How much damage could a modern nuclear weapon cause in southeastern Connecticut? How far would the damage spread, and for how long could it last? How likely is a firestorm to develop, how is it different from a regular forest fire, and how big could it get? If the bomb goes off close to the shoreline, I’d be okay up in Willimantic, right? I mean, how bad could it really be?
Professor Gordon S. Christiansen, chairman of the Connecticut College Chemistry Department in the 1960s, addressed these questions in this week’s excerpts from his 1960 pamphlet Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability. The first two excerpts regarded the effects of a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb detonated over the New London - Groton bridge: the initial blast, firestorms, and radiation. Excerpts #3 & 4 explore the same scenario but with a much more powerful “modern” thermonuclear weapon. Today’s excerpt finishes the second scenario with a brief discussion on the devastating firestorm that would rip through the entire region.
(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)
In all previous excerpts, the catastrophic scenarios described were the results of single bombs of different sizes detonated over the New London - Groton bridge. In the final two excerpts after this one, the topic will turn to the more likely scenario of a general widespread nuclear attack on the New York - New England region — and what effects such an attack would have on southeastern Connecticut.
On Tuesday, people around the world celebrated the UN International Day of Peace. The theme this year was “recovering better for a sustainable and equitable world.” Earlier this year, the UN marked an even more impactful moment: the coming into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which made nuclear weapons illegal under international law. As we read the frightening scenario presented by Professor Christiansen, let us consider the barrier to international peace that the United States nuclear arsenal poses, how the mere existence of the arsenal encourages rival powerful governments to build their own nuclear weapons, the fact that the United States is the only government to ever use these weapons in war, and thus our special responsibility to dismantle our nuclear weapons immediately. A sustainable and equitable world cannot be recovered while we keep weapons of such destructive power in our holsters.
After describing the effects of radiation it is almost too much to turn now to the effects of the fire which would be an inevitable result of this hypothetical nuclear incident in Southeastern Connecticut. But the searing heat and the attendant fire store are facts of nuclear war and any serious appraisal of this incident must consider them. The detonation of the bomb takes place in less than a millionth of a second. During that time the materials of the bomb itself and all substances near it, the earth, water, steel, concrete, are vaporized, then are heated to temperatures in excess of a hundred million degrees and are compressed to many billions of pounds pressure. A huge fire ball develops, increasing in size quickly to two miles across and rising at a rate of 300 miles per hour to a height of 25 or 30 miles. There are two pulses of heat radiation, the first lasting only a fraction of a second, the second reaching a maximum in a few seconds but lasting for half a minute or more. If our hypothetical man in Willimantic had looked at this fire ball [in New London], he would have had a very brief impression of something many hundreds of times brighter than the noon sun — then he would have been blinded permanently; his exposed flesh would have been charred; his clothing would have been burned off him. His frame house would burst into flame; his lawn, shrubs and trees would take fire; his asphalt driveway would melt.
The range of third degree burns to exposed people would be 25 to 30 miles out from this bomb. This would also mark the edge of the fire storm, in principle like the one described for the small, old fashioned atomic bomb but vastly greater and more devastating. The wooded areas of Southeastern Connecticut and Southern Rhode Island, extending from the Connecticut River almost to Narragansett Bay and north almost to Glastonbury and Danielson, would form one huge fire raging through the whole area, swept toward the center by 200 mile an hour winds. This fire would be many orders of magnitude greater than any ordinary forest fire. It is almost certain that it would only be extinguished by ultimately consuming all combustible material in its path. There would be some light rainfall along with the fallout during the early stages of the fire storm. But this would be ineffectual in controlling the fire and would also bring more unpleasant and dangerous material down with it. An example of such noxious secondary products of the bomb which would fall over the devastated area is the 120,000 tons of nitric acid which the nuclear explosion forms from the nitrogen and oxygen of the air.
It is possible that many people in the outlying areas might survive this combination of assaults on human life. But any attempt at prediction of numbers would be meaningless. Geographic location, precautionary measures, and intelligent understanding of the nature and timing of the threats would be important factors in determining individual survival. But the most important factor of all would be plain luck. If a particular unique set of circumstances prevailed so that the blast, the initial flash of heat, direct radiation, flying objects, falling buildings, fallout radiation, and ingested radioactivity were all avoided, then the lucky person might survive to deal with the untold almost unimaginable, exigencies of the post-attack period. But if any single one of the primary threats could not be avoided then post-attack living would be a problem.
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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