Last week, we marked Hiroshima Day with an examination of the effects of a nuclear detonation in a modern city as well as New London County’s involvement in the nuclear arms industry. For the next few weeks, we will continue thinking about nuclear weapons and New London County, specifically through the transcription of a pamphlet published in 1961 by Gordon S. Christiansen, former professor and chairman of the Connecticut College Chemistry Department. In the year after the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) came to New London to educate the people about the realities of nuclear-armed submarines, Professor Christiansen wrote and published this pamphlet, ultimately donating a copy to the CNVA. Professor Christiansen produced this pamphlet to continue the community’s education of the nuclear weapons issue, giving scientific support to the ethical and strategic concerns the CNVA raised. In honor of the victims of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago, we present Professor Christiansen’s Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability, part 1.
Could Southeastern Connecticut survive a nuclear attack?
What would be the effects of an atomic weapon dropped within this area?
What conditions would we face if this area was not hit directly but other areas of New England and New York were hit by nuclear weapons?
What defenses are available to us?
What would conditions of post-attack living be like?
Is there anything we could do now to prevent their happening?
These are questions which all responsible citizens must face squarely; they are also questions which demand informed and thoughtful answers — answers which may determine whether or not this region survives as a community.
[...] For the purposes of this discussion three hypothetical situations have been considered. First a small, Hiroshima type, atomic bomb (17,000 tons of TNT explosive equivalent) detonated above the Groton-New London bridge. Second a ground burst of a nominal 20 megaton (24 million tons of TNT explosive equivalent), again at the center of the bridge. And third, no nuclear weapons detonated in the immediate area but a general nuclear attack on the prime targets in Northeastern United States. (The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy did not consider the New London area to be a prime target.)
The Hiroshima bomb was detonated at 8:15 in the morning on a clear day; let us assume the same conditions here in New London. The immediate blast effect would be the total destruction, down to a virtual flattening, of an area about 2000 yards in diameter. This would include both bridges, all of East New London, all of the downtown Groton area, part of Electric Boat, most of the Coast Guard Academy, and all of the highway approaches with nearby buildings and installations. The area of destruction of heavily built brick buildings would extend out about a mile and a half. This would include virtually all of New London except the beach areas, all of Connecticut College, all of Groton Borough including the whole Electric Boat facility, and a part of the Submarine Base. Frame buildings would be totally destroyed out about a mile further, including much of Waterford, Quaker Hill, the Naval housing areas, and further parts of Groton.
The immediate killing radiation from the bomb detonation would cover an area comparable to that of the total blast destruction. In this central area the chance of survival would be virtually nil under any circumstances. If a person were inside a masonry building he might be protected from the direct radioactivity but would be crushed along with the building or burned in the fires. The local fallout would begin within a few minutes and would carry an exceedingly high level of damaging radioactivity. This fallout would be in the form of dust and flakes and larger particles and also in the form of rain consisting of black, sooty, dust-laden drops. The intensity of the fallout radiation would decrease with radial distance from the point of explosion, warped somewhat by the low level winds. It is hard to estimate the level of radioactive exposure that would result but it would certainly be of the order of a few thousand roentgens per hour at a distance of a few (perhaps three or four) miles out from the center. In terms of survival, this level of radioactivity is such that five or ten minutes of exposure would surely be lethal. But the level of radioactivity would fall off rapidly both with time and with distance out from the center. Within the four mile circle it would decrease to around a few hundred roentgens per hour by nightfall so that a person at Connecticut College or the Sub Base, for example, would need to be exposed in the open for an hour or so to get a fatal dose of radiation. The levels of radioactivity beyond the immediate area, out to Mystic, Norwich or Niantic, would never become so great as close in near the point of detonation and also would fall off rapidly with time. In these communities a person could avoid serious injury from radiation by taking shelter immediately and remaining inside for a few days.
Although the levels of direct radiation from fallout would drop to small fractions of their original killing power within a few days, there would be serious dangers for some weeks. It would be necessary to decontaminate most of the built up areas and to completely avoid using some facilities which are normally part of our lives. It would be particularly necessary to protect children from radiation. The double reasons of genetic damage to those who will be the parents of the next generation and the very much greater susceptibility of growing children to radiation damage would limit the lives of children in these communities to total protection (that is, constant living in an adequate shelter) for a few weeks and to very carefully restricted time outside of uncontaminated and adequately shielded buildings for a few months. The parents of these children would probably be willing to risk some levels of radiation damage (provided they were also willing never to have more children) in order to do the necessary jobs of supporting life in a shelter.
The most serious source of radiation damage would be the ingestion of particles of radioactive fallout. This could be done through breathing contaminated air (even the most elegant shelters usually do not have adequate supplies of clean air), through contaminated food or water, or through open wounds such as cuts or burns. Buildings or open areas could ultimately be decontaminated but once radioactive material gets inside the human system it remains there as a subtle and virulent source of radioactive poison throughout the lifetime of the radioactivity — or the poisoned individual. It is also a fact that many substances which are innocuous outside the body, because a few inches of air or a layer of clothing will absorb their type of radiation, are viciously destructive if ingested where they come in direct contact with body tissues…
If you are concerned about nuclear weapons and live in Connecticut, consider joining the CT Committee on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Committee organizes demonstrations against nuclear weapons throughout the year. Sign up to the mailing list here: https://forms.gle/pX8v2U4CktAcz8s78
You can also sign petitions to pressure our government to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, like this one: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/support-the-nuclear-weapons-ban-treaty
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Christiansen, Gordon S. Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability. Connecticut College, 1961.
“Electric Boat History.” General Dynamics: Electric Boat. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. http://www.gdeb.com/about/history/
“Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” Arms Control Association. August 2020 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat
“Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.” United Nations: Office of Disarmament Affairs. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/
Wellerstein, Alex. “Nukemap.” Nuclear Secrecy. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/
“What if We Nuke a City?” Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell. 13 October 2019 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iPH-br_eJQ
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