Nuclear Superpowers and the Impact of Nuclear War Part One

The recent ramping up of diplomatic hostilities between the United States and Russia/China has created an atmosphere where there will be increasing distrust between the world’s sole superpower and its main military competitors.  These developments have at least some of us who lived through the height of the Cold War during the 1960s concerned about the worst-case scenario, a limited or, God forbid, an unlimited nuclear exchange between America and Russia/China.  Despite the signing of various international treaties limiting the expansion of nuclear weaponry by nations that already have nuclear weapons and those who want them for their own purposes, the world still has enough nuclear weapons to destroy itself several times over.  In this posting, I’ll take a brief look at the global nuclear stockpile and then go on to look at the impact of a nuclear attack on key cities in the United States, Canada, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Let’s open this posting with a look at recent comments made by Mikhail Gorbachev about the building global geopolitical stresses:

“Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war….Today, however, the nuclear threat once again seems real.Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now.  The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands.” (my bold)

With Mr. Gorbachev’s comments in mind, let’s look at the global nuclear weapon stockpile from the Plowshares Fund:

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the nuclear weapons stockpile has declined substantially from its peak in 1986 when there were over 60,000 nuclear weapons compared to 15,375 in 2016.

Here is a graphic showing the estimated global nuclear warhead inventory:

Here is a table showing a further breakdown for each of the nuclear powers:

While the numbers don’t completely match the table above, here is a 2016 inventory of Russia’s nuclear weapons according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Here is a 2016 inventory of America’s nuclear weapons, again, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

In looking through the data provided by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we find that the yield on Russia’s nuclear weapons have a yield of between 100 and 800 kilotons (most weapons have multiple warheads, ranging from 3 to 10 in total) and U.S. nuclear weapons have a yield of between 100 and 455 kilotons.  By way of comparison, Little Boy which destroyed most of Hiroshima had a yield of about 13 kilotons of TNT and Fat Man which destroyed most of Nagasaki had a yield of about 23 kilotons of TNT. The largest nuclear weapon ever detonated by Russia (in 1961) was the RDS-220 or Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb with a yield of 50 megatons (50,000 kilotons) and the largest thermonuclear weapon fielded by the United States was the B41 or Mk-41 which had a yield of 25 megatons (25,000 kilotons).

I think that’s enough information to absorb in this posting.  With that background information on the still rather frightening global nuclear weapon stockpile that is capable of decimating the global population several times over and Mr. Gorbachev’s insight into the growing diplomatic stresses between the United States and Russia, in part two of this posting, we’ll take a look at the damage that could be done on major population centres should nuclear hostilities break out. 

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