-salted hydrogen bombs, properly placed with regard to prevailing winds, could render the entire Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable.
True, although in this case "large" means in excess of 100,000 tonnes each. I believe one suggestion was oil tanker sized ships built with cobalt hulls and housing the bomb in their holds.
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Old 04-19-2010, 04:34 PM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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What if we "duck & cover" ?
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  #23  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:37 AM
robby robby is offline
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Interesting topic. I've heard that if Three Mile Island had been a total meltdown (or whatever the Worst Thing Possible was) that the whole east coast of the U.S. would be a radioactive wasteland for thousands of years.
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What happened at Three Mile Island was in fact a worst case scenario for that design of reactor. It wasn't nearly as bad as Chernobyl, but the design of Chernobyl would be best described as insanely idiotically asinine.
Exactly. Three Mile Island did in fact have a complete core meltdown. However, because it also had a well-designed containment structure, it didn't release any significant amount of radioactive contamination.

Chernobyl is just about the worst case scenario imaginable. The core melted, set the graphite moderator on fire, flashed all of the coolant to steam, and blew the top off of the whole building. As Chronos mentioned, the design was positively idiotic. It had what is referred to as a "positive temperature coefficient of reactivity," which meant that it was inherently unstable. As the temperature of the coolant increased, the reactor's power also increased. U.S. reactors are designed with a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, and are designed to use the coolant as the moderator necessary to keep the reaction going. If the coolant is lost, the reaction automatically stops. In such an instance, the residual "decay heat" can cause a meltdown, but the actual nuclear reaction will not still be occurring.

Even in the case of the area surrounding Chernobyl, which has been evacuated for the last 24 years, reports are that wildlife is doing great, including large animals such as deer. Apparently the minimal amount of residual radioactivity still present is less of an impediment for the wildlife than the presence of people.

It is difficult to imagine any situation that could result in the "whole east coast of the U.S. [being] a radioactive wasteland for thousands of years" from a nuclear accident. Radioactive materials are either short-lived (giving off large amounts of radioactivity) or long-lived (giving off smaller amounts of radioactivity). So after a relatively short amount of time following a hypothetical nuclear accident (or a weapon, for that matter), the worst of any radioactive contamination has decayed away.
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Old 04-20-2010, 08:53 AM
robby robby is offline
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Originally Posted by Sailboat View Post
It's worth noting that a lot of popular understanding of nuclear fallout probably comes from the Cold War discussions about cobalt-salting hydrogen bombs specifically to cause long-term radiation damage.

I once read that as few as 18 large cobalt-salted hydrogen bombs, properly placed with regard to prevailing winds, could render the entire Northern Hemisphere uninhabitable.
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True, although in this case "large" means in excess of 100,000 tonnes each. I believe one suggestion was oil tanker sized ships built with cobalt hulls and housing the bomb in their holds.
Cobalt-59 is a stable metal. When irradiated with neutrons (in a nuclear reactor or a weapon), you can convert to metal to Cobalt-60. Cobalt-60 is one of the worst possible radioactive materials there is, because it has a half-life of 5.27 years. Unlike something with a half-life of minutes or seconds, it will persist in the environment for years. Unlike something with a half-life measured in thousands or millions of years, it's relatively short half-life indicates that it is fairly radioactive and therefore quite dangerous.

Nevertheless, after five half-lives, you would have just 3.125% the radioactivity as you did when you started. This is a non-insignificant 26 years, but it's not forever, nor is it "thousands of years." So a nuclear weapon salted with cobalt could indeed make a region uninhabitable for years or decades, but not much longer than that.
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Old 04-20-2010, 09:55 AM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Thanks everyone for your informative replies. I find the topic fascinating. A couple of supplementary questions if that is OK. I've heard before that the concept of "Nuclear Winter" was an exaggeration at best, is this true? More to the point, what short/medium/long term effects would such a conflict have on climate, the weather?
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Old 04-20-2010, 11:20 AM
Bartman Bartman is offline
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Thanks everyone for your informative replies. I find the topic fascinating. A couple of supplementary questions if that is OK. I've heard before that the concept of "Nuclear Winter" was an exaggeration at best, is this true? More to the point, what short/medium/long term effects would such a conflict have on climate, the weather?
No, I think Nuclear Winter is very much on the table. Here (warning pdf) is a fairly recent study from Rutgers University. Their conclusions? In a full scale Russia/USA exchange, expected to produce up to 150Tg of smoke, we might experience immediate cooling of No. America by about 20° C and Eurasia of about 30° C. World wide temperatures could drop by 8° C. And a decade later temperatures would still be depressed by at least half these amounts. In smaller exchanges the effect would be significantly reduced. But even an exchange producing 5 Tg of smoke (like say a India/Pakistan exchange) would produce a effect similar to the Little Ice Age.

Depending on the size of the exchange imagine the last hard frost in Iowa is around late June and the first hard frost is in mid August. In fact growing seasons would be cut by 60-120 days. No more grain production in Iowa. And no more citrus in California and Florida. Short term they also predict large disruptions in the water cycle, which would among many things would send No. America into a severe, decade long, continent wide drought. So nothing good if you like to eat or drink.
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Old 04-20-2010, 01:27 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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Even in the case of the area surrounding Chernobyl, which has been evacuated for the last 24 years, reports are that wildlife is doing great, including large animals such as deer. Apparently the minimal amount of residual radioactivity still present is less of an impediment for the wildlife than the presence of people.
Animals do benefit from shorter lifespans. If you only live 10 years in the wild, getting cancer after 20 years is not such a big issue.

And the whole term "uninhabitable" is really more a measure of modern human standards (or squeamishness) than the actual amount of radiation. If you don't mind dying of cancer in your 40s, even the area immediately around Chernobyl is habitable for humans. Given that human lifespans were below 40 in the middle ages, calling Chernobyl uninhabitable is like saying the 1300s were uninhabitable. Not that I want to downplay the issues of radiation, but irrational fear has really driven public opinion on the issue.
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  #28  
Old 04-20-2010, 01:49 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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Animals do benefit from shorter lifespans. If you only live 10 years in the wild, getting cancer after 20 years is not such a big issue.

And the whole term "uninhabitable" is really more a measure of modern human standards (or squeamishness) than the actual amount of radiation. If you don't mind dying of cancer in your 40s, even the area immediately around Chernobyl is habitable for humans. Given that human lifespans were below 40 in the middle ages, calling Chernobyl uninhabitable is like saying the 1300s were uninhabitable. Not that I want to downplay the issues of radiation, but irrational fear has really driven public opinion on the issue.
<insert nitpick about average lifespan>
Even if an area were habitable in the sense that you could live in a house or work in a factory there, the land might be unfarmable because of radioisotopes getting into the food chain.
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  #29  
Old 04-20-2010, 06:21 PM
sweeteviljesus sweeteviljesus is offline
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No, I think Nuclear Winter is very much on the table. Here (warning pdf) is a fairly recent study from Rutgers University. Their conclusions? In a full scale Russia/USA exchange, expected to produce up to 150Tg of smoke, we might experience immediate cooling of No. America by about 20° C and Eurasia of about 30° C. World wide temperatures could drop by 8° C. And a decade later temperatures would still be depressed by at least half these amounts. In smaller exchanges the effect would be significantly reduced. But even an exchange producing 5 Tg of smoke (like say a India/Pakistan exchange) would produce a effect similar to the Little Ice Age.

Depending on the size of the exchange imagine the last hard frost in Iowa is around late June and the first hard frost is in mid August. In fact growing seasons would be cut by 60-120 days. No more grain production in Iowa. And no more citrus in California and Florida. Short term they also predict large disruptions in the water cycle, which would among many things would send No. America into a severe, decade long, continent wide drought. So nothing good if you like to eat or drink.
From what I have heard, it is not so much that nuclear winter isn't real, it is that its effects would get lost in the noise. If your agricultural production is 1% of pre-war levels, nuclear winter is like burning someone already on fire.
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Old 04-20-2010, 06:32 PM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is online now
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It's worth noting that a lot of popular understanding of nuclear fallout probably comes from the Cold War discussions about cobalt-salting hydrogen bombs specifically to cause long-term radiation damage.

I don't think even the rationale of cold warfare made it desirable to affect people in the enemy's territory thousands of years into the future.
There is if the US is ahead in the mineshaft gap
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Old 04-20-2010, 07:19 PM
HorseloverFat HorseloverFat is offline
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. Given that human lifespans were below 40 in the middle ages, calling Chernobyl uninhabitable is like saying the 1300s were uninhabitable.
High infant and child mortality doesn't mean everyone lives to be 40. It means that 40% of everyone dies by age 12 and the rest can live up to nice and old. Growing up in a radiation zone means everyone gets tumors and dies young-ish. Two very different scenarios. A guaranteed early death by cancer? No thanks. I'd rather take my chances in the 14th century.
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