As risk of nuclear war grows, study warns that even a limited exchange would doom billions

People watch a TV showing a North Korean missile launch in autumn 2019. (Associated Press)

The revival is fueled by rising tensions between the United States, Russia and China The old fear of nuclear warSome researchers are warning that limited exchanges between nations like India and Pakistan could have catastrophic effects on global food supplies and lead to mass deaths around the world.

A nuclear conflict with less than 3% of the world’s stockpile could kill a third of the world’s population within two years, according to a new international study led by Rutgers University scientists. A major nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States could kill three-quarters of the world’s population in a single period, according to research published on Monday. Nature food.

“It’s really a cautionary tale that any use of nuclear weapons could be catastrophic for the world,” said climate scientist and study author Alan Roebuck, distinguished professor in Rutgers’ Department of Environmental Sciences.

These findings come at a time when – 30 years after the end of the Cold War – the The threat of nuclear holocaust may be greater now than ever.

Recently, Stephen Lovegrove, the UK’s National Security Adviser, made this argument A breakdown in communication between nations, as well as the security lapses that occurred decades ago among the nuclear superpowers, have pushed the world into a “dangerous new era.” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres A warning is also given that “the possibility of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”

Although Roebuck and others have previously predicted that a nuclear war would cause massive disruptions to the climate and food supply, a recent study is the first time researchers have calculated the likely extent of a famine that would kill so many people.

The researchers theorized that detonating even a fraction of the world’s nuclear arsenal would create massive firestorms that would rapidly inject sun-blocking soot into the atmosphere and suddenly cool the climate.

The researchers used climate models to calculate how much smoke would reach the stratosphere — where precipitation doesn’t occur to wash it away — and how that would change temperature, precipitation and sunlight. They then calculated how these changes would affect the production of various crops, as well as how fish would respond to changes in the ocean.

As a result, he predicted that millions would starve to death worldwide after millions of immediate deaths in the war zone.

Without taking into account the increased effects of UV radiation on crops due to the depletion of the ozone layer as the stratosphere warms, Roebuck said. Such an effect, which the researchers hope to quantify in future studies, is likely to worsen the results, he said.

“In my opinion, our work is an existential threat to nuclear weapons — it shows that you can’t use nuclear weapons,” Roebuck said. “If you use them, you’re like a suicide bomber. You are trying to attack someone else but you will starve to death.”

The release of the figures comes amid a growing consensus among experts that the risk of nuclear war is greater than ever, said Ira Helfand, immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

“The general public needs to understand the enormity of the threat we face, the immediacy of the threat and the urgency to destroy these weapons before they destroy us,” he said.

Most of the scenarios the researchers considered involved a hypothetical nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, which they believe is the most likely region where such a conflict could occur, Roebuck said. The two countries have fought four wars and still have frequent border skirmishes.

If India and Pakistan each targeted urban centers in the opposing country with 250 100-kiloton nuclear weapons, which they are believed to have, about 127 million people in South Asia would be killed by explosions, fires and radiation, the study found. An estimated 37 million metric tons of soot would be released into the atmosphere, dropping global temperatures by more than 5 degrees Celsius, a range last experienced during the Ice Age, according to previous research by Roebuck et al. According to the most recent study, food production will decrease as the number of calories available from major crops and fisheries drops by 42% and the resulting famine kills 2 billion people worldwide.

A major war between the US and Russia, which is believed to have more than 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, would kill an estimated 5 billion of the world’s 6.7 billion people, according to research.

But any of the nine nuclear-armed nations — China, North Korea, France, Israel, and the United Kingdom — possess enough nuclear weapons to cause massive suffering and death worldwide. Domino effect of catastrophic cold and drought, study suggests.

Although the theory can’t be tested directly, there are real-world analogs, Robock said. Satellite observations confirmed the conclusion that large-scale wildfires in British Columbia in 2017 and in Australia in 2019 and 2020 sent smoke into the stratosphere. The sun then heats the smoke particles and carries them five to 15 miles into the atmosphere, he said.

“By elevating them, it extends their life, and they fly around the world before they hatch,” Robock said. “This is the same process we modeled in our nuclear winter simulations with much more smoke.”

The researchers’ modeling was able to predict the effects of these fires, giving them more confidence that the models would also be accurate when predicting the effects of a nuclear explosion, he said.

RAND Corporation policy researcher Edward Geist said the relatively recent discovery that wildfires can release smoke into the stratosphere bolsters the researchers’ theory. They are doing the world a service by drawing attention to the possible consequences of nuclear war, he said.

Still, there’s debate about how much solar energy a nuclear explosion would generate, Geist said. While it’s certainly possible for a city hit by a nuclear weapon to happen, that doesn’t mean every city hit would happen at the same time, the paper assumed, he said.

“The big question is, you have a nuclear war of a certain size, how much of this smoke ends up in the upper atmosphere?” Geist said. “You can make a plausible case for both — very little ends up there, by all means, we have to assume it all ends up there, which is [these] Kind of documents.”

He pointed out that a 2018 paper by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory also modeled a hypothetical conflict between India and Pakistan and concluded that previous research by Roebuck and others overestimated how much soot would be produced, how high the smoke would reach, and how dramatically. As a result the climate will change.

Robock, however, disputes those findings. The Los Alamos researchers chose the suburban Atlanta area to represent a dense city in India or Pakistan, and failed to include in their modeling atmospheric processes such as cloud formation that cause air to move aloft. Roebuck said they also assumed winds that blew too strongly and made their simulations run too short.

“They had a lot of assumptions, all of which were very low impact,” he said.

2020 research paper by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory also considered the India-Pakistan situation and concluded that there is uncertainty. Although the team estimated that the exchange of 100 15-kiloton nuclear warheads would cool the climate if fires were to occur in densely populated urban areas, they estimated that there would be no effect on the climate if the fires were confined to suburban areas.

In contrast, the Rutgers-led study assumed that countries would target each other’s cities, where fuel concentrations are highest and climate impacts would be most dramatic, Geist said. But Pakistan has said that if it were to use nuclear weapons against India, it would use strategic nuclear weapons to deter conventional attacks, not wholesale attacks on cities.

“It comes down to how much stuff you burn, how much of that smoke comes out and how much of that smoke ends up in the upper atmosphere, and how much of that translates into a real rationale for nuclear wars,” Geist said. “We really don’t know and hope we never find out.”

Although there is a popular belief that nuclear weapons will never be used, they are so powerful that their destructiveness is deterrent, Helfand said. It’s just a matter of chance that they haven’t been deployed yet.

“We know what will happen if these weapons stay around,” he said. “Sooner or later our luck is going to run out.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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