Nuclear bomb explosion power: The tiny number of nukes needed for unacceptable damage

Russia TV host says 'everything will be destroyed in nuclear strike'

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Vladimir Putin has dangled the threat of nuclear war over the west for months since his invasion of Ukraine commenced in February this year. He put Russia’s deterrent on high alert in the early days of the conflict as he urged western nations not to interfere in his “special military operation”. Since then, Russian officials and media personalities have parroted these threats while those leading the charge against their assault weigh up new assistance for Ukraine.

How many nuclear bombs would wipe out society?

Speaking on Russian television programme Russia1, Putin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov said that if the war kept “progressing the way it is” only “a couple of mutants” would survive nuclear strikes.

He added the war would “quickly become uncontrollable” resulting in everyone getting “more than they asked for” until there is “nothing left”.

Both Russia and the west have vast nuclear stockpiles thousands of warheads strong, but they only need a fraction of the total to create the nightmare scenario discussed by Solovyov.

Scientists have long questioned the impact of the advent of nuclear weapons, including the growing possibility of armageddon.

In 2018, professors Joshua Pearce and David Denkenberger of Western and Tennessee State Universities analysed the upper limit needed for nuclear deterrence.

Their research paper titled “A National Pragmatic Safety Limit for Nuclear Weapon Quantities” found that 100 detonations would serve the proposal’s aims.

Exceeding this total would cause “unacceptable damage” to the nation that launched the attack, rendering it ultimately useless.

The authors argued that 100 warheads was a “pragmatic limit” nations should try not to breach, as anything beyond this would ultimately backfire.

Up to 100 million people would die if a country detonated that many warheads on a populous country like China, while “environmental blowback” would cause millions more to stave.

The total required to create an outcome like this would require little effort from Russia or its nuclear-capable counterparts, with approximately 12,700 in use.

The US and Russia have more than 90 percent of those between them, with 5,248 at President Joe Biden’s disposal and 5,977 at Putin’s.

What would happen if every nuclear weapon detonated at once?

The dizzying total of nuclear weapons ready for detonation includes an array of types, with some more powerful than others.

Their destructive values range from hundreds to millions of tonnes (megatons) of TNT, depending on the advances made by nuclear-capable countries.

Detonated together at once they wouldn’t destroy the world, experts believe, but would cause staggering damage.

Writing for BBC Science Focus, Aston University’s Professor Robert Matthews said they would leave a 10km wide, 2km deep crater where they were detonated together on the Earth’s surface.

While the immediate damage would stay in this area, the resulting cloud of debris would produce a nuclear winter, Professor Matthews said.

Thick volumes of debris would block the sun, cooling the temperature on the Earth’s surface.

The resulting cold and darkness would disrupt the world climate for decades, impacting food production and leaving billions of people at risk of death.

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