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A Description of Life-Ending Nuclear War

by Stephen Lendman

Think nuclear war is nothing to worry about. Think again!

Nuclear incineration is no way to go. On February 26, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) headlined “What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?”

Saying “Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are believed to carry a total of approximately 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads that can hit the US less than 30 minutes after being launched.”

“Of this total, about 700 warheads are rated at 800 kilotons; that is, each has the explosive power of 800,000 tons of TNT.”

It’s hard imagining anything this destructive. It would incinerate New York or any other major city with unimaginable force.

The initial fireball would likely detonate more than one-mile high – for maximum blast wave damage.

“Within a few tenths of millionths of a second after detonation, the center of the warhead would reach a temperature of roughly 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 million degrees Celsius), or about four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun,” explains BAS.

Superheated air would expand outward “at millions of miles per hour…creating a shockwave of vast size and power.”

In one second, the fireball would be one-mile in diameter. Its initial millions of degrees temperature would be about 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit – about 4,000 degrees hotter than the sun’s surface.

Enormous heat and light would “almost instantly ignite fires over (around) 100 square miles.”

Within seconds of detonation, fires “within a few miles of the fireball would burn violently.”

They’d “force gigantic masses of heated air to rise, drawing cooler air from surrounding areas toward the center of the fire zone from all directions.”

Detonation-set fires would begin merging. In “tens of minutes,” they’d form “a single gigantic (irradiated) fire.”

Energy released “would be 15 – 20 times greater than the *amount (from) the nuclear detonation.”

The firestorm would increase in intensity – heating “enormous volumes of air at speeds approaching 300 miles per hour.”

Superheated ground winds exceeding hurricane force would intensify the fire. They’d be “powerful enough to uproot trees three-feet in diameter and suck people from outside the fire into it.”

Powerful winds would drive “flames from burning buildings horizontally…filling…streets with flames and firebrands…”

Nothing could withstand their overwhelming power. Affected areas would become “a huge hurricane of fire” – a lethal force throughout the entire fire zone.

Firestorm intensity would vaporize structures – including reinforced concrete ones within a couple of miles of ground zero.

It would “tear apart high-rise buildings” – turning midtown Manhattan to smoldering rubble.

“At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, about one half to three quarters of a mile from ground zero, light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets, burn paint off walls, and melt metal surfaces within a half second of the detonation.”

“Roughly one second later, the blast wave and 750-mile-per-hour winds would arrive, flattening buildings and tossing burning cars into the air like leaves in a windstorm.”

“Throughout Midtown, the interiors of vehicles and buildings in line of sight of the fireball would explode into flames.”

Around 100 square miles of vegetation surrounding ground zero would become “superheated dust.”

Firestorm-driven high winds would tear apart tall buildings. They’d disintegrate into smaller pieces.

Some would become destructive projectiles causing further damage. Superheated powerful winds could toss around trucks and buses like toys.

“Two miles from ground zero, the Metropolitan Museum of Art…would be obliterated.”

“Two and half miles from ground zero in Lower Manhattan, the fireball would appear 2,700 times brighter than a desert sun at noon.”

“(T)hermal radiation would melt and warp aluminum surfaces, ignite the tires of autos, and turn exposed skin to charcoal, before the blast wave arrived and ripped apart the buildings.”

Up to nine miles from ground zero, fires would ignite in large areas. Their pattern would be similar to midtown Manhattan.

In 12 – 14 seconds, the blast wave would travel three miles after detonation. Residential structures would be destroyed.

High-rises would at least be heavily damaged. “Fires would rage everywhere within five miles of ground zero.”

“Within tens of minutes, everything within approximately five to seven miles of Midtown Manhattan would be engulfed by a gigantic firestorm.”

It would cover from “90 to 152 square miles. (It) would rage for three to six hours.”

“Air temperatures in the fire zone would likely average 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Once fires burned out, pavement would remain too hot for vehicles to use for days.

Material from collapsed buildings could continue bursting into flames when exposed to air months after the firestorm ended.

No one in affected areas could escape. Superheated hurricane-force winds would incinerate them.

High-rise sub-basements wouldn’t be safe. People would suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive from oven-like temperatures.

“The fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else.”

“Tens of miles downwind of the area of immediate destruction, radioactive fallout would begin to arrive within a few hours of the detonation.”

The entire affected area would be irradiated. Most atomic blast radioactive materials have a half life of 50 years.

Chernobyl is estimated to be unsafe for another 20,000 years. It’s unclear when Fukushima will again be safe – maybe not in the lifetimes of anyone now living.

Nuclear weapons are unforgiving. Why disarmament is so urgently needed. BAS’ Doomsday Clock shows three minutes to midnight.

Possible nuclear armageddon is real. Failure to eliminate a threat this great endangers everyone everywhere.

Lunatics in Washington could end life on earth. Stopping them matters most of all.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected]

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Visit his blog site at

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.

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