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)
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.
The third hypothetical situation which should be examined is that in which no bombs are detonated in Southeastern Connecticut but some reasonably probable level of nuclear attack is suffered by the New York - New England area. In the 1959 Joint Congressional Committee estimates seventy metropolitan areas in the United States were assumed to have been hit by a total of 550 megatons explosive equivalent. This is a truly mild attack in view of the known Russian capabilities which include at least 40,000 megatons of nuclear weapons and adequate means (aircraft and missiles) to deliver most of them. Furthermore, the sizes of weapons tended on the small side of what might be reasonably expected. Ten megaton weapons were the largest considered in this hypothetical study and most were in the one to three megaton size — in spite of the fact that the standard big nuclear weapons, easily carried even by medium bombers, are the 20 megaton size.
In the Congressional estimates it was assumed that New York and Boston would each be hit by two 10 megaton bombs; Providence by one 10 megaton; Albany by an 8 megaton; Hartford and Springfield by a 3 and 2 megaton each; Bridgeport, New Haven and Worcester by one 3 megaton each; and New Britain and Waterbury by a one megaton each. Thus, within a 100 mile radius of Southeastern Connecticut about 80 megatons of nuclear explosive would be detonated in a minimal attack. The distances of even the closest bursts are such that our community might escape the major blast and fire damage. The remaining major effect, radiation, would come from the local fallout. If there were a strong and persistent wind from the straight south, we would escape the worst of the fallout; if the wind were from any other direction, we would be in an area of fallout more intense than any except in the immediate vicinity of nuclear explosions. The prevailing south westerly wind would put us in the direct path of the fallout from the highest concentration of bombs in the nation. Consideration of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory estimates of an average level of radiation of 7500 roentgens per hour makes it reasonable to assume a level of twice this, 15,000 roentgens per hour, near this heavily bombed area. This would be the level of fallout radiation at the end of the first hour after detonation, about the time heavy fallout would reach this area. Under these conditions unprotected exposure for five minutes would be a certainly lethal dose of radiation.
To examine the effects of this radiation it is simplest to make a timetable of how much radiation a person in the open would likely to receive and then consider various types of protective measures he might take. If one takes the above assumptions: (a) that serious fallout reaches this area the first hour after detonation and (b) a level of 15,000 roentgens have dropped to about 1 roentgen per hour; in four years it would be about 0.1 roentgen per hour.
The head of a household would probably be willing to risk exposure to radiation by leaving the shelter as much as an hour a week after the first two weeks of extremely intense fallout radiation. On such a schedule he would receive a total of about 150 roentgens in six months time. This would include the 75 roentgens he would receive during the major part of his time which he spends inside the shelter; the other 75 roentgens would have been his hour a week dose of direct radiation in the open. Half of this dose would have been the expense of his first four excursions out of the shelter, while an hour spent in the open six months after bomb day would cost him only about 1 roentgen. A person could avoid death by radiation on such a schedule but it is questionable whether he could avoid death by starvation or disease. And it is perfectly clear that no semblance of community life or function could be recreated. If the survivor could manage to avoid any exposure during the first month, then he could double his time above ground during subsequent months and still get the same exposure of 150 roentgens. But two hours a week could hardly be considered active community participation…
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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