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Nuclear Weapon
 Effects Page

 When a nuclear weapon is detonated massive amounts of energy are released in a fraction of a second. The energy is made up of x-rays (radiation) , neutrons and fission products (high energy particles). Moments after the detonation a fire ball complete with a blast wave travelling faster the sound will envelope the area.


The blast can be split into four separate stages.



Thermal Energy

 In a nuclear blast the heat arrives first. This is known as the thermal pulse. The heat can directly ignite buildings and debris. This can lead to fire storms.  A fireball from a 1 mega ton weapon would be 440ft in diameter 1 millisecond after explosion.
Within 10 seconds it would be 7000ft. After 20 seconds it would be travelling at 330 mph and have a diameter of almost 1 mile across.

35% of energy in a nuclear blast is thermal radiation. The heat at ground zero is 1,000,000 oC. The same as the interior of the Sun.

The amount of heat energy received a certain distance from the nuclear explosion depends on the power of the weapon and the state of the atmosphere. If the visibility is poor or the explosion takes place above clouds, the effectiveness of the heat flash is decreased. The thermal radiation falling on exposed skin will cause flash burns.

  A 1Mt blast causes 1st degree burns at 7 miles (similar to sunburn).

At six miles, blisters and permanent scaring and at five miles 3rd degree burns which destroy skin. The blast can cause flash blindness at 13 miles and up to 50 miles if it occurs at night. Most ordinary clothing provides protection from the heat radiation, as does almost any opaque object. 
Flash burns occur when the bare skin is directly exposed, or if the clothing is too thin to absorb the thermal radiation.

 Under some conditions, such as existed at Hiroshima but not at Nagasaki, many individual fires can combine to produce a firestorm similar to those that accompany some large forest fires. The heat of the fire causes a strong up draught, which produces strong winds drawn in towards the centre of the burning area. These winds fan the flames and convert the area into a holocaust in which everything flammable is destroyed. Inasmuch as the flames are drawn inward, however, the area over which such a fire spreads may be limited.Top of page



Blast Energy

After the thermal pulse comes enormous amounts of pressure created by the blast itself. As is the case with explosions caused by conventional weapons, most of the damage to buildings and other structures results directly, or indirectly , from the effects of the blast.

Damage is caused by over pressure at the front of the blast wave and the extremely strong wind which follow
 soon after the wave passed.Top of page



Dust and radioactive particles are sucked up from the immediate vicinity of the explosion into the large rising fireball. At this stage the radiation is fairly contained. All those who would have been affected by it have already been killed or seriously injured by the thermal pulse and blast wave.Top of page



Fall Out

The energy from the explosion creates penetrating radiation.  
When absorbed by the body nuclear radiation causes serious injury.

 A nuclear explosion creates 2 types of radiation. 
 The two types of radiation produced by a nuclear explosion are:

 Gamma radiation

This is visible , similar to light. The rays are hard to shield against. They are a factor in contamination of living organisms.

 Ionising Radiation

This occurs when neutron radiation reacts with animal tissue. The electric field produced by the positively charged ion or negatively charged electron can damage DNA. This could cause the cells to die, become incapable of reproducing or mutate.

Both gamma rays and neutron radiation are capable of penetrating solid matter, so substantial thicknesses of material are required if they are to provide adequate shielding from the hazard.


Radioactive fallout travels up into the stratosphere. The heavier particles fall locally and contaminate the surrounding land and water. Smaller particles enter the wind stream and can be carried many thousands of miles before falling back to earth. If these particles are ingested by living organisms serious illness or death often results.

Fallout Types

  Tritium—no major biological damage.

Carbon—circulation path still unclear, this biological effects unclear.

Strontium 90—similar  to calcium so effects bones causes tumours or leukaemia.

Caesium— no major problems.

Plutonium— has a half life of 24hrs. Ingesting 1 microgram (a tiny amount) has serious health implications.

Iodine 131—concentrates in milk produces and thyroid glands.

Other radiation fallout symptoms include blood disorder , cataracts , malignant tumours (esp. in breast , lung and thyroid)


Electro-Magnetic Pulse

Although not a health danger to humans the EMP is a powerful surge in electrical magnetic energy.

This is capable of overloading power supplies and burning out both capacitors and transistors.

A single 10mt bomb would be capable of knocking out telecommunications and all electronic equipment on a nationwide scale. In 1962 a 1.4mt bomb was detonated 400km above the earth. The EMP destroyed street lights 1200km away in Hawaii.


The Long 
Term Effects

As we can see, the effects of a nuclear blast are many and massive. However, nuclear weapons have one more major cause for concern.

 The radiation they release will be hazardous for many years after the initial explosion, effectively turning the land and water around the epicentre of the blast unusable for many years, possibly decades.



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