Monday, August 10, 2009

How Many Nukes Will It Take To Destroy the World?

There is a graphic on flicker (shown below) that "does the math" to estimate how many nuclear weapons it would take to destroy the whole human species. The claim is 1,241,166 are needed and yet the world only has 10,227 so I guess one interpretation is the situation isn't so bad.

Good, I hope that is the correct way to view things. However, the "complete destruction radius" doesn't tell the whole story. You also have to take into account radiation sickness as well as what would be done to the atmosphere if ~10,000 nuclear weapons kicked dirt and ash into the air. In addition to unbreathable air, many believe such a scenario could throw the earth into another ice age which has its own set of crazy problems for the world.

I think realistically we have to accept that nuclear weapons aren't going away. However, that doesn't mean we can't go a long way to make the possibility of a nuclear holocaust go down to close to nothing. The question is how can we do this in a practical way? Any ideas?


  1. The problem with this is that their calculations are to "wipe out humanity" which would be very difficult. A more realistic approach would be expected casualty maximization which military planners (the guys who actually have the nukes) use in planning the destruction of humanity.

    A while back I was reading a book that was a report put out by a military analyst giving estimates as to just how much damage we (both the US and Russia) can do. They looked at it in terms of % of population killed and % of industry destroyed and % of buildings leveled etc. They recognized that it would be harder to kill the last 10% of a population than it would to kill the first 75%. In other words the number of nukes that you use can only do so much before it becomes impracticle to finish off the rest of the people.

    Using this metric they looked at our capability to kill 50% of the population of Russia and they found that we had roughly 1000 times the ammount of nukes needed to wipe out the first 50% of the population. But because of the asymptotic nature of the problem it is virtually impossible to finish of the last 10% even will all our firepower. So they took the pragmatic middle of the road and never talked about actually killing everyone, just an acceptible number of them.

  2. That make sense Ryan. I am sure it is an asymptomatic problem.

    In fact, it reminds me of a debate I had with an Air Force ROTC roomate. He kept spewing the Air Force propaganda that these days the Air Force is almost all you need in a war. You know, we can put missiles anywhere, even inside of windows and immediately leave without the threat of many US personal dying.

    The Iraq was is his counter example. After the Air Force did their thing, it took a huge ground force to go in and finish the job. Obviously the job was too difficult for the Air Force alone. Sure we can fly in and put missiles about wherever we want, but it takes a ground force to see the job through.

    Sorry Air Force, facts are the facts. Not saying you aren't important, just saying despite modern times and technology, you just aren't enough.

    I guess same with nukes. They could do a lot of damage, but could never "complete the job."

    Now back to something important that needs to be said: In reality we need to prevent all of this, including future Iraq wars.

  3. What i want to know is how many nukes would it take to flatten the entire surface of the earth?


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