Which is scarier: a sudden death by inferno and collapsed buildings, or a slow death by lethal amounts of ubiquitous invisible radiation? Which is scarier: a single nuclear explosion in your community, or many nuclear explosions around your community?
In the 1950s, the US government determined that despite the presence of the US Submarine Base and General Dynamics: Electric Boat in the New London - Groton area, southeastern Connecticut would not be a major military target in the event of nuclear war. The area, however, is surrounded by several likely major targets. How would nuclear attacks in the region around southeastern Connecticut affect our corner of the state?
In 1960, Professor Gordon S. Christiansen, chairman of the Connecticut College Chemistry Department at the time, gave a description of such a hypothetical horror in his pamphlet Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability. Over the past few months, we have slowly doled out the contents of the pamphlet in excerpts. Excerpts 1 & 2 regarded the effects of a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb detonated over the New London - Groton bridge: the initial blast, firestorms, and radiation. Parts 3, 4, & 5 explore the same scenario but with a much more powerful “modern” thermonuclear weapon.
(Read Part 1 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2029219227228402)
(Read Part 2 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2040482629435395)
(Read Part 3 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2046153552201636)
(Read Part 4 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2057147997768858)
(Read Part 5 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2062709130546078)
(Read Part 6 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2085738148243176)
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ famous Doomsday Clock was set at “100 seconds to midnight” in both 2020 and 2021. At no other moment in history since the Doomsday Clock began have we come so close to utter calamity as we are now. Even while covid continues to ravage many parts of the world, nuclear programs in multiple countries have recently accelerated while other efforts to control nuclear arms internationally have eroded. The result is a highly destabilized world with even more nuclear weapons, nuclear states, and possible reasons to use such weapons than even in Professor Christiansen’s day in the Cold War. Therefore, earlier this year, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force, which made nuclear weapons illegal under international law. While there is still much work to do to convince the nuclear states to give up those arms, there is also reason to believe that this new treaty is the beginning of a new chapter in responsible international control of nuclear arms.
To complete the dismal prospect it is necessary to point out the difficulty of recreating a normal existence even after six months of imprisonment in a shelter. During the second half of the first year the average level of fallout radioactivity would be about 0.7 roentgens per hour, a level that makes human occupancy impossible. A person exposed to this radiation for six months would receive 3000 roentgens, probably a fatal dose even spread over so long a time. During the fifth year after the disaster, when levels of radioactivity would be slowly decaying from 0.1 roentgens per hour, a person who is constantly exposed would get a dose of something over 800 roentgens per year — a fatal injury in a single short dose but perhaps only a third of the fatal dose when taken slowly.
The possibility of recreating this highly organized, industrial and partially urbanized community could only remain a dream of the future. Even the chance of a general rural farming community is slim. Undoubtedly natural changes in surface features of the land, greatly hastened by the excessive erosion of a denuded landscape, would cause great redistribution of the radioactive material. There would be some areas which would be naturally decontaminated by this process; there would also be other areas where the concentration of radioactivity would build up. It is quite probable that spotty areas would be reclaimed for farming, but it would be necessary to constantly and carefully check the produce of these farms for dangerous concentrations of radioactivity. It is well known that many plants and animals have a great tendency to concentrate some radioactive materials such as strontium 90 to levels far above their concentration in the soil. A safe and relatively unirradiated life in this area, even five years after the bombing, would depend first on a good working knowledge of the nature of radioactivity, its biological effects, its fallout origins, and its physical properties; it would also require considerable elegant radiological measuring equipment; it would also require a remarkable level of awareness, vigilance and restraint.
The likelihood of help coming from outside this area is almost nonexistent. All ordinary means of communication and transportation would be totally destroyed. After several weeks or a few months it would be possible for an airplane or a boat to come here briefly (if facilities to receive them could be improvised). But one is always faced with the question, “Where would help come from? What could be brought here that is not needed just as badly elsewhere?” The probability is very great that conditions would be just as terrible throughout the whole eastern seaboard area, at least as far away as Washington, D.C. The more remote areas of the South and West, though probably not hit as badly as New England, would have fantastically difficult problems of their own. They would surely have more survivors — but would also have many more sick, injured and starving to care for.
More probable than the arrival of teams of saviors would be the arrival of roving bands of marauders — frightened, injured, maddened, short-term survivors of other similarly devastated areas. If a person should be so lucky and so foresighted to have prepared and occupied in advance a perfect shelter stocked with the necessities of life underground, he might have to defend it against the raids of others who were not so lucky or so thoughtful in advance. He might even find it not worth defending.
Could we survive a nuclear attack?
Can shelters save us?
Is there any defense?
Is there anything we can do now to prevent this tragedy?
The one clear and effective thing we can do is to strive to ensure that these hypothetical incidents do not become actual ones.
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
Mecklin, John, ed. “2021 Doomsday Clock Statement.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 27 January 2021 [Accessed 20 October 2021]. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/
“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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