Global Effects of Nuclear War
Table of Contents
The risks of local and global fallout from nuclear explosions depend on various interacting factors: weapon design, explosive strength, detonation altitude and latitude, time of year, and local weather conditions.
All current nuclear weapon designs require the division of heavy elements such as uranium and plutonium. The energy unconfined in this fission process is several million times greater.
Pound for pound than the most energetic chemical reactions. The smallest nuclear weapon, on the order of a kilotonne, can depend solely on the energy released by the fission process, much like the first bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Greatest Successful Nuclear Weapons
The greatest successful nuclear weapons derive a substantial part of their explosive. The forces from the fusion of heavy forms of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium. Since there is virtually no limitation on the volume of fusion material in a weapon.
And the materials are cheaper than fissile materials, the “thermonuclear” or “hydrogen” fusion bomb brought a dramatic increase in power.
Explosive weapons. However, the fission process is still necessary to achieve the high temperatures and pressures required to initiate hydrogen fusion reactions. Thus, all nuclear detonations produce heavy element radioactive fission fragments, and larger bursts have an additional radiation component of the fusion process.
The Heavy-Element Nuclear Fission Fragments
The heavy-element nuclear fission fragments of most concern are radioactive atoms (also called radionuclides) which decay, emitting energetic electrons or gamma particles.
An important characteristic here is the rate of corrosion. It remains measured in terms of “half-life,” when it takes half of the original substance to decompose, ranging from a few days to thousands of years for the radionuclides of primary interest produced by. bombs. (See the note “Nuclear half-life.”)
Another critical factor in determining the danger of radionuclides is the chemistry of the atoms. It determines whether they will remain absorbed by the body through respiration or the food cycle and incorporated into the tissues. If this happens, the risk of biological damage from destructive ionizing radiation (see note “Radioactivity”) is multiplied.
Perhaps the most serious threat is cesium-137, a gamma-ray emitter with a half-life of 30 years. It is an important source of radiation in radioactive fallout. Since it is similar to the chemistry of potassium.
It is easily incorporated into the blood of animals and humans and can remain incorporated into tissues. Other dangers include strontium-90, an electron emitter with a half-life of 28 years, and iodine-131, with a half-life of only eight days.
Strontium-90 follows the chemistry of calcium, so it remains easily incorporated into bones and teeth, especially in young children who have been fed milk from cows consuming contaminated food.
Iodine-131 is a similar threat to infants and children due to its concentration in the thyroid gland. In addition. There is plutonium 239, which remains frequently used in nuclear explosives. A bone finder like strontium-90 can also lodge in the lungs, where its intense local radiation can cause cancer or other damage.
Plutonium-239 decays by the emission of an alpha particle (helium nucleus) and has a half-life of 24,000 years. As the fusion of hydrogen contributes to the explosive force. Two other radionuclides will be released: tritium (hydrogen-3).
An Electron Emitter
An electron emitter with a half-life of 12 years, and carbon -14, a transmitter. Electrons with a half-life of 5730 years. Both remain absorbed throughout the food cycle and integrate easily into organic matter.
Three types of radiation damage can occur bodily harm (mainly leukemia. And cancers of the thyroid, lung, breast, bone, and gastrointestinal tract). Genetic damage (congenital malformations and constitutional and degenerative diseases due to gonadal damage suffered by parents); and developmental and growth disorders (mainly growth and mental retardation in unborn babies and young children).
Since high radiation doses of about 20 roentgens or else more remain required to produce developmental defects. These effects would likely remain limited to areas of heavy precipitation.
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