So, if N. Korea Nukes L.A....what't the impact?

Besides me being dead, of course.

I was pondering this rather unfortunate possibility last night and I found myself immediately assuming completely disastrous consequences for the US as a whole, economically, morale-wise, etc. But I couldn’t quite articulate why that would be so. (yeah, the having the US nuked at all would probably be something of a buzzkill for at least a few people, but beyond the obvious…)

How would food supplies be affected? (California is the nations breadbasket, though most of the growing is in the center of the state) How would the rest of Cal and the surrounding states be affected?

What would the US response be? Would we really just incinerate N. Korea, and could we do that without affecting South Korea? Would it spark a huge US-Asia conflict?

How badly would our military be damaged if SoCal was all aglow?

How many people would die? 15 million?

On top of everything else… what about television? 90% of TV and TV stars would be toasty. How would that affect the nation? Seriously… on top of the horrors of the event itself and the direct effects…to have our #1 mental escape hatch left in tatters?

So…what do you think?

Medically… there would be tons of not-dead-but-pretty-messed-up folk… could the rest of the nation step in to help?

I think I would not worry about food supplies as much as our immediate response. All air traffic diverted, complete lock down of US interests. A retalitory strike against all of NK by our Bombers we just sent to Guam - yesterday - and all tactical Subs would be placed on high alert for possible piggyback strike from a rogue.

BTW we were much closer in the late 60’s than we are right now. To another war with NK.

Also, Bush does not propose a missile defense system if one is not already in place. There are things we can do to shoot a missile down either in take off or slow down stage of the rocket, but not in the ballistic phase.

It is a very scary thing to think about because the United States response would be so devastating…I shudder to think about it…

There’s a whole lot of food produced in the rest of the country, so that’s probably not an issue. Plus if we’re tallking about millions dying, there’s that many fewer to feed.

I think we would need to retaliate with at least 1 but probably no more than about 4 nuclear weapons, - That would be devastating to a country the size of N. Korea, and you have to think about the effects on China, S. Korea, & Japan.

Well, let’s look at this systematically —

The CIA apparently believes that North Korea possesses at leasttwo nuclear weapons. These are presumably atomic, rather than thermonuclear, weapons, which makes a pretty enormous difference in yield. Atomic bombs would not likely be much more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs – i.e., something in the 10 to 20Kt range. A thermonuclear (“H-bomb”) warhead could be astronomically more powerful. Even figuring conservatively at a 1 to 2Mt yield, that’s 100+ times more powerful than an atomic weapon. By way of comparison, most modern US ICBMs carry multiple thermonuclear warheads of only 200-300kt yield each for reasons of efficiency, though single bombs of multi-megaton yield were common into the 1960s. While North Korea may well be working on developing thermonuclear capability, I know of noone who has asserted that they have it now.
Having assumed that they have decided to launch an atomic bomb at LA, lets also assume that it hits its target, and actually detonates. Estimates of the immediate death toll at Hiroshima vary pretty widely – anywhere from 40,000 to 130,000 people. Nagasaki apparently suffered only about half as many casualties, due to more rugged terrain, and possibly lower population density. While modern Los Angeles certainly has a much larger population than 1945 Hiroshima, it is also spread over a much larger area. Population density in the blast area could vary considerably just based on where, within the LA city limits, the bomb hit.

Consider also the superiority in modern transportation and trauma care, in a country that hasn’t been under intensive conventional bombardment for two years. Even though a nuclear blast would certainly overwhelm local, and seriously tax national medical resources, we’d be a lot better off than Japan in '45. For those reasons, it would greatly surprise me if the fatalities were greater than those at Hiroshima, and it’s quite possible they’d be somewhat lower.

Longer term cancer deaths would be very difficult to estimate. I’ve heard claims in the hundred thousands for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it’s difficult to find data from sources without an obvious agenda. I suspect that modern nuclearphobia would result in most people shunning the blast zone for many years, as was not the case in Japan, which would reduce the cancer toll somewhat. An offsetting possibility would be for the North Korean warhead to explode at or near ground level, unlike the airbursts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This would reduce immedate casualties by reducing the blast area, but would kick up more fallout.

I’d imagine a national panic over agricultural contamination (CA’s not so much the nation’s breadbasket as its fruit and vegetable basket, is it?). But the actual long term health effects would probably be less than feared (if only because the fears are so great).

Fatalities in the entertainment community could be negligable or heavy depending on the exact placement of ground zero. If a 10-20kt warhead hit downdown LA, I think the effects on Century City, Beverly Hills, and the major movie/TV studios would be slim to none (which isn’t to say there wouldn’t be panic, looting… think Earthquake). On the other hand, if the bomb fell on Century City, celebrity casualties could be fairly high, though 90% as a percentage would probably only apply within about a mile of the detonation (that’s about 3 square miles, out of about about 465 square miles and 3 million people in the city of Los Angeles proper – I’ll assume for now that the county has a lower population density than the wider county), requiring a near bullseye on 90210.

Effects on US military capability, other than the diversion of resources to disaster relief, would be nil.

The biggest unknown, I think, is the US response. I think it would be very much a function of how the situation had transpired prior to the attack. The knee-jerk assumption is that we would launch a missile back and flatten Pyongyang. However, I think the negative political consequences, and dubious strategic value, of such an action would make it unlikely. Surely you can all imagine the outcry against murdering innocent North Korean civilians in a pointless act of vengence. Instead, I would expect an immediate, all out conventional campaign to topple the current regime. As highly militarized as North Korea is, I can’t seriously believe that it would be able to defend for long against the full attentions of the US military. Subsequent nuclear strikes against the US would be highly unlikely, since I would expect North Korea’s ICBM launch facilities to be highly vulnerable to air attack. It’s possible that North Korea might expend any remaining nuclear weapons against South Korea, Japan, or even its own cities, once significant US troop strength had arrived, but I don’t believe that this would alter the final outcome.

The possibility that China might object to such an invasion raises the spectre of a broader war, but I think it would be politically difficult for them to take too strong a stand on the side of the government that just nuked LA. If anything, they might try to invade preemptively themselves, so as to be able to install a more tractable puppet.

LA has active earthquake faults beneath it.

The bomb’s effect of these will be…?

The highest point of the Elyssian Park Fault running across downtown LA is about 1.8 miles below Dodger stadium. I would think a piddly little atomic bomb is not going to affect nearly 2 miles of solid earth.

My WAG is that 3 months after the explosion, LA will not be at the top of the news. The political and military response would be “swift” in that a suitable military response would actually take place about a week after the fact. Politicos cant pass up the tremendous publicity of visiting the former LA area so that takes place first. Then a sweeping unanimous vote for war, buildup and a total and overwhelming response.

I agree completely in the context of the threat discussed (10 to 20kt airburst). At the other end of the spectrum, though, I know offhand that a 25mt ground burst (about the largest warhead ever deployed on some Soviet ICBMs in the '70s, and one to two thousand times more powerful than anything the North Koreans might have) would leave a crater something like 1,500+ feet deep and over a mile across. Even though the fault would take a jolt from something like that, I kind of doubt it would trigger anything. On the other hand, it’s not like there’s been extensive testing of the issue…

You know Umbriel for only having 148+ post’s since 2000, you are aweful knowledgeable about such matters. We could have used you in other NK debates.
By the way. You have successfully calmed my nerves. Thanks.

Well, we’d have another option for my lighthearted question about flaming infernos of death


I did say Piddly little atomic bomb… :slight_smile:

Thermo-nukes tested in the Nevada testing facility (before they banned it) produced tremors roughly at 4 on the richter scale, but those were underground. Most of the damage caused by nukes are atmospheric. The crater you mentioned is the theoretical result of an H-bomb less than 100 feet above ground. I dont think anyone plans to detonate one so close to the ground if launched on an ICBM.

Now its kinda a good thing that N Korea only has atomic bombs but now that they fired up their new reactor, processing enriched uranium could facilitate the making of a thermonuclear device. I vote we do what Israel did to Iraq.

Less traffic?
(ok… that was evil…)

heh if you want evil…

I wonder if what all that remains are bags of silicon and cucarachas…

I remember reading somewhere that the Port of LA is the nation’s busiest port. I could be wrong about that, but the fact remains that the effects of having such a busy port irradiated, etc would have fairly far-reaching effects.

Would the NK’s have an accurate-enough delivery system to hit L.A.? Maybe it could end up hitting San Diego or somewhere in the valley.

Or it could fall short, just detonate over the ocean, and kick up a big wave, but much less damage overal.

Would this fix or complicate Gov Gray Davis’ budget deficit problem?

Our nation’s porno industry would be destroyed!!!

And this would be different from non-nuked L.A. how?


ducks and runs

I do my best to be an effective voice of reason. :wink: I’m glad I could help, and I’m much flattered.

X~Slayer(ALE) – I supplied the extreme example just to be thorough. I agree completely with your original assertion. Consider also that a fault, as the point of contact of two tectonic plates, extends for many miles vertically, as well has many more miles horizontally. The frictional stress between the two plates is distributed, not necessarily uniformly, over that entire area. I expect that triggering an earthquake with a nuke would be like trying to trigger a snow avalanche with a loud noise. It might work on some rare occasions, but if things were that precarious in the first place, the event was probably imminent anyway.

I do fully expect that an Osiraq-type strike (wasn’t that just the coolest comic-book-evil name for Saddam’s reactor?) is precisely what will happen if North Korea actually attempts to produce nuclear material at its reactor. North Korea may well resort to violence in retaliation (shooting down aircraft, artillery barrages over the DMZ), but I doubt that a wider conflict would result.

Regarding maritime shipping and porn – Obviously extensive investment opportunities would result from such a disaster.

Regarding accuracy – the “Circular Error Probable” for a North Korean ICBM could easily be several miles – that is to say, if everything went right, they could be no more certain of the impact point than that it would be somewhere within a few miles radius. That would still let them put it somewhere within the valley reliably. However, we’re not talking about trends over a large volume of missiles here, we’re talking about a single shot… and this missile and warhead are the product of state of the art North Korean technology. That means it’s anyone’s guess whether it would actually hit its target, break up somewhere over the Pacific, land in San Diego, Fresno, Catalina, Tijuana, or whereever, and whether it would detonate at the intended altitude, or too high (reducing damage), at ground level (reducing the blast effect, but increasing fallout), or not at all, shattering on impact.

Regarding DreadCthulhu’s comment (figures he’d be concerned about the possibility of a water impact… [Dr. Zoidberg]“But think of my people!”[/Dr. Zoidberg]), an airburst at the intended height which happened to occur over water would likely do next to nothing. A Bikini Atoll-style underwater blast, with impressive wave effects, is rather unlikely. An incoming warhead, traveling at enormous speed, would be likely to shatter on impact with the water. The famous “Baker” test at Bikini, pictures of which are widely circulated, was about 23kt yield – the high end of what North Korea might possess.

Nothing I’ve stated in these posts should be construed as minimizing the significance of the deaths of up to a hundred thousand people or so. I merely seek to put the event in question into the proper perspective. Hyperbole tends to be the rule whenever nuclear weapons are discussed. I tend to think the “Nuclear Winter” stories circulated back in the '80s were similarly unfounded, and were promoted by activists who feared that somehow tens or hundreds of millions of deaths and the disruption of civilization as we know it was insufficient disincentive for a nuclear war. The power of even atomic weapons is so great that it’s easy for us mere humans to lose all sense of scale. The ability to destroy a city, or hundreds of cities, blurs into the unimaginable, and the mind casually leaps to the assumption that sterilizing the whole surface of the Earth is just a short step or two beyond.