Even a small nuclear war could cause 1+ billion deaths

Preface. Carl Sagan first introduced the idea of a “nuclear winter”, which helped to end the cold war.  The smoke from fires started by bombs would absorb so much sun the earth wold grow cold, dry, and dark, killing plants on land and in the water world-wide, jeopardizing the whole human race.  New findings indicate that even a small regional nuclear war could have the same effect globally.  Global deaths would result far from the initial conflict.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported that war between India and Pakistan is growing every more likely: 2016-05-04 Nuclear battles in South Asia and moved the doomsday clock to 3 minutes to midnight.

In a future nuclear war it is likely that the attacker will use a bomb to initiate an Electromagneticpulse (EMP) blast to take a nation’s electric grid down since a limited nuclear war would also kill their own citizens: The EMP Commission estimates a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill up to 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse

Both Jägermeyr (2020) and Toon (2019) below imply millions, if not billions of deaths given that the entire world would suffer a 25-50% decline of crops.

In addition, Coupe et al (2021) report that turning to the oceans for food may not be possible either because nuclear war could trigger an unprecedented El Niño-like event lasting up to seven years.  During a “nuclear Niño,” rainfall would mostly stop in the equatorial Pacific because of the cooler climate, as well as shut down upwelling of deeper, colder waters along the equator in the Pacific Ocean, reducing the nutrients that phytoplankton at the base of the marine food web need to survive, and another 40% of plankton might be destroyed from reduced sunlight  drastically reducing photosynthesis.

But first, is it true that cockroaches will survive a nuclear war?

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of  “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy”, 2021, Springer; “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


IFLSCIENCE (2021) The Truth Behind The Urban Legend That Cockroaches Can Survive Nuclear War.

Can cockroaches survive nuclear blasts? Would they be alone to inherit the Earth following a nuclear apocalypse?  The short answer to the first question is yes, sort of. They were found among the rubble following the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, though it should be noted that humans were found alive also, many of whom died of radiation sickness after the fact. However, there survives no record of anyone tracking the health of the cockroaches following their survival.

Humans have, however, tested their resistance to radiation before and after those nuclear blasts. Over a month, they exposed different groups of cockroaches, fruit flie, and flour beetles to 1,000 rads (a unit of absorbed radiation dose), 10,000 rads, and 100,00 rads. After the ordeal, 10% of the roaches from the 10,000 rad group were still alive, which is 10 times the lethal dose for humans. However, none of them managed to survive 100,000 rads.

But, the flour beetles did — 10% survived a whopping 100,000 rads for the full 30 days of the experiment, proving themselves to be much tougher than the long-dead cockroaches.

However, the experiment didn’t look at whether the radiated cockroaches and flour beetles could produce viable offspring. It could be that the insects survive the blast and the radiation, only to be unable to continue the species long enough to deal with the problem that the whole food chain has been wiped out anyway.

Either way, it looks like cockroaches would fare worse than many other insects if a nuclear war occurred.

“There is some evidence that they seem quite resilient to gamma rays, although they are not necessarily the most resistant across insects,” evolutionary biologist Mark Elgar told EarthSky. “You could argue that some ants, particularly those that dig nests deep into the ground, would be more likely to survive an apocalypse than cockroaches.”

So, to answer the second question, it doesn’t look like cockroaches are inheriting the Earth after all.

Jägermeyr, J., et al. 2020. A regional nuclear conflict would compromise global food security.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan with just 50 Hiroshima-sized detonations could perturb the climate for at least 5 to 10 years, send temperatures plunging 1.8 C (3.25 F), and lower production of maize, wheat, rice, and soybeans four times more than any drought, flood, or volcanic eruption in history.  Worst hit are nations 30°N, including the United States, Europe, and China for 10 to 15 years.  But this affects the whole world because much of production from the north is exported.  Maize reserves are gone after 1 year, wheat after 2, ending exports to poor nations which already have food insecurity and are barely able to feed themselves with imports. At least 1.3 billion would see their food supplies drop by more than 20%, including nations that now export grains.

This is a conservative estimate since India and Pakistan may have much larger bombs than used in Hiroshima. Also, they weren’t included in the study to avoid mixing the direct effects of war with the indirect climate effects on agriculture.  But it would be reasonable to assume food production in both nations would drop almost to zero, with additional deaths from radioactive fallout, and stratospheric ozone depletion allowing more UV rays in damaging people and agriculture even more globally.

Toon OB. 2019. Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe. Science.

Surface sunlight will decline by 20 to 35%, cooling the global surface by 2° to 5°C and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30%, with larger regional impacts. Recovery takes more than 10 years. Net primary productivity declines 15 to 30% on land and 5 to 15% in oceans threatening mass starvation and additional worldwide collateral fatalities.

Should a war between India and Pakistan ever occur, as assumed here, these countries alone could suffer 50 to 125 million fatalities, a regional catastrophe. In addition, severe short-term climate perturbations, with temperatures declining to values not seen on Earth since the middle of the last Ice Age, would be triggered by smoke from burning cities, a global disaster threatening food production worldwide and mass starvation, as well as severe disruption to natural ecosystems. Compounding the devastation brought upon their own countries, decisions by Indian and Pakistani military leaders and politicians to use nuclear weapons could severely affect every other nation on Earth.

Major crop-growing regions of North America and Eurasia experience declines of NPP averaging 25 to 50% over this time. Very large reductions in NPP occur in India, China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia, as well as in tropical South America and Africa. Ocean reductions in NPP are highest in the Arctic, where production is almost entirely extinguished. In addition, in many regions where major fisheries exist, production is significantly reduced, including the North Atlantic and North Pacific, where NPP decreases by 25 to 50%. Together, the reductions in temperature, primary productivity, and precipitation suggest major disruptions to human and natural systems worldwide.

Robok, A.  19 April 2007. Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Robock, A. 2011. Nuclear winter is a real and present danger. Nature 473: 275-6

Toon, O.B., et al. 2019. Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe. Science Advances.

Alan Robock and Woen Brian Toon: “Some people think that the nuclear winter theory developed in the 1980s was discredited. And they may therefore raise their eyebrows at our new assertion that a regional nuclear war, like one between India and Pakistan, could also devastate agriculture worldwide. But the original theory was thoroughly validated. The science behind it was supported by investigations from the National Academy of Sciences, by studies sponsored within the U.S. military, and by the International Council of Scientific Unions, which included representatives from 74 national academies of science and other scientific bodies.”

  • Just 100 of the smallest of the 17,000 nuclear bombs that exist dropped on cities and industrial areas in a fight between India and Pakistan would start firestorms that would put massive amounts of smoke into the upper atmosphere, about 5.5 million tons (5 million metric tons) of black carbon. This ash would absorb incoming solar heat, cooling the surface below.
  • Even a very small regional nuclear war on the other side of the planet could disrupt global climate for at least a decade by wiping out the ozone layer for 10 years. These particles would block the sun, making the earth’s surface cold, dark and dry. Agricultural collapse and mass starvation could follow. Hence, global cooling could result from a regional war, not just a conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
  • Cooling scenarios are based on computer models. But observations of volcanic eruptions, forest fire smoke and other phenomena provide confidence that the models are correct.  Colder temperatures would reduce global rainfall and other forms of precipitation by up to about 10 percent. This would likely trigger widespread fires in regions such as the Amazon, and it would pump even more smoke into the atmosphere.
  • Global average surface temperatures would drop suddenly by about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), their lowest levels in more than 1,000 years. In some places, temperatures would get significantly colder — most of North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East would experience winters that are 4.5 to 10.8 degrees F (2.5 to 6 degrees C) colder, and summers 1.8 to 7.2 degrees F (1 to 4 degrees C) cooler. The colder temperatures would lead to lethal frosts worldwide that would reduce growing seasons by 10 to 40 days annually for several years. [The Top 10 Largest Explosions Ever]
  • Survivors will find that the pollution from dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, and other chemicals will make the air unhealthy to breath.

Human toll. An all-out nuclear war between India and Pakistan could slaughter people locally and lead to more deaths across the planet.

  • 20 million people in the region could die from direct bomb blasts and subsequent fire and radiation.
  • 1 billion people worldwide with marginal food supplies today could die of starvation because of ensuing agricultural collapse.

If war broke out between two countries and 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, each the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT, were dropped on cities, the smoke from these fires would result in a giant ozone hole that would last for 5 years or more.  The worst effects would be the northern high latitudes, with a 50-70% ozone loss (and 20% globally, 25-45% mid-latitude).

The resulting increase in UV radiation would kill or harm plants and animals resulting in serious consequences for human health.

The ash that absorbed heat up in the atmosphere would also intensely heat the stratosphere, accelerating chemical reactions that destroy ozone. This would allow much greater amounts of ultraviolet radiation to reach Earth’s surface, with a summertime ultraviolet increase of 30 to 80 percent in the mid-latitudes, posing a threat to human health, agriculture and ecosystems on both land and sea.

The ozone losses predicted here are significantly greater than previous “nuclear winter/UV spring” calculations… Our results point to previously unrecognized mechanisms for stratospheric ozone depletion”.

The absorption of sunlight by the stratospheric soot produces a global average surface cooling of 1.25°C persisting for several years and large reductions in precipitation associated with the Asian summer monsoon and other disruptions to the global climate system.

Previous studies had estimated that global temperatures would recover after about a decade. However, this latest work projected that cooling would persist for more than 25 years, which is about as far into the future as the simulations went. Two major factors caused this prolonged cooling — an expansion of sea ice that reflected more solar heat into space, and a significant cooling in the upper 330 feet (100 meters) of the oceans, which would warm back up only gradually.

Depletion of the ozone column relative to normal conditions may impact living organisms, which are usually adapted to local UV radiation levels. Increased UV radiation is largely detrimental, damaging terrestrial and oceanic plants and producing skin cancer, ocular damage, and other health effects in humans and animals. Conclusive evidence shows that increased UV-B radiation damages aquatic ecosystems, including amphibians, shrimp, fish, and phytoplankton. The effects of sunlight on the biota are quantified as a product of the sun’s spectrum at the Earth’s surface and the action spectra for biologically damaging processes, such as erythema, carcinogenesis, and photoinhibition. An analysis of biological sensitivity to UV spectral changes concluded that a 40% ozone column depletion at 45°N – as computed here – would increase DNA damage (believed related to carcinogenesis) by 213%, and plant damage (e.g., photoinhibition) by 132% relative to normal conditions.

The global-scale ozone reductions predicted here for relatively small injections of sooty smoke into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere indicate an unexpected sensitivity associated with such perturbations, and suggest that certain events-such as regional nuclear conflicts, or geo-engineering schemes based on absorbing carbonaceous aerosols-might pose an unprecedented hazard to the biosphere worldwide. Our regional nuclear scenario involves <0.1% of the yield of nuclear weapons that currently exist. The current build-up of arsenals in an increasing number of states suggests scenarios in the next few decades that are even more extreme. The potential hazard to global ozone, and hence terrestrial biota, deserves careful analysis by governments worldwide advised by a broad section of the scientific community.

Nuclear material is spreading, making wars more likely (Conant 2013)

Already many nations have nuclear weapons: Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  Japan could easily construct nuclear weapons if they wanted to, and other nations are in the process of acquiring them (i.e. Iran).

Russia wants to supply nuclear power globally.  If a country can’t afford the $3 billion price tag, Russia will cut a deal for a Rent-A-Reactor.

Russia has plans to build 40 reactors on their own soil, and another 80 world-wide by 2030. Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom has already built nuclear plants in Turkey, Vietnam, China, and India. New potential clients include Nigeria, Finland, Eastern block countries, Algeria, Indonesia, Namibia, and Middle Eastern countries. Rosatom is even interested in the United States, where they already provide half of America’s nuclear fuel.

Nuclear proliferation experts are alarmed:

  • Nuclear bomb material and know-how will be spread widely. Some of the scarier countries Russia is courting are Myanmar (Burma), Iran, and Belarus.
  • Russia is not known for putting a high priority on safety.
  • Russia plans to build fast-breeder reactors. A meltdown could create an explosion that would blow the top off and send out highly toxic radioactive plutonium, uranium, cesium, and iodine quite a distance.
  • Mass production of small nuclear plants generating just 300 to 500 MW would spread nuclear risk accidents and proliferation of nuclear bomb material even more widely
  • Worse yet, Russia plans to build floating reactors, which have the potential to poison entire oceanic food chains, are hard to defend against terrorists, and are vulnerable to tsunamis.

Rosatom will take the nuclear waste back to Russia.  No other company offers that. It’s a huge selling point. Very few countries have permanent geological repositories to put nuclear waste in. After Yucca mountain was shut down as a possibility, America has no location in sight, and probably never will with Congress so divided and focused on other issues.

When will our luck run out?

Ron Rosenbaum in his book “How the end begins: the road to a nuclear World War III” explains how and why nuclear weapons will inevitably be launched. He also recounts the many times a nuclear war was almost launched — sometimes by accident — and how flawed the complex reasoning of Mutually Assured Destruction is to begin with. He concludes:  “I think only luck has saved us, and our luck is bound to run out.”

What other nuclear nations besides North Korea will try nuclear blackmail after peak oil?

North Korea is portrayed as a nation run by insane ruler, but building nuclear weapons to blackmail other nations for oil is a predictable consequence of the collapse that followed a drastic reduction of their fossil fuels after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, wrote “the world is likely to say that the North Koreans are acting “irrationally.” But this is not the case — they are a very rational regime, actually the world’s most Machiavellian. North Korean leaders are sending a message…using both artillery and centrifuges to say: “We are here, we are dangerous, and we cannot be ignored. We can make a lot of trouble, but also we behave reasonably if rewarded generously enough.  … U.S. policy toward Pyongyang has been based … on the assumption that North Korea can be persuaded and bribed into surrendering its nuclear program. It is an illusion: The survival of the North Korean regime depends to a large extent on its blackmail diplomacy. There has never been a chance that it would surrender its nuclear program, which alone makes it possible to extract sufficient aid from the outside world.

The entire world is on the cusp of the energy cliff — will other nations also try this tactic?

Though North Korea may have been more predisposed to take this route given their long and tragic history, including being occupied by the Japanese in the 1920s, massively destroyed by the Korean War in 1950-53, and major natural disasters in the mid-1990s.   With little farmland and poor soils, the North Korean population was far past their carrying capacity when massive fossil fuel and food imports dropped suddenly after the collapse of the Soviet Union – millions of people may have died as a consequence (Pfeiffer, Wikipedia).

Even the USA might nuclear blackmail the world

Even the United States might be tempted, according to Erik Townsend: “While the use of nuclear weapons … might seem unthinkable today, the USA has yet to endure significant economic hardship. … a government operating in crisis mode to hold off systemic financial collapse … would change the mood considerably. All the USA has to do in order to secure an unlimited supply of $50 per barrel oil is to threaten to nuke any country refusing to sell oil to the U.S. for that price. Unthinkable today, but in times of national crisis, morals are often the first thing to be forgotten. We like to tell ourselves that we would never allow economic hardship to cause us to lose our morals. …What we’ll do in a true crisis that threatens our very way of life is anyone’s guess.  If faced with the choice between a Soviet-style economic collapse and abusing its military power, the USA just might resort to tactics previously thought unimaginable.”

When you consider the crazy hate talk and massive denial of science in the United States right now, when times are good, it’s not hard to imagine how hard times could drive America into fascism, and demagogues elected with massive funding from corporations – hell, it’s already happening.

I wrote this in 2013, and now with Trump’s election this surely brings us closer to nuclear war.  Who knows what he meant by this tweet: The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.  At any rate, I was dismayed by how many men in the peak oil movement said that Hillary was the warmonger, not Trump!  It’s not hard to find a fact-checking site to check on this. It sure looks to me like Trump is more likely to get us into war: Donald Trump on War & Peace.

Some people would say we’ve been blackmailing the Saudi Arabia for decades now by giving them an offer they couldn’t refuse, a mafia-style relationship with Saudi Arabia, where nearly half of the world’s cheap, easy oil remains.  In return for defending the Saudis from other nations, we get some of their oil and prevent other nations from controlling it.  China, Russia, and Europe certainly know any attempt to take the Saudi or other Middle Eastern oil would result in nuclear Armageddon.

Most nations don’t have nuclear weapons, and will try to cope as best they can like Cuba did, where their Peak Oil predicament was handled quite differently.  Every country and region within a country will need their own survival strategy when their oil supplies plummet, as I wrote in “Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”.

James Howard Kunstler, in “The Long Emergency” writes: “Those of us who lived at the time of the Cultural Revolution must remain impressed by China’s potential for lapsing into political psychosis. China’s material progress in the past four decades has also been impressive.  This progress coincided with the global oil fiesta now culminating in the production peak.  When that enabling mechanism is withdrawn by historical circumstance, China may not hold together.  If it implodes in political chaos, there is no telling what will happen with its neighbor (and historic enemy) Japan.  Japan has even less oil and natural gas than China…it might be subject to nuclear blackmail…or drawn into the violent vortex of China’s meltdown…”


Choi, C. Q.  February 22, 2011. Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years: Regional war could spark “unprecedented climate change,” experts predict. National Geographic News.

Conant, E. October 17, 2013. Russia’s new Empire: Nuclear Power. The federation is aggressively selling reactors all over the world, raising safety concerns. Scientific America.

Coupe J, Stevenson S, NS Lovenduski et al (2021) Nuclear Niño response observed in simulations of nuclear war scenarios. Communications Earth & Environment.

Friedemann A (2006) 2006. Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. www.Energyskeptic.com

Kunstler, James Howard. 2005. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

Lankov, Andrei. 24 Nov 2010. North Korean Blackmail. New York Times.

Mills, M.J.  8 Apr 2008. Massive global ozone loss predicted following regional nuclear conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences vol 105:14:5307-5312.

Murray T. 9 Dec 2011. Recipe for Nuclear Winter. candobetter.net

Pfeiffer, Dale Allen. 17 Nov 2003. Drawing Lessons from Experience; The Agricultural Crises in North Korea and Cuba. From the Wilderness.

Pimentel, David.  in “Population Politics” by Virginia Abernethy (2000)

Robock, Alan et al., January 2010. LOCAL NUCLEAR WAR. Worry has focused on the U.S. versus Russia, but a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan could blot out the sun, starving much of the human race.  Scientific American.  Original paper: 19 April 2007. Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Smil, Vaclav Smil. 2000. “Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production”.

Townsend, Erik. 6 Jan 2013. Why Peak Oil Threatens the International Monetary System. ASPO-USA

2 July 2012. War-Related Climate Change Would Reduce Substantially Reduce Crop Yields.  ScienceDaily.

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One Response to Even a small nuclear war could cause 1+ billion deaths

  1. BMWRestori says:

    Fossil fuels used to restore a set of BMW hand tools;

    Pay attention to all the chemicals, power tools, electricity, muscle power, shelter, air conditioning, lighting and all other externalities involved.

    Now think how much fossil fuels and sunshine were used to create a nuclear device or nuclear system – end to end.

    Humans are better if they talk and solve their problems peacefully, rather than throwing on each other bombs.

    “Energy, like time, flows from past to future”.