Tag Archives: effects of nuclear weapons

Before and after a nuclear attack on the UK

A set of posters produced by the Home Office Civil Defence department in 1958. The posters showed the effects of a nuclear attack on British cities. The posters were printed by the Hydrographic Supplies Establishment and sold for one pound, seven shillings and six pence.

The posters are 29 inches by 23 inches.

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Nuclear war by accident

Eric Schlosser has a fascinating and frightening article [World War Three, by Mistake] in the New Yorker  which describes how close we came to accidental annihilation during the Cold War, and how close we are to it now.

When the US public see their military idiots prodding the bear by posturing around Europe and wingnuts like Senator John McCain describe Putin as “a thug, a bully, and a murderer” they might want to think about what will happen if things go wrong and they prod too much.

The photo below shows a Russian Voevoda R-36M2 missile being loaded into a silo somewhere in Russia. Each missile carries up to ten warheads and up to 40 penetration aids to overwhelm enemy defences. Russian missile technology is much superior to that of the US and their missiles have a greater throw weight than US missiles like the Minuteman.  That technical superiority is why the US has to buy rocket engines from Russia.

There are at least 46 R-36M2  complexes. Probably the US knows where most of  are and could destroy most of them in a first strike. I very much doubt if it knows where all of them are and could destroy them all. If even one or two of them got out of their silos the US would become a third world country with ten or twenty of its largest cities destroyed. Don’t worry though, US senators and military commanders would be safe underground when the warheads arrived. Nobody important would be harmed.

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This post describes what would happen if a 800 kiloton warhead detonated over Manhattan.

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Cold War Calculator for Radiation Contaminated Food

A rare British Cold War calculator. Presumably intended for use  by civil defence after a nuclear attack.

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Nuclear Proving Grounds and stick charts

After WW2 the USA needed to develop and test its nuclear technology. It set up two proving grounds.

Nevada Proving Ground

The Nevada Proving Ground was only 65 miles from Las Vegas and gamblers could watch the mushroom clouds from the casinos and hotels. Most of the 928 tests were under ground but 100, including the notorious ‘Dirty Harry;’ test, were atmospheric. and winds  carried the fallout of these  to the west. The town of St. George was particularly badly affected and there were  increases in  leukaemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumours, and gastrointestinal tract cancers. Over 200,00 cases of thyroid cancer were believed to have been caused [see this post].  Nuclear Test Participation certificates were issued to the people who took part in testing [see post]

Pacific Proving Ground

Only low yield weapons were tested in Nevada. Most of the big bangs took place in the Pacific Proving Ground [1946-62], on the Enewetok and Bikini Atolls in the Marshall Islands. A few of the later tests were conducted on Christmas Island and Johnston Atoll.

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A total of 105 atmospheric and underwater tests were conducted in the Marshall Islands. This was only 14% of the total number of tests but accounted for 80% of the megatonage, The estimated total yield of the Marshall Islands tests was about 210 megatons, including the 15 Mt Castle Bravo shot on Bikini in 1954. The Castle Bravo bomb got out of control and produced over twice the expected yield, spreading radioactive contamination over several of the Marshall Islands atolls and a large area of the Pacific.

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An atomic stick chart

The Marshall Islands are known for the stick charts charts their navigators created to help them sail between their 29 atolls and 5 islands. These are spread over a huge area of sea and navigation was a non trivial problem. I have made a stick chart to clarify the geography and identify the atolls that the USA used for military purposes. There is  more about stick charts in a separate post.

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The Enewetok and Bikini [the swimsuit was named after the atoll] atolls were the ones used for testing. Kwajalien is still used by the USA as the the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. Majuro is the capital of the Marshall Islands. To give some idea of scale; it is 539 miles from Bikini to Ebon, the same distance as from London to Leipzig. The circular calculator in the bottom left is a Time Conversion Computer [see this post].

Testing began on Bikini  in 1946 with the Crossroads tests Two 21 kiloton atomic bombs were detonated. ‘Able’ was an atmospheric test [video] and ‘Baker” an underwater test [video]. The Baker bomb was exploded at a depth of 27 meters in the middle of a small fleet of ex WW2 vessels. The dangers of radioactivity were not fully understood then and sailors were sent to try a scrub ‘clean’ the highly contaminated vessels.

Testing then moved to Enewetok Atoll for the Sandstone, Greenhouse and Ivy series of tests. After that testing took place on both Enewetok and Bikini until  Operation Dominic in 1962 which involved 36 bombs being detonated above and near Johnston Atoll and Christmas Island.

Both Enewetok and Bikini remain heavily contaminated. Bikini is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The natives of the Marshall Islands suffered form American operations in the Pacific Proving Ground, but not as badly as the natives of Utah and the mid west suffered from the operations in the Nevada Proving Ground.

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The Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer Versions 1, 2 & 3

There were three versions of the Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer.  The first was designed by EG&G.

“EG&G, formally known as Edgerton, Münchhausen, and Grier, Inc., was a United States national defense contractor and provider of management and technical services. The company was involved in contracting services to the United States government during World War II and conducted weapons research and development after the war.” Wikipedia.

The calculator was based on test data published in the first edition of the ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’.  The calculator is made of plastic and is 4″ in diameter. A complete set consists of the calculator, a red and white sleeve and an instruction pamphlet.  This cold war calculator is very rare.

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V1

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V1

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V1 02

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V1 03

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V2

A revised version of the calculator was designed by the Lovelace Foundation. See this post for more information. Like V1 this calculator is very rare.

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V2

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V3

The third version of the calculator was also designed by the Lovelace Foundation. Its design is much improved over the earlier versions and is based on a revised test data set which was published in the second edition of the ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’. The calculator is 5″ in diameter and is made of plastic. This version is not rare. Copies of the calculator were on public sale for $1 along with the revised edition of the ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’ for $3.  The calculator was used as a prop in the Dr Strangelove film and copies were given away to promote the film. See this post for more information.

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer V3

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U.S. Cold War Nuclear Target Lists Declassified for First Time

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“ON JANUARY 25, 1991, General George Lee Butler became the head of the Strategic Air Command. During his first week on the job, Butler asked the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff to give him a copy of the SIOP. Butler decided to look at every single target in the SIOP, and for weeks he carefully scrutinized the thousands of desired ground zeros. He found bridges and railways and roads in the middle of nowhere targeted with multiple warheads, to assure their destruction. Hundreds of nuclear warheads would hit Moscow—dozens of them aimed at a single radar installation outside the city.

During his previous job working for the Joint Chiefs, Butler had dealt with targeting issues and the damage criteria for nuclear weapons. He was hardly naive. But the days and weeks spent going through the SIOP, page by page, deeply affected him.

For more than forty years, efforts to tame the SIOP, to limit it, reduce it, make it appear logical and reasonable, had failed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, this was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” General Butler later recalled. “I came to fully appreciate the truth … we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.

Butler eliminated about 75 percent of the targets in the SIOP, introduced a targeting philosophy that was truly flexible, and decided to get rid of the name SIOP. The United States no longer had a single, integrated war plan. Butler preferred a new title for the diverse range of nuclear options: National Strategic Response Plans”

Excerpt From: Schlosser, Eric. “Command and Control.” 2009.      Link

It appears that during the Cold War the defence industries kept churning out nuclear bomb and the military kept trying to find targets for them. If a war had started by accident or design it would have destroyed most life in the northern hemisphere and perhaps triggered a nuclear winter. One lesson is the need to keep the military under very close supervision.

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Defense Nuclear Agency Weapon Effects Rule 1983

Cold War Weapon Effects Rule designed by Horizons Technology for the US Defense Nuclear Agency and manufactured by Perrygraf.

Defense Nuclear Agency Weapon Effects Rule 1

Defense Nuclear Agency Weapon Effects Rule 6

Defense Nuclear Agency Weapon Effects Rule 7 Continue reading

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