New Internationalist

Picture This

March 1981

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THE NUCLEAR ARMS RACE[image, unknown] Pictorial piece

[image, unknown]

Picture this
Nuclear weapons would have been abolished long ago
if our imagination was as strong as our power to forget.
[image, unknown]
The reality of nuclear devastation
leaves little to the imagination.
[image, unknown]
It has happened only once - with bombs
a fraction of the size of today's warheads.
[image, unknown]
Pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki don't only
remind us of how it was. They show how it will be.

Before. Photo: Camera Press
Before. Photo: Camera Press
Before. Photo: Dexter Tiranti
Before. Photo: Dexter Tiranti

The Soviet Union has 9,000 nuclear warheads targetted on Britain, Western Europe and North America In their turn NATO and the US have over 15,000 bombs ranged against the Warsaw Pact countries. If a nuclear war happened, not all these bombs would be used Some would be held back for strategic reasons, some would malfunction and some would be stopped in flight by defensive action. But just one ten megaton bomb exploding over the average city hall would:

[image, unknown] Flash quicker than the eye can blink, burning out the irises of people over 200 miles away who were looking in that direction.

[image, unknown] Leave a crater one and a half miles wide and deeper than London's deepest underground rail¬way.

[image, unknown] Smash all houses, shops, offices, factories, bridges and railways within a seven mile radius; and cause severe damage and make buildings unsafe for a further eight to ten miles.

[image, unknown] Burn or melt most things including cars, houses, trees and people up to 20 miles away. Only those living on the sides of valleys in the lee of the atomic storm would be shielded from some of the flash and blast effects.

[image, unknown] Create a firestorm, through the coalescence of numerous blazes to form a flaming pillar sucking in winds of up to 150 miles an hour. A fallout shelter would allow those inside to survive the first few minutes of the blast and flash, as long as they lived well beyond the crater. But within 25 miles of the city hall, the firestorm would suffocate and coast everyone in shelters, as their oxygen was used up. The inferno would continue until everything was burnt out.

[image, unknown] Dump lethal radioactive dust and rubble downwind from the explosion. Well beyond the regular commuting distance from the suburbs to city centre, in a corridor 20 to 30 miles wide and 100 miles long, everyone not in a well¬equipped shelter would be killed by radioactivity.

[image, unknown] But in a nuclear war it is unlikely that only one bomb would be dropped.

All Japanese photographs courtesy of HIROSHIMA-NAGASAKI A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction.

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Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 097 This feature was published in the March 1981 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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