A new report published in Scientific American reveals that approximately 300 million people in the United States could face death from exposure to radioactive fallout within four days following a nuclear attack. The study focuses on the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch facilities, particularly the 450 silos located in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. It suggests that these silos would be the primary target for any adversary, as they serve as the epicenter of US nuclear retaliation.
Although the population density in these states is relatively low, wind patterns could carry the radioactive material far and wide, putting vast numbers of people at risk. Even in the most conservative estimates based on weather patterns recorded in 2021, millions would still face potential death from radiation exposure. The study reveals that 90% of the population in the lower 48 states, as well as residents in Mexico's northern states and Canada's most populous regions, would be at risk of receiving lethal doses of radiation.
Using advanced weather modeling techniques, scientists simulated the aftermath of an 800-kiloton warhead striking all 450 silos simultaneously to cripple the US arsenal. By mapping wind patterns throughout the year, they determined the potential fallout patterns. The worst-case scenario indicated that three million people residing in communities surrounding the silos would face certain death, receiving radiation doses of eight grays (Gy) within the four days following the attack. It is important to note that even one gray of radiation is sufficient to cause radiation sickness.
The symptoms experienced by individuals suffering from radiation syndrome depend on the dose received and can range from fatigue and nausea to skin damage, seizures, and even coma. At extremely high doses, these symptoms can occur within minutes and can prove fatal. The report highlights the urgency of the situation, given that the US government is currently undertaking a $1.5 trillion project to update its outdated nuclear weapons, including those stored at these silos in western states.
The report commissioned by Scientific American presents a dire warning, urging policymakers to reconsider the imprudence of pursuing such an endeavor and potentially sparking a new arms race. Earlier estimates conducted in 1976 and 1988 failed to accurately calculate the extent of fallout-related deaths from a nuclear attack on the US. However, with the help of advanced weather modeling techniques, this report serves as a wake-up call to evaluate the potential catastrophic consequences of a strike on these land-based ICBM silos.
If the predictions of this report hold true, the impact of such an attack would permanently alter the population of North America and extend beyond its borders. The urgent question remains whether governments will take heed of this harrowing warning and redirect their focus toward building a safer and more secure future for all.