The impact of nuclear attacks on U.S. cities

The impact of nuclear attacks on U.S. cities

Summary: Researchers from the Center for Mass Destruction Defense (CMADD) at the University of Georgia have created a detailed simulation of the catastrophic impact a nuclear attack would have on American cities. They've looked at the detailed consequences that such attacks would have on four cities, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., and concluded that the destruction of the major hospitals in the downtown areas of the four cities would be almost nearly complete. They also give some solutions to reduce the number of lost lives, which could reach 5 million for the New York City area. Frightening...

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Researchers from the Center for Mass Destruction Defense (CMADD) at the University of Georgia have created a detailed simulation of the catastrophic impact a nuclear attack would have on American cities. They've looked at the detailed consequences that such attacks would have on four cities, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., and concluded that the destruction of the major hospitals in the downtown areas of the four cities would be almost nearly complete. They've estimated the numbers of direct deaths from the blasts and indirect ones from burns and radiations. They also give some solutions to reduce the number of lost lives, which could reach 5 million for the New York City area. Frightening...

Below is diagram showing the thermal impact of a 550 kiloton surface nuclear detonation on New York City with weather as of September 17, 2004. The destruction of the major hospitals in the downtown area would be almost nearly complete in the city. (Credit: CMADD)

The impact of a nuclear attack on New York City

"The likelihood of a nuclear weapon attack in an American city is steadily increasing, and the consequences will be overwhelming," said Cham Dallas,Cham Dallas, the director of the Center for Mass Destruction Defense (CMADD), a CDC Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University of Georgia. He wrote this study with William Bell, CMADD senior research scientist.

It is interesting to note that the two researchers decided to focus on 20 kiloton and 550 kiloton nuclear detonation.

For comparison, the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in the 12 to 20 kiloton range. Bell explained that a 20 kiloton weapon could be manufactured by terrorists and fledgling nuclear countries such as North Korea and Iran, while a 550 kiloton device is commonly found in the arsenal of the former Soviet Union and therefore is the most likely to be stolen by terrorists.

And here are what would be some of the effects of nuclear attacks.

A 20-kiloton detonation would leave debris tens of feet 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.

Besides the direct effects of such an impact, "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." And these deaths would be caused by burns, both because hospitals would be destroyed or because they're not designed to handle simultaneously a great number of burn victims.

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."

Still, the number of deaths could be dramatically reduced -- if the public was correctly informed in advance of what to do.

In certain areas, it may be possible to turn the death rate from 90 percent in some burn populations to probably 20 or 30 percent -- and those are very big differences -- simply by being prepared well in advance," Dallas said. One intervention is to mount a public awareness campaign to teach civilians what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Since radioactive plumes move downwind, a person can look up at the trees to see which way the wind is blowing and then flee perpendicular to the wind. Because the plumes are significantly longer than they are wide, moving as little as one to five miles perpendicular to the plume can mean the difference between life and death.

This whole study, which took three years to be done, has been published online on February 28, 2007 as an open access document by the International Journal of Health Geographics under the name "Vulnerability of populations and the urban health care systems to nuclear weapon attack: examples from four American cities" (Volume 6, Article 5 of 2007). Here are three links to the abstract and to the full paper in HTML format and in PDF format (33 pages, 7.02 MB). The above illustration comes from this document which contains many other frightening images.

Here is the conclusion of this must-read study "Among the consequences of this outcome would be the probable loss of command-and-control, mass casualties that will have to be treated in an unorganized response by hospitals on the periphery, as well as other expected chaotic outcomes from inadequate administration in a crisis. Vigorous, creative, and accelerated training and coordination among the federal agencies tasked for WMD response, military resources, academic institutions, and local responders will be critical for large-scale WMD events involving mass casualties."

I sure hope that such a situation will never occur.

Sources: University of Georgia News Service, March 20, 2007; and various websites

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11 comments
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  • Macabre

    i think many would die as well from their incapacity to lead a life that isn't
    comfortable, organized and convenient.

    I remember the story of the woman found strapped into her seat on the PanAm 747
    hit by a KLM 747 taking off on the same runway. The woman never moved,
    incapable of figuring out how to save her life.
    mlindl
    • RE: The impact of nuclear attacks on U.S. cities

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      meimeili
  • The best way to survive

    is to not be in a target city. That simple. That's one reason why I live in a little town far away from any major military installations or metropolitan areas. ]:) That and a lower crime rate and more friendly towards dogs.
    Linux User 147560
  • Great blueprint for terrorists

    This study is a great blueprint for terrorists; now they don't even need to do their own impact assessment and they know where to strike with maximum casualty. Now let's hope they're stupid enough to waste that nuclear fuel on a dirty bomb.
    georgeou
    • I don't think there is any new information in this report.

      There have been studies for half a century on the effects of nuclear weapons on major cities. And most of it is accessible from the internet.
      Still, As I write this from my Hoboken office, I can see the NYC skyline out the window less than half a mile away across the Hudson. If anything does happen, I guess won't be around confirm it's accuracy.
      Tigertank
      • Hoboken , home of Frank Sinatra .

        Also , Hoboken , the home of crazy rents, mortgages. Hoboken is not a very good
        place to live anymore.
        Intellihence
        • Not true

          Hoboken is a great place to live. Find another popular, trendy neighborhood around Manhattan that isn't expensive.
          Tigertank
  • WHAT??

    There's only one country which has used nuclear weapons of mass destruction of civilian targets, and that's America. Hiroshima, Nagasaki and most of the Middle East (using Depleted Uranium).

    Most Americans will be completely unaware of the situation regarding Iran ... perhaps the death and glory brigade will soon be patriotically and bravely dropping nukes on yet another country, from the safety of high altitude bombers?

    http://infowars.net/articles/april2007/020407.htm
    (Extract from)
    Those who work in and frequently read the alternative media will recognise that the mainstream has finally picked up on a report from a Russian journalist, written weeks ago, which was first exposed in the US and the UK by sites such as Rense.com, Infowars and What Really Happened.
    Andrei Uglanov, in the Moscow weekly "Argumenty Nedeli", wrote that an attack is slated to last for twelve hours from 4 AM until 4 PM local time. Friday is a holiday in Iran. In the course of the attack, code named Operation Bite, about 20 targets are marked for bombing; the list includes uranium enrichment facilities, research centers, and laboratories.
    Citing Russian military experts close to the Russian General Staff, Uganov stated that the first reactor at the Bushehr nuclear plant, where Russian engineers are working, is supposed to be spared from destruction. The US attack plan reportedly calls for the Iranian air defense system to be degraded, for numerous Iranian warships to be sunk in the Persian Gulf, and the for the most important headquarters of the Iranian armed forces to be wiped out.

    Uglanov's article was re-issued by Russian outlet RIA-Novosti, who sought verification from retired Russian Colonel General, Leonid Ivashov.

    Ivashov confirmed its essential features in a March 21 interview, stating "I have no doubt that there will be an operation, or more precisely a violent action against Iran...We have drawn the unmistakable conclusion that this operation will take place... Most probably there will be no ground attack, but rather massive air attacks with the goal of annihilating Iran's capacity for military resistance, the centers of administration, the key economic assets, and quite possibly the Iranian political leadership, or at least part of it,"

    Ivashov is now the Vice President of the Moscow Academy for Geopolitical Sciences.

    The AP and the Jerusalem Post, however, failed to mention the retired General's comments, instead simply stating "The Russian Defense Ministry rejected the claims of an imminent attack as myths."

    Other reports also released last weekend suggest that the attack is going ahead but not until the Summer. Israel's military intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin also told the Israeli cabinet Sunday that Iran is making defensive preparations for what it fears will be a U.S. military attack this summer.

    Whether it be this Friday or this Summer, both Russian and Israeli intelligence sources agree that there is going to be an attack.
    whisperycat
    • What's your point?

      You must've bumped it on the desk when you jerked it...

      The fact that US has used a nuclear weapon in the past, while possibly indicating a future willingness to use it, in no way bears on anyone else's desire or ability to use one. In other words, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not relevant to the subject of a nuclear device potentially detonating within US, unless you want to claim it will be done in retaliation. That strikes me as highly unlikely.

      Depleted uranium is not a nuclear weapon. It does not detonate (although it can burn under certain conditions). Even if it was, as I explained above it would not be relevant.

      So, what exactly are you saying here?
      Horseradish
      • Disregard the first line

        of previous post. Errant cut and paste.
        Horseradish
  • Egad!

    I'm a youthful boy again, with Stop-Drop-and-roll excercises (useless then, useless now) for the impending doom. Fleeing at a right angle to the wind might result in running in circles, if the winds changes periodically, but that also would widen the radioactive plume, eh? And what if the expressways aren't at right angles to the wind? Will training include emphasizing have two people per car, one to drive and the other to observe treetops? And what of the bottled water supply? Will McDonald's be able to get low-rad beef?

    Mutually assured destruction is not possible here as a deterrent, unless we declare that if a bomb goes off here, Mecca is rubble (and that may have already been done). Eat, drink, be merry!
    The_Geezer