Would NYC's Skyscrapers Help or Hinder An Atomic Bomb's Destrcutiveness?

Let’s say you explode an atomic bomb, like the one used in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, over Manhattan. Would NYC’s skyscrapers help LIMIT the destruction? Or would they only cause more destruction?

I was thinking assume the skyscrapers are well built would they absorb the shock and there by limit the power, or would they only fall over and cause more destruction.

I guess another way of looking at it, if you dropped the same bomb over another city without NYC’s dense skyscrapers, and that city had the same population density, would it be more or less destructive.

Obviously by NYC, I mean Manhattan where the skyscrapers are. And let’s assume that the bombs would be dropped from a plane and exploded over the air like they were in Hiroshima or Nagasaki

A nuclear weapon explodes hundreds of feet above the ground. All the those buildings, which are hollow and delicate, will just rain down shrapnel if they arent evaporated. I dont think there is a defense again a nuclear weapon other than a deep bunker.

Well, an airburst would probably be likely with delivery from an ICBM or bomber, but what about the type of nuke that could be smuggled in and delivered by a Ryder truck or something similar? Could a terrorist organization or rogue nation pack a thermonuclear weapon in something like that, or are we talking strictly fission? Ignore the intel and logistics of getting the materials and building the weapon–assume that they could.

They have radioactivity detectors on roads, which not only detect nukes but also detect when folks aren’t disposing of radioactive waste properly. The chances of loading a nuke into the back of a Ryder truck and getting it into NYC undetected aren’t very good.

That said, if a terrorist did somehow manage to set of a nuke at street level, the skyscrapers would certainly absorb a lot of the energy as they get blown to bits.

You can’t really make a comparison between a flat city and a tall skyscraper city “the same population density” as in the OP, because it is the skyscrapers that allow the population density to be much higher in a given area. If, for argument’s sake, you made a bunch of people temporarily leave NYC so that it had the same population density as an equivalent flat city, then yes, the people in the flat city would suffer more because the damage radius would be larger.

On the other hand, if you let those skyscrapers stay packed with people, there would be many more casualties in NYC than the flat city.

As HorseloverFat said, when you are talking about nuke type energy levels, skyscrapers are delicate and hollow. Their sheer mass will absorb a certain amount of energy, but they are going to get blasted into bits, not “absorb the shock” as in the OP.

Aren’t those mostly just at checkpoints at borders and the like, though? I don’t think there’s any technology that could detect a shielded bomb just driving by at road speeds, and I’m sure you don’t need to stop at a checkpoint before entering Manhattan.

Do you have a cite for this? It is not an easy problem to detect radioactivity from even a short distance away if you only have a few seconds to do it and especially if the transporter has made even a half-assed attempt at shielding.

Uh, no. I’ve read about a few systems that can do this sort of thing, like these:


We’ve been using radiation detectors on ports and harbors for many years, so I was kind of assuming that they were in widespread use on highways by now. After googling around a bit I didn’t find any evidence that this is true.

So, maybe not.

That’s what I get for assuming.

Although I have my suspicions about it’s veracity, it was widely reported a year or so ago that these detectors discovered a cat in a vehicle that had undergone radioactive iodine treatment and was therefore emitting higher than background radiation. At speed. On I-5, in the middle of California somewhere, not at a checkpoint.

It seems unlikely the cat was shielded, but if this is true, the detectors have obviously gotten a lot better in the last few years (not entirely implausible, given the amount of anti-terrorism money likely spent on such things). Certainly the existence of detectors on highways doesn’t seem to be in much dispute, I’ve seen news reports about their installation at places like bridge crossings.

A couple years ago we kept passing and being passed by “a black van” on the interstate not too far outside of Washington, DC.

After many good looks at it, and much pondering, I came to the conclusion that it was a van to detect such things.

You’d be amazed at what you CAN detect under certain circumstances.

I remember a serious proposal awhile back where crappy radiation detectors would be placed in everyone’s cellphones. In aggregate, they could detect certain terrorist activities.

I’d think the difference to be trivial. both areas would be smoking radioactive craters?