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How Many Nukes Would It Take? (informationisbeautiful.net)
7 points by rflrob on Feb 26, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Content on the site looks largely copied from other sources. I believe this is the original


I think plagiarism is worth flagging for.

EDIT: And unflagging when someone re-points it to the original link.

That's a bit disingenuous - the explosive damage is a tiny fraction of the net destruction a nuke can cause, especially if it's a windy day.

This is very true, but contrary to what most people think the real danger isn't nuclear fallout but nuclear winter. Nuclear blasts kick up a lot of dust into the atmosphere, and even a few blasts can drastically alter the climate. A study a few years ago found that a nuclear war in which only 50 Hiroshima sized bombs were detonated could wreak havoc. See the wikipedia article on this topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter

The danger of nuclear winter has actually become worse, and it is not dependent on the size of the bombs. The problem is that urban areas are becoming more and more densely built up, and petroleum products (e.g. plastics) are more frequently being used as building materials. You don't need a truly huge bomb -- just one big enough to set fire to everything, so that it can't be extinguished. The energy released from burning all the plastic and wood and other flammable materials found in a modern city can be even greater than the bomb itself. Further, when plastic burns, it's very dirty, and all that smoke gets carried far into the atmosphere. It's the dust and debris and smoke that gets thrown into the upper atmosphere that does the real damage, blocking the sun and changing the climate.

Good cite that the nuclear fallout is a big deal?

Pretty much anywhere the effects of nuclear weapons are described. Start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fallout

To completely wipe out mankind?

I guess a couple hundred would be enough to nudge a passing rock into an Earth-crossing trajectory. Better yet would be to use the fuel to power a mighty big NTR attached to a comet and use its own water as propellant. This would be a lot more discrete than a big blast, may provide for a quicker intersection and also add a nice oomph to the comet for when it hits the ground. I would also suggest hitting the Atlantic or Yellowstone as nice strategies for maximizing destruction. Hitting Europe could yield the maximum number of deaths in the first hours, but the other two may provide a larger overall devastation.

And nothing would prevent you from using more than one comet. A string of fragments, like SL9, could rain death from the sky very evenly across all inhabited places.

In the end, it all depends on how long after launch you want to wait until the last human is dead. If you require them to be all vaporized a couple minutes by the end of the afternoon, then, perhaps, we don't have enough nukes. If you are a villain with a little more patience, you could use them far more efficiently to first render useless all emergency services (EMPs or stratospheric detonations), then ruining food supplies (even small nukes could start fires) and only then using the remaining firepower to wipe out whoever is left.

It's doable. In fact, we may even be able to wipe out humanity without using any nukes. Some politicians are much, much more destructive.

I suppose fallout is not factored into his equation.

Nor is population density factored in. Urbanization ought to make it easier to kill the first 60% of the world's population. You probably don't need very many bombs to achieve that. Trying to track down and kill every last human being with nuclear weapons is impractical and beside the point.

If you kill 60% of the industrial, technologically advanced urban centers of humanity, you have essentially destroyed civilization. Who cares if 40% are still scampering around if they have no energy, no infrastructure, no libraries, no communications, no industry, and agriculture spoilt by nuclear fallout and potentially nuclear winter?

Nor the difference between the radius of "complete destruction" and "lethal" when it comes to a nuclear weapon. It doesn't do you much good for your house to not be flattened if you've got a lethal dose of radiation.

Looks like we don't have near enough nukes... need to get building!

If it makes you feel any better the subsequent Nuclear Winter from the roughly 25,000 warheads in existence would be more than enough to finish off the rest of us. Even if it didn't the 2.5 billion metric tons of soot thrown into the atmosphere would destroy the ozone layer along with any hope of survival.

Otavio Good created a computer simulation on what it would take to blow us up. http://otaviogood.com/RandomStuff

Why not got for the ultra messy fully loaded configuration of the "Tsar bomb" design? 100Mt and a god awful amount of fallout.

I seem to remember that device could take out Belgium with blast but would have killed people way back into Eastern Europe/Russia with its fallout.

Tsar bomba was a very clean (as far as nukes go) bomb. Its yield was halved for the test to reduce it even more.

There is little limit to how big you make a fusion bomb. If you have enough Deuterium, you can make is as big as you like.

Or, at least, as big as you can carry.

Yes, the bomb tested was very clean because it was only two stage. Fission primary and fusion secondary.

The full 100Mt design would have had the usual 3rd fission stage that would have been incredibly messy. Khrushchev announced they had a full 100Mt bomb even though they could only really test a limited version of the design - not really a weapon as it wasn't practical for a number of reasons.

Keep in mind it's an unusually clean 50Mt device.

Who needs a 100Mt device anyway?

Politicians - so they can brag about their H-bomb being bigger than yours.

A lot of nukes going off at once would cause a bunch of dust to go up into the atmosphere and block out the sun for a long time. That would kill plants and we would all starve or get sick and die. This is at least according to the history channel.

People interested in this will also like The Road by Cormac McCarthy:


but I live in Manhattan

hit a couple capitol cities and civilization as we know it is gone. thats, like, 20 nukes.

I don't think destroying the 20 largest cities would end civilization per se.

The damage radius from nuclear weapons can also be greatly reduced by hills and such, so we are even better off than that.

... to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know.

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