This week, we are continuing with another excerpt from a pamphlet produced by Professor Gordon S. Christiansen, chairman of the Connecticut College Chemistry Department in the 1960s. In the pamphlet, Professor Christiansen considered various nuclear attack scenarios and detailed the likely effects and consequences on the New London area. The last excerpt from this pamphlet was mostly about the catastrophic effects of radiation on the human body from a relatively small atomic bomb like the one the United States used on Hiroshima in 1945 (you can read that here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2029219227228402).
This week, the same scenario is explored, but this time with regards to firestorms, damage to infrastructure, and possibilities for recovery and rebuilding. The effects of a Hiroshima-sized attack that Professor Christiansen has presented are deeply disturbing, but what’s worse is that modern nuclear weapons are much more powerful than the ones that almost completely destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thankfully, on January 22, 2021, the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force, making the production, possession, and use of nuclear weapons to be an international crime. In honor of all of the victims of nuclear weapons, and with great hope in the new international treaty, we present Professor Christiansen’s Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability, part 2.
Fire would be the most destructive effect of the bomb, both to physical structures and human life. The great fire ball which surrounds the bursting bomb within a few millionths of a second reaches a temperature of several million degrees. This tremendous source of heat radiates down over a huge area around the center of the detonation so that temperatures on the ground out three miles or more reach a thousand degrees. This heat causes third degree burns (charring of the flesh) to people in the open and sets fire to most combustible things such as trees, grass, frame buildings, etc. These fires, plus the many others caused by broken electric wires, gasoline storage tanks and gas mains, and by other blast effects, tend quickly to congeal into a single huge fire encircling the center of the bomb blast. At Hiroshima and in a few other massive fire bombing raids in World War II this phenomenon, called a “fire storm,” happened. It is quite probable that a fire storm extending out from four to five miles would be the outcome of this hypothetical “small” atomic bombing of New London. The ring of fire would include all of Waterford, probably spare Niantic, but would include Uncasville, Gales Ferry, much of Ledyard, probably include West Mystic and Noank, certainly all of the Submarine Base, and the rest of the town of Groton. The small local fires would join into bigger ones; the bigger ones would congeal into a solid mass of fire rushing toward the center of the destroyed area. The heavy, raging fires near the center would create an up-draft like a huge chimney and winds above 100 miles an hour would sweep the whole conflagration toward the center. It would rage completely out of control, consuming everything combustible before it — including most of the oxygen. Many people in this area who otherwise might have survived would be killed by suffocation. In this area a fallout shelter would serve only as a fiery trap in which lives saved from radiation would be consumed by fire. This is not a hypothetical possibility. It is what happened in several cities under full wartime conditions of alert and disaster preparation. And it happened in areas much better prepared than we are or are likely to be and in terrain and conditions of woodland cover much less likely to develop into a fire storm than we have in this area. In those war-time incidents, fire departments and public safety facilities were totally incapable of coping with the fire storm; in fact, they along with other people and agencies were consumed in the fire.
The few survivors in the communities of Groton and New London would almost certainly have to be evacuated. All necessary facilities for a functioning community would be either totally or largely destroyed. The State Police barracks and all its occupants would have been totally crushed in the initial blast. The New London and Groton police stations, the railroad station and yards, the New London City Hall, all the stores in both downtown areas, most of the fire stations and apparatus, and all the schools would have been blasted into totally unrecognizable rubble. All ordinary civil functions would have been completely destroyed; transportation and communication with outside areas would be virtually nonexistent; most of the people would be dead and the survivors would almost all be seriously injured from burns, shock, radiation, and wounds from flying objects. A sizeable area, including the normal access to the communities, would be totally unusable for a period of months. Lawrence Memorial Hospital would have been (a) at least half destroyed by the initial blast, (b) seriously contaminated with radioactivity, and (c) probably consumed by fire. Norwich State Hospital [now defunct] would have been only partially damaged and only mildly contaminated, certainly in part usable as an improvised treatment center for bomb casualties. Backus Hospital would be largely intact except for fallout contamination. Its early use would require heroic efforts of decontamination by people willing to suffer radiation sickness and to risk increased likelihood of cancer, shortening of life expectancy, and possible death from radiation within a few weeks. If nurses happened to be away from the area of heavy initial destruction, it would then be possible to treat at least partially the huge numbers of casualties from areas outlying the immediate bomb area.
Is it possible to make sensible estimates of the numbers of dead and wounded and of the reasonably unhurt survivors? It hasn’t even been possible to determine these facts accurately for Hiroshima to this day. Out of the 300,000 population, between a third and a half were killed outright and another 50,000 or so were fatally injured. Citizens of Hiroshima are still dying at the rate of about 100 per year from causes directly attributable to the atomic bomb. In 1960 the American Atomic Bomb Casualty Hospital there treated over 18,000 persons for radiation disease and other bomb injuries. A conservative estimate would place the deaths in the New London and West Groton areas near 90 per cent. Outside the three or four mile radius the death rate would drop drastically but the numbers of serious injuries from all causes would be very great. Out as far as Niantic, Norwich and Mystic, people who were knowledgeable, well prepared, reasonably lucky and ruthlessly selfish in taking care of themselves would probably be uninjured.
If that single atomic bomb were the only act of war which affected this area or surrounding areas, the answer to the question of survival and regeneration of the community as a whole could be answered quite optimistically. After a few months of extreme exigency in which privation, suffering and regimentation would be the common lot of the survivors, Groton and New London would be rebuilt. The people of Southeastern Connecticut, aided by other remote communities, would within a year be well on the way toward recreating a community in this area. Reasoning from the analogy of Hiroshima, one would expect that a modern new city would be built on the rubble of the old. In five years time little physical evidence of the bombing would remain. In Hiroshima only one twisted skeleton of a reinforced concrete building remains, deliberately left as a grim memorial of the incident of 8:15 a.m., Monday, August 6, 1945; otherwise the city has been entirely rebuilt and is now as populous and prosperous as before the bombing.
But there would be ample human evidence of the bombing, remaining for the lifetime of the survivors and perhaps for generations to come. These would be the crippled and deformed, the scarred and blinded, the malformed mutated children of the survivors who suffered genetically damaging but less than killing dosages of radiation.
The possibility of recreating a community life in this area after a general nuclear attack is, to put it as mildly as possible, much less promising…
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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