Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Can We Still Blow Up the World?
I’ve actually never thought there was a good answer to the questions you pose. First of all, you can’t really “blow up the world.” What you can do, though, is destroy civilization and potentially annihilate the human species and most complex life. We could do the worst we can to the planet and it will survive us, although not in a way we would necessarily recognize over the next few hundred thousand years. And it is unlikely that members of our species would be here to observe the planet at all after an all-out nuclear war.
Second, I think the number of times one could destroy the world has always been speculation. Some recent simulation studies by well recognized scientists predicted that an exchange of a total of 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons detonated on cities in an exchange between India and Pakistan could result in a billion deaths due to heat, blast, fire, radiation, weather change and crop failure.
The treaty will reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by about a third, from the 2,200 agreed to in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) to a high of 1,550. The treaty doesn’t take into consideration some accounting irregularities that were agreed to, such as counting each bomber as one nuclear weapon although it can hold 20 or so nuclear bombs. Nor, does it take into account tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons or reserve stocks.
The cost of the getting the Republican votes for the treaty was also high, over $180 billion to modernize the US nuclear complex, nuclear weapons and delivery systems over the next decade. We’ll be spending much more annually on qualitative improvements of our nuclear arsenal than was spent annually during the Cold War. Some countries will take this as a sign we are not serious about fulfilling our obligations to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and consider the modernization of our nuclear arsenal as a provocation to nuclear proliferation.