Unimaginable Destruction If Israel Did Attack Iran with Nuclear Weapons
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The number of fatalities at Hiroshima has been estimated at 140,000. A nuclear attack on Nagasaki three days later is thought to have killed 70,000. Today, according to Dallas, 15-kiloton nuclear weapons of the type used on Japan are referred to by experts as “firecracker nukes” due to their relative weakness.
In addition to killing more than 5.5 million people, a strike on Tehran involving five 250-kiloton weapons -- each of them 16 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima -- would result in an estimated 803,000 third-degree burn victims, with close to 300,000 others suffering second degree burns, and 750,000 to 880,000 people severely exposed to radiation. “Those people with thermal burns over most of their bodies we can’t help,” says Dallas. “Most of these people are not going to survive… there is no saving them. They’ll be in intense agony.” As you move out further from the site of the blast, he says, “it actually gets worse. As the damage decreases, the pain increases, because you’re not numb.”
In a best case scenario, there would be 1,000 critically injured victims for every surviving doctor but “it will probably be worse,” according to Dallas. Whatever remains of Tehran’s healthcare system will be inundated with an estimated 1.5 million trauma sufferers. In a feat of understatement, the researchers report that survivors “presenting with combined injuries including either thermal burns or radiation poisoning are unlikely to have favorable outcomes.”
Iranian government officials did not respond to a request for information about how Tehran would cope in the event of a nuclear attack. When asked if the U.S. military could provide humanitarian aid to Iran after such a strike, a spokesman for Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, was circumspect. “U.S. Central Command plans for a wide range of contingencies to be prepared to provide options to the Secretary of Defense and the President,” he told this reporter. But Frederick Burkle, a senior fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Harvard University’s School of Public Health, as well as a coauthor of the just-published article, is emphatic that the U.S. military could not cope with the scale of the problem. “I must also say that no country or international body is prepared to offer the assistance that would be needed,” he told me.
Dallas and his team spent five years working on their study. Their predictions were generated using a declassified version of a software package developed for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, as well as other complementary software applications. According to Glen Reeves, the software used fails to account for many of the vagaries and irregularities of an urban environment. These, he says, would mitigate some of the harmful effects. Examples would be buildings or cars providing protection from flash burns. He notes, however, that built-up areas can also exacerbate the number of deaths and injuries. Blast effects far weaker than what would be necessary to injure the lungs can, for instance, topple a house. “Your office building can collapse… before your eardrums pop!” notes Reeves.
The new study provides the only available scientific predictions to date about what a nuclear attack in the Middle East might actually mean. Dallas, who was previously the director of the Center for Mass Destruction Defense at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is quick to point out that the study received no U.S. government funding or oversight. “No one wanted this research to happen,” he adds.
Rattling Sabers and Nuclear Denial
Frederick Burkle points out that, today, discussions about nuclear weapons in the Middle East almost exclusively center on whether or not Iran will produce an atomic bomb instead of “focusing on ensuring that there are options for them to embrace an alternate sense of security.” He warns that the repercussions may be grave. “The longer this goes on the more we empower that singular thinking both within Iran and Israel.”