City on Fire
January 8, 2004 9:44 AM   Subscribe

City on Fire - a fairly long article on the effects of a large (300 kt) nuclear detonation. Gives new insight into the potential dangers of nuclear proliferation.
posted by Irontom (28 comments total)
Holy fucking shit:

"Even if visibility were below two miles, an area of 12–15 square miles would be destroyed. This is two to three times the area destroyed in the incendiary attack on Hamburg in 1943. If visibility were five miles or greater, an area of approximately 25–45 square miles would burn. On a clear day, when visibility is 10 miles or greater, 40–65 square miles would burn.

Average air temperatures in the burning areas after the attack would be well above the boiling point of water; winds generated by the fire would be hurricane force; and the fire would burn everywhere at this intensity for three to six hours. Even after the fire burned out, street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days, and buried, unburned material from collapsed buildings could burst into flames if exposed to air even weeks after the fire."
posted by Irontom at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2004

courtesy of Arts and Letters Daily

So, these nuclear weapons, they're dangerous?!
posted by leotrotsky at 10:08 AM on January 8, 2004

Glad I have me a desk under which to duck and cover.

posted by FormlessOne at 10:17 AM on January 8, 2004

Fascinating. Thanks, Irontom.
posted by agregoli at 10:41 AM on January 8, 2004

Horrifying. Thanks, Irontom.
posted by 40 Watt at 10:51 AM on January 8, 2004

Just the light of the blast is enough to set you on fire. That's just terrifying.
posted by MsVader at 10:51 AM on January 8, 2004

It is fun to be the target of Nuclear destruction scenarios.
posted by stbalbach at 10:55 AM on January 8, 2004

Fascinating article. Thanks.
posted by hadashi at 10:57 AM on January 8, 2004

Ah, this makes me nostalgic for the 80's.

Excellent article.
posted by psmealey at 11:23 AM on January 8, 2004

I live near Union Station in a postwar apartment building designated "Fallout Shelter," and my room faces away from the East, so it gives me some small amount of comfort that I might well survive the heat damage and shockwave of a Pentagon blast.

If the Capitol were hit, though, I'd be literal toast.
posted by brownpau at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2004

I have just re-read the "firestorm" part. Dang.
posted by brownpau at 11:38 AM on January 8, 2004

Ah, this makes me nostalgic for the 80's.

This is more redolent of those The Day After days of the High Cold War. 300 kilotons is a strategic weapon, a city buster, an ICBM warhead--the sort of thing the US and Soviet Union pointed at each other in the bad old days and China points at us still. I suppose Total Global Nuclear War is still possible but it's those 60 missing 1-3 kiloton Russian suitcase nukes that are scary to me. Not as big a bang but more likely the sort of thing that will go off.
posted by y2karl at 12:30 PM on January 8, 2004

y2karl has one thing right. 300 kilotons is not a homemade terrorist bomb, that's a very efficiently designed professional bomb.

Boy, that has to be the most craptastical silver lining I've ever encountered.
posted by dglynn at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2004

The massive concrete and steel office buildings at Pentagon City might not be knocked down, but all nonsupporting interior walls and doors would be shattered, their fragments blown away at high speed.

I'll be taking comfort in this thought as I'm incinerated here in downtown D.C. (having been subjected to the Pentagon City Mall more times than I'd care to remember ;)
posted by ryanshepard at 1:25 PM on January 8, 2004

Fascinating and horrifying. Thanks, Irontom.
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on January 8, 2004

Shit blowing up is just straight up fucking rad.

Sort of.
posted by xmutex at 1:45 PM on January 8, 2004

If we're gonna talk about citybusters and fires, it's interesting, in a horrifying if detached way, to consider what would happen if, say, the area from Trenton, NJ to Wilmington, DE (if my rusty geographical memory of Yankeedom serves) got nuked- lotsa sexy petrochemical shit along that corridor there. Even better would be around Houston, say from Texas City to Humble and points in between, or the Beaumont - Port Arthur axis. Like, whoosh.
posted by alumshubby at 4:49 PM on January 8, 2004

From the report...

Take, for example, a target of interest to military planners—an aircraft carrier. The Handbook gives aircraft carriers a VN of 11P0 for moderate damage. (In this code, 11 is a rating of target hardness that translates to blast pressure; P indicates a type of target that responds mainly to overpressure, not drag pressure; 0 means the target is not sensitive to the duration of blast pressure.) At this rating, according to the government's method of calculating damage the aircraft carrier would sustain "about half loss in ability to deliver weapons effectively, because of damage to equipment or topside structure, or because of personnel casualties." The carrier's target-acquisition and communication equipment, however, are predicted to be operative. [emphasis mine]

Uh-huh. The only equipment organic to the carrier would be the aircraft and helos it wouldn't be launching anymore and the antennas that just got blown overboard. So, how's that again? Sounds like a 100% mission-kill to me.

Seriously, though, either the nuke would never get close enough to the heart of a CV battle group to really hurt the carrier that much - but Christ save any nearby escorts, they're toast - or it'd be like the USS Cole in Aden harbor all over again, where some asshole gets lucky with a boatload of trouble before that Marine lance corporal on the starboard .50 cal nails his sorry terrorist ass. In which case, goodbye birdfarm, crew, air group, surrounding harbor, the whole nine yards.
posted by alumshubby at 5:10 PM on January 8, 2004

300 kilos is big but if a MIRV (most are) it carries a bunch of warheads on a single ICBM so like the article says it would be unrealistic to expect one 300 kilo nuke you would get 6 or 12 at a time. Mutually Assured Destruction. They are called XYZ Megaton missiles because the net blast yield on a target was combined of all the warheads.
posted by stbalbach at 5:20 PM on January 8, 2004

Maybe it's just a sea story, but I read someplace that during the Bikini Atoll test shot, at least one of the larger ships on the periphery (an aircraft carrier, according to one version) was actually blown clear out of the water in approximately one piece.
posted by alumshubby at 5:27 PM on January 8, 2004

I've never been certain whether I would prefer to be at the blast centre should nuclear war ever be wrought upon the earth, or whether I'd rather the challenge of surviving in a post-apocalyptic age.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:38 PM on January 8, 2004

Oh, ever since that Strieber and Kunetka novel Warday, I've been convinced that I wouldnn't want to be a survivor of even a nuclear skirmish, let alone a flat-out war.
posted by alumshubby at 5:42 PM on January 8, 2004

See also the Nuclear Weapons Archive, including section 5.0 of the Nuclear Weapons FAQ: Effects of Nuclear Explosions.
posted by moonbiter at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2004

I've never been certain whether I would prefer to be at the blast centre should nuclear war ever be wrought upon the earth, or whether I'd rather the challenge of surviving in a post-apocalyptic age.

I am absolutely positive I would rather be whistlin' dixie at ground zero when they go off.

The "best case" scenarios of post-nuclear war are so frightening that I would prefer vaporization, thank you.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:57 PM on January 9, 2004

Fersure, but at least if one isn't at ground zero, one has the option of dying. I've always figured death should be a last-resort solution to problems.

Or, rather, that my death ought to be a last-resort solution.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2004

Or, rather, that my death ought to be a last-resort solution.

In the absence of third degree burns, that is.
posted by y2karl at 5:14 PM on January 9, 2004

My grandfather died, burned to death by/in his housecoat (on-the-stove tea-kettle with a red-hot element).

The pacifying story told to me is that he wasn't in pain: too much nerve damage. Or maybe pain overload.

Either which story, I'm happier to believe in than not.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on January 9, 2004

Nerve damage is the correct answer--the nerve endings are destroyed. In college, I worked as a janitor in the local university run county hospital, including stints on the burn unit. After hearing the patients during their daily burn debridement, I suspect the nerve endings grow back pretty fast.
posted by y2karl at 9:29 PM on January 9, 2004

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