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The Threat of Global Nuclear War

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If an average nuclear weapon was detonated over a city, everything within a fifty mile radius of the blast would be flattened. With this being said, there are about 13,890 nuclear warheads in the world. Russia owns about 6,500 of them and the United States owns about 6,185. The first successful nuclear weapon test was in July of 1945. The test was conducted by the United States in New Mexico. Less than one month later, the United States dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan which made them the first country to use nuclear weapons in war. An outbreak of a global nuclear war is the greatest global catastrophic threat that humanity faces.

The development of a nuclear weapon first began with the discovery of nuclear fission, learning how to produce a controlled reaction, and figuring out a way to use the weapon. German scientists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman were the first people to discover nuclear fission (Cochran and Norris). They found that bombarding uranium atoms with neutrons created a radioactive barium isotope. The neutrons caused the uranium nucleus to break apart, or fission into two pieces. This information was brought to the United States by Neils Bohr. Later, Bohr learned that each fission process releases about two neutrons on average. If many fission processes were put close together, they would cause a chain reaction which would release a very high amount of energy. After figuring out how to produce a controlled chain reaction, the next step was to assemble a weapon in which the process of fission could be used. Originally, the weapon was planned to be a firearm. A piece of Uranium-235, also known as Plutonium-239 would be placed into a gun barrel then shot at the target. This idea failed due to the fact that when making Plutonium-239, sometimes it would absorb an extra electron which would cause it to spontaneously fission and explode prematurely which is highly dangerous to be near. The final decision was to have the plutonium implode rather than explode. To do this, there must be a compressed sphere of plutonium surrounded by other explosives. The plutonium was compressed to conserve the amount of it used so it could be used for more bombs. The final design resulted in a thirteen pound sphere of plutonium with a small hole cut in it for the neutron reactor to go through. Using the process of fission and its counterpart of fusion, the world has been able to create about 14,000 nuclear weapons.

Despite the world having a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons, only two of the nuclear bombs have ever been used. The first nuclear weapon to be used was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima by the United States of America (“Atomic Bomb History”). The United States needed a way to get Japan to surrender. The economic blockade and conventional bombing was not convincing enough to force Japan to step down. On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped their first nuclear bomb which was nicknamed “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima. “Little Boy” swept away almost everything besides reinforced concrete buildings. It killed about 69,000 and injured about 64,000 of the civilians in Hiroshima (United States. Army. Corps of Engineers. Manhattan District). The bombing of Hiroshima did not cause the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to surrender. As a result, the United States decided to drop another nuclear weapon on Japan. The second and last nuclear weapon to be used was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The second bomb was nicknamed “Fat Man”. The dropping of the second bomb resulted in about 40,000 deaths and 25,000 other injuries. The bombing of Nagasaki forced Japan to announce their surrender due to the power of the bombs and the destruction of cities. Nuclear weapons force countries to endure many harsh effects which give them no other option than to surrender.

A nuclear war would have many instant and long term detrimental effects which would affect the way everyone lived. Some instant effects of a nuclear war would be the flattening of cities and raging fires (Pearce). For example, in the instance that a nuclear war between Pakistan and India over Kashmir broke out, it would more than likely be nuclear. Assume that they launch half of their nuclear weapons, which is about 100 nuclear warheads total, millions of people would be killed and cities like Delih and Karachi would be flattened due to the “carnage of the blasts, as well as firestorms” (Pearce). Also, If the initial fires are strong enough, the shock wave would push the fires even farther killing more people and ruining more infrastructure. The long term effects of a nuclear war would be the left over radiation, the guaranteed increase of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and a nuclear winter. All of the fires would release millions of tonnes of smoke and ash into the atmosphere and it would spread around the world. This would decrease the amount of solar radiation that the Earth received by about 8%. This would result in what is known as a nuclear winter. Global temperatures would drop by an average of about 2.5-8 degrees celsius. The freezing temperatures would cause a global famine as there would be no growing season. The smoke would heat the stratosphere which would cause most of the ozone layer to disappear causing a higher risk of skin cancer. Hopefully, nations are smart enough to keep wars conventional and not fire nuclear weapons in times of war.

In the past years, there have been multiple events that could spark a nuclear war. For example “China’s nuclear stockpile is expected to double over next ten years”. The United States and Russian leaders discussed a new agreement which would limit nuclear weapons. The United States hoped that Russia would pass this accord onto China, but China has yet to agree. Due to the lack of cooperation from China, the United States and Russia have not been able to begin the process of nuclear disarmament.

Global nuclear warfare is the greatest threat to humanity as it has many devastating effects that would make the Earth inhabitable. 

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