What would happen if a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb detonated in New London? Several weeks ago, we began to give the details of that hypothetical scenario as outlined in a pamphlet made by Professor Gordon S. Christiansen, chairman of the Connecticut College Chemistry Department in the 1960s, who became involved with the Committee for Nonviolent Action (VPT’s predecessor) due to his nuclear concerns. Last week, we finished that scenario with details about the likely firestorm and the extent of destruction caused by such a detonation. That first scenario described by Professor Christiansen would result in unimaginably intense destruction and loss of life, but would also allow the possibility for societal recovery and rebuilding.
(Read Part 1 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2029219227228402) (Read Part 2 here: https://www.facebook.com/VoluntownPeaceTrust/posts/2040482629435395)
Unfortunately, our modern nuclear weapons today are much more powerful than the first-generation weapons the United States used on Japan in 1945. In the pamphlet, Professor Christiansen goes on to describe what would result from the detonation of a “modern” (in 1960) 20 megaton nuclear weapon in New London starting with the initial blast, the mile-wide crater it would leave behind, and the damage to buildings and infrastructure out as far as 100 miles from the blast. Rarely do we have the opportunity to read a well-researched description of the effects of a nuclear detonation specifically on our own community.
Due to rising tensions and the uncertain state of nuclear weapons in our world today, 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 3.
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. But it will be more meaningful to consider such possibilities after examining the effects of modern nuclear weapons on this area.
The effects of a nominal 20 megaton nuclear weapon (24 million tons of TNT explosive equivalent) have been determined by several actual tests of such weapons. A bomb of this size is over a thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima type weapon and causes correspondingly greater damage. If such a weapon were to explode at ground level near the Groton-New London bridge, it would leave a crater about a mile across and 300 feet deep. This huge hole and the sizeable circular hill of earth and radioactive debris which would surround it would cover what was once the downtown New London and Groton areas. The sites of the present State pier, the railroads yards, Winthrop school, and the State Police barracks would be from 100 to 200 feet down the slope into the crater. The Coast Guard Academy, downtown New London and Groton, and the Electric Boat factory would be buried under the lip of the crater formed by the fall-back of the nuclear excavation. The area of total destruction, even of the most heavily reinforced concrete structures, would extend out about four miles. This circle includes Ocean Beach, Jordan Village, all of Quaker Hill and Connecticut College, all of the Submarine Base, all of the housing near the Sub Base, Poquonock Bridge, and Trumbull airport. In this area there would literally not be a stone in place. Streets, building sites and other landmarks would be obliterated in a tangled mass of wreckage; even deep blast shelters would be destroyed. No human being in this area would survive even the instantaneous blast.
Out to an area of six miles radius, which includes Niantic, Flanders, Montville, Uncasville, Gales Ferry, much of Ledyard, Mystic, and Noank, all brick buildings, even those with few windows and heavy construction would be totally destroyed and with them any basement shelters under them. Also in this area the blast would cause severe lung damage leading to virtual total casualties from this cause alone. At a radius of ten miles there would be total destruction of all frame buildings, damage beyond repair to all brick buildings, and serious (though partially repairable) damage to reinforced concrete structures. On the fringes of this area (beyond about 8 miles), which includes all of the towns of East Lyme, Waterford, Montville, Ledyard, New London, Groton, and the outskirts of Norwich, half of the town of Stonington (including the Village) and all of Fishers Island, deep blast shelters would be effective protection but basement fallout shelters would be of no use.
At a radius of 15 miles (a circle beginning at the town of Saybrook, touching Essex and Hamburg, including all of the town of Salem, all of Bozrah, going well beyond Norwichtown and Taftville, including all of the towns of Preston and North Stonington, the city of Westerly, Rhode Island, and the whole Watch Hill area) all frame buildings buildings would be damaged beyond repair and any basement shelters under them would be badly compromised. Brick buildings would be severely damaged but generally repairable. In this area much damage would be done by flying objects, not the least of which would be people. AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] tests which have included dummies resembling human bodies left in the open have shown that a very serious cause of casualties will be flying human bodies, thrown through the air by the initial blast effect. Minor damage to houses and other construction, such as broken windows, falling plaster, and cracked walls, will extend out from the center over 100 miles.
The area of instantaneous killing radiation, intense enough to penetrate more than two feet of concrete or earth, will extend out from the center to a radius of two and a half miles, including all of New London, the Cohanzie and Quaker Hill sections of Waterford, Connecticut College, all of the Submarine Base, and all of the town of Groton as far away as Poquonock Bridge. But in this area total killing by radiation is simply added to total killing by blast.
Again, the truly awesome destructive effects of radiation are shown by the fallout from the bomb. The energy released by large nuclear weapons is divided among three major effects; somewhat over a third appears as blast, a third as heat, and less than a third appears as radioactivity. Nearly half of this radioactivity will be carried by the huge mushroom cloud into the stratosphere and will be more or less equally distributed over the whole earth. Much of the radioactivity of this worldwide fallout will be lost while it is remotely high up; the remainder will be so evenly distributed over the surface of the earth that it is of no concern in the local crisis. The most damaging effect is caused by the so called “local” fallout, that which falls within several hours of the detonation and within a couple of hundred miles of the center of the burst…
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
We commit a significant amount of research and writing to produce A Peace of History each week. If you like our weekly posts, please consider supporting this project with a one-time or recurring donation. Your gift will be used to continue producing more A Peace of History posts as well as the greater mission of VPT. You may type in however much you would like to give; contributions of all sizes are appreciated. Click this link to learn more about what we do and how you can donate: https://www.mightycause.com/organization/Voluntown-Peace-Trust
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
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.