PDA

View Full Version : Let's get nuclear



seun
03-09-2012, 01:58 PM
I'm at the planning stage for my next book which will feature the aftermath of nuclear explosions as a plotline. I was thinking a nuclear war but keeping it relatively small would help plot-wise so nuclear terrorism (taking place in the UK) is probably a better way for me to go. I won't be going into the global response or anything political as the sole POV is third limited.

Any help with the following questions would be immensely appreciated.

1. London will be the main target. Which other cities would be likely targets? I'm thinking Manchester, Birmingham (maybe) and areas with ports.

2. The majority of the action takes place in a city which isn't a direct target but which is close enough to an explosion for the shockwave to cause substantial damage (windows blown out, power lines downed, people injured). How far away would this city need to be from the explosion to be damaged but not destroyed?

3. Roughly speaking, what percentage of a city's population would be killed outright if the city is far away enough from the explosion to be damaged, not destroyed?

4. Is there anything practical a person could do to protect themselves from radiation poisoning? Given that this will be a relatively small event (rather than global war), if a person stayed miles away from the explosions, would that help them avoid being poisoned?

Priene
03-09-2012, 02:11 PM
If it's a nuclear war, the targets will be military. Nuking huge population areas isn't going to win you a nuclear war because your primary need is to destroy the other side's nuclear arsenal. In the Cold War, East Anglia was a top nuclear target because of the American airbases. Civilian airports would also get hit, so Heathrow and Stansted would be goners. With so much transportation gonig by road, major motorway junctions would be targets - South Mimms service station (M25 A1(M) junction) would be a bad place to be standing, as would Ferrybridge (M62, A1(M)).

Domestic or foreign terrorists might target large cities, but it depends on their motivation. What are they trying to achieve? Are there minorities they'd like to protect or destroy? Muslim extremists might target Gateshead, Jewish ones could target Bradford.

seun
03-09-2012, 02:20 PM
Civilian airports would also get hit, so Heathrow and Stansted would be goners. With so much transportation gonig by road, major motorway junctions would be targets - South Mimms service station (M25 A1(M) junction) would be a bad place to be standing, as would Ferrybridge (M62, A1(M)).

Domestic or foreign terrorists might target large cities, but it depends on their motivation. What are they trying to achieve? Are there minorities they'd like to protect or destroy? Muslim extremists might target Gateshead, Jewish ones could target Bradford.

Interesting point about places like South Mimms. I'll bear that in mind. It's going to be hard to get too deep into who's responsible given the POV. To be honest, I'm more focused on what's happening rather than who started it, but then who starts it will have an effect on location. I'll have a think about that one.

Priene
03-09-2012, 02:30 PM
I think you could plausibly have a situation where London has been nuked around the M25 and the airports with tactical nukes, but the city itself remains mainly intact. Possibly the main railway stations could have been taken out. It wouldn't be a pleasant place.

Mind you, London isn't a pleasant place anyway.

firedrake
03-09-2012, 02:44 PM
Here's something you might want to explore. I suspect all Borough and City Councils will have an emergency procedure in case of nuclear attack. When I worked for a District Council in Berkshire, we had a 'command centre'. On the wall it had a map with possible targets, as well as the radii of possible fall-out and casualties within those zones. It may be worth contacting the council where your story is set and see if they can give you any info.

Priene
03-09-2012, 02:55 PM
Here's something you might want to explore. I suspect all Borough and City Councils will have an emergency procedure in case of nuclear attack. When I worked for a District Council in Berkshire, we had a 'command centre'. On the wall it had a map with possible targets, as well as the radii of possible fall-out and casualties within those zones. It may be worth contacting the council where your story is set and see if they can give you any info.

I used to work for <Local Council Name Redacted> in the 1980s. They were using the nuclear shelter beneath their headquarters as a document archive. There was a small kitchen at one end with a 1960s. Somebody in the distant past had cooked a joint in a baking tray and left it uncarved and uneaten on a unit. It was still there, surrounded by unopened bottles of very old pop. If <City Name Redacted> had suffered a nuclear incident, their emergency response would have been pathetic.

seun
03-09-2012, 03:13 PM
Here's something you might want to explore. I suspect all Borough and City Councils will have an emergency procedure in case of nuclear attack. When I worked for a District Council in Berkshire, we had a 'command centre'. On the wall it had a map with possible targets, as well as the radii of possible fall-out and casualties within those zones. It may be worth contacting the council where your story is set and see if they can give you any info.

Thanks for the tip. I'll investigate.


I used to work for <Local Council Name Redacted> in the 1980s. They were using the nuclear shelter beneath their headquarters as a document archive. There was a small kitchen at one end with a 1960s. Somebody in the distant past had cooked a joint in a baking tray and left it uncarved and uneaten on a unit. It was still there, surrounded by unopened bottles of very old pop. If <City Name Redacted> had suffered a nuclear incident, their emergency response would have been pathetic.

Reminds me of Threads.

firedrake
03-09-2012, 03:17 PM
I used to work for <Local Council Name Redacted> in the 1980s. They were using the nuclear shelter beneath their headquarters as a document archive. There was a small kitchen at one end with a 1960s. Somebody in the distant past had cooked a joint in a baking tray and left it uncarved and uneaten on a unit. It was still there, surrounded by unopened bottles of very old pop. If <City Name Redacted> had suffered a nuclear incident, their emergency response would have been pathetic.

The shelter our council had was very shiny and impressive (built in the late 1980s). The only thing that really tickled me was that all department heads would have a place down there. Our Town Planning Director was such a useless tit, I was mystified as to what use he'd be in a nuclear crisis. :crazy:

Priene
03-09-2012, 03:32 PM
The shelter our council had was very shiny and impressive (built in the late 1980s). The only thing that really tickled me was that all department heads would have a place down there.

Back in the 1980s, local councils had more power than they do now, and my theory was that allowing the nuclear bunker to fall into disrepair was partly political - what's the point in the things when we'd all be doomed anyway?


Our Town Planning Director was such a useless tit, I was mystified as to what use he'd be in a nuclear crisis. :crazy:

He'd be on door duty, warding off the mutants with a cricket bat.

firedrake
03-09-2012, 03:38 PM
He'd be on door duty, warding off the mutants with a cricket bat.

Ha! I reckon they'd use him as the radiation canary. Send him outside for a few minutes and see how many festering radiation sores he came back with. :D

Yes, hiding in an underground bunker with a room full of council officials would be as about as reassuring as taking the doors off their hinges and building a lean-to shelter in the hall.

Priene
03-09-2012, 03:41 PM
Ha! I reckon they'd use him as the radiation canary. Send him outside for a few minutes and see how many festering radiation sores he came back with. :D

Yes, hiding in an underground bunker with a room full of council officials would be as about as reassuring as taking the doors off their hinges and building a lean-to shelter in the hall.

Our old Planning Office head was a former member of Mud. Imagine sitting through armageddon with a Tiger Feet singalong.

firedrake
03-09-2012, 03:46 PM
Our old Planning Office head was a former member of Mud. Imagine sitting through armageddon with a Tiger Feet singalong.

I think I'd steal a radiation suit and take my chances elsewhere.

seun
03-09-2012, 03:56 PM
Our old Planning Office head was a former member of Mud. Imagine sitting through armageddon with a Tiger Feet singalong.

Just be glad he wasn't in The Sweet.

And the man in the back said everyone attack...

Priene
03-09-2012, 04:00 PM
Just be glad he wasn't in The Sweet.

And the man in the back said everyone attack...

Even worse, it could have been Gary Glitter.

BillPatt
03-09-2012, 06:03 PM
Remember the effects of a nuke explosion: blast, thermal, prompt radiation, and residual radiation (fallout)

The four main factors you can manipulate are size of the device, location of the device, height of device above ground at detonation, weather at detonation.

Size and location are obvious. Height above ground (along with device size) determines how much fallout there is, as well as how far the thermal and prompt radiation effects propagate. Put a small sub kiloton nuke in the Tube, and the fireball might not break the surface. Put it in the tallest building around, and you can light everyone on fire for a mile or so around.

Weather encompases both wind speed and direction (surface and aloft), as well as the effects of cloud and fog on the thermal and flash effects. Where does the mushroom cloud go? Downwind. If you want to make London uninhabitable, then a shallow-buried nuke upwind of the city is your best bet. Fog and low hanging clouds will diffuse the brilliant flash of detonation.

The EMP effects are actually a part of the prompt radiation effects, and they are affected in a similar manner. A deep charge will diffuse them, an airborne shot will enhance them.

The 'poisoning' you speak of comes mainly from radioactive iodine, cesium, and strontium. There is also neutron-activated elements (artificially induced radioactivity) in the area close to ground zero. These effects fade somewhat quickly with time, depending on precipitation patterns. The fishermen are kinda pissed, though - they'll have to cut off twice the number of heads per fish for a few decades.

There really are a lot of factors to consider when you're developing your world. The most important really is: what is the aim of the terrorists? YOU have to know that, even if your POV character doesn't.

seun
03-09-2012, 06:42 PM
Thanks for the info, Bill. I'll have to do some more planning. I didn't consider the EMP issue which could create some problems. At the moment, I need the EMP effects to be minimal although I could also do with detonation occuring in a tall building. I'll work on it over the weekend and see if I can change things.

Buffysquirrel
03-09-2012, 07:32 PM
It seems unlikely that nuclear terrorists would have the same priorities for targets or the same capabilities for weapon delivery as a state.

Although terrorists do attack military targets on occasion, their main targets tend to be the civilian population. An attack on London, the most populous city in the UK, therefore makes sense from that point of view.

I think the OP needs to think about what weapon(s) the terrorists have and how they intend to deliver them to their target(s). There was a lot of speculation here in the UK some years ago about dirty bombs, ie using a radioactive source like those used in treatments for cancer, combined with a conventional explosive like Semtex, in order to make a wide area radioactive and scare anyone within the contaminated area. Is that the sort of weapon we're talking about, or are we talking about stolen nuclear weapons, or about appropriating another country's nuclear capability and exploiting it in the attack?

The answers to the OP's questions could be very different, depending.

seun
03-09-2012, 07:49 PM
Buffy, I was definitely thinking of attacks on civilian areas more than attacks on military areas. And I think it would make more sense if it involved stolen weapons.

FWIW, an area I want to get into is the civil unrest which could result from a nuclear attack. I can easily see riots spreading throughout the country if London, for example, was destroyed.

Buffysquirrel
03-09-2012, 08:55 PM
Okay. But it's one thing to steal the weapon. It's another to deliver it to the target.

Riots? Hmm, not sure. Potential for a power vacuum, definitely.

Drachen Jager
03-09-2012, 09:13 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQo0BQM3OlQ

Watch that movie. It is an '80s TV show, dramatized situation similar to what you're talking about, but done in a very realistic way.

Drachen Jager
03-09-2012, 09:19 PM
Oh and this is a good film showing the destructive power of a single nuke detonated over St Paul's.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lun5UVZOG4

RemusShepherd
03-09-2012, 09:47 PM
2. The majority of the action takes place in a city which isn't a direct target but which is close enough to an explosion for the shockwave to cause substantial damage (windows blown out, power lines downed, people injured). How far away would this city need to be from the explosion to be damaged but not destroyed?

3. Roughly speaking, what percentage of a city's population would be killed outright if the city is far away enough from the explosion to be damaged, not destroyed?

There are nuclear blast effect simulators on the web.

Here's one with detailed descriptions, but it's not interactive. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/sfeature/blastmap.html)
Here's an interactive one (although it crashed on me). (http://www.carloslabs.com/node/20)

There may be others out there, if you search for them.

The short answer is that everything within 2 miles of ground zero is dead and there isn't any shielding likely to help. Severe death and injury continues out to about 5 miles. This changes with the size of the bomb, of course.

seun
03-09-2012, 11:16 PM
Okay. But it's one thing to steal the weapon. It's another to deliver it to the target.

Riots? Hmm, not sure. Potential for a power vacuum, definitely.

I can defintely see rioting and civil unrest occuring given a limited nuclear attack. Maybe I just don't have enough faith in people. :D


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQo0BQM3OlQ

Watch that movie. It is an '80s TV show, dramatized situation similar to what you're talking about, but done in a very realistic way.

Thanks for the link. I saw Threads for the first time about seven or eight years ago. Scared the crap out of me. I'll watch it again although I might need a stiff drink first.


Oh and this is a good film showing the destructive power of a single nuke detonated over St Paul's.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lun5UVZOG4

Cheers. I'm finding visual representations to be quite helpful.


There are nuclear blast effect simulators on the web.

The short answer is that everything within 2 miles of ground zero is dead and there isn't any shielding likely to help. Severe death and injury continues out to about 5 miles. This changes with the size of the bomb, of course.

Interesting. Ideally, I need a city which has been severely damaged but not totally destroyed. I'll have to look into the size of the bomb and obviously power of the detonation.

robjvargas
03-09-2012, 11:34 PM
Nuclear weapons are HEAVILY guarded in the USA and UK. Plus they are incredibly hard to hide.

But take a look at an American made-for-TV movie called Special Bulletin (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086350/)

I think the ending is very relevant to what you're seeking with London, although it was set in Charleston, SC.

Dave Hardy
03-09-2012, 11:50 PM
There have been lots of films of varying length about the effect of a nuclear attack. Just for nostalgia purposes, here's one from the '60s about Austin, Texas, narrated by the late Cactus Pryor.

Target Austin (http://www.texasarchive.org/library/index.php?title=Target_Austin&gsearch=Target%20Austin)

There's a brief glimpse of the State Operations Command. The SOC is still in use, though hurricanes and terrorist attacks are much more the focus than nuclear combat with the Russkies (gotta imagine that as Slim Pickens would say it). You can still eat at Matt's El Rancho for that matter.

When I was a kid the local paper ran articles showing just how much of Jacksonville, Florida would get blown away from a warhead dropped on NAS Jax. A lot depends on the actually mega-tonnage yield of the weapon, but suffice to say my mom & I were goners, she worked on the base and our home was only five miles away.

Buffysquirrel
03-09-2012, 11:59 PM
Riots are possible. Almost any response is possible.

As for other targets, it depends what the terrorists' aims actually are. If you wanted to disrupt central government in the UK, then you'd want to hit the decentralised capitals, too, which would be Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. Any of those could, in theory at least, become the new centre of government.

If you want to destroy the commercial infrastructure, then ports like Dover, Liverpool, Belfast, and all the major airports.

If you want to bring down the financial infrastructure, then the City of London.

If you 'only' want to kill a lot of people, then London, Manchester, and keep on going down the list of most populated cities.

Cloe S
03-10-2012, 12:15 AM
4. Is there anything practical a person could do to protect themselves from radiation poisoning? Given that this will be a relatively small event (rather than global war), if a person stayed miles away from the explosions, would that help them avoid being poisoned?


:hi:Seun, I'll take this question as it doesn't appear to be answered.
It depends on the electron density or the ability of electrons to absorb the light/radiation, in regard to materials that we should use. Not many of us keep lead around the house, so putting layers between us and the radiation is the best idea. If you can go underground then do that. If you can go underground under a body of water, even better, as neutrons (initial neutron radiation that goes through almost anything) arenít absorbed by electrons but by some atoms, particularly hydrogen atoms, like those in water, and believe it or not, plastics. Cement uses water, so that it also makes a good barrier.

Drachen Jager
03-10-2012, 12:34 AM
Chelation will help with some of the fallout. Iodine pills are also a good idea (one of the more common types of radiation sickness from fallout is from the radioactive isotope of iodine, if you take non-radioactive iodine your body does not retain so much of the environmental iodine isotope). Iodine pills were selling for big bucks in Japan and became a bit of an issue in California after the tsunami.

Quentin Nokov
03-10-2012, 01:08 AM
In my novel I'll be having a military force detonate a nuclear bomb. These links were highly valuable, thank you Drachen and Remus. If the OP doesn't mind me hi-jacking this thread, I have a question as well: could a detonation be powerful enough to induce a tsunami? What would the megatons need to be?

Drachen Jager
03-10-2012, 01:41 AM
You could generate a wave to maybe do some damage to one city, but it wouldn't have the power to create a real tsunami.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami was generated by a 9,560,000 megaton force.

The most powerful nuclear warhead ever detonated was 50 megatons. You'd need an entire superpower's stockpile of nukes to even get onto the same playing field.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TNT_equivalent

Quentin Nokov
03-10-2012, 02:14 AM
Could a nuclear blast set off an earthquake equivalent to the megatons of the Indian Ocean Tsunami?

Never mind. I looked it up myself No bombing has ever set off an earthquake. It all has to do with the shifting tectonic plates, underground pressure, location, and erosion. No nuclear bomb has ever induced an earthquake. Period.

So, instead I'll ask how big could the wave get and how far inland could it go?

BillPatt
03-10-2012, 03:46 AM
Depends on what you mean by "Earthquake". The Tall Boy bombs in WWII were designed to set off localized seismic waves to destroy buried targets.

As for waves, you should look at the Castle Bravo Wiki entry. I seem to recall them giving wave heights.

blacbird
03-11-2012, 01:44 AM
Why not do some research on the two factual instances of a nuclear bomb attack (Hiroshima and Nagasaki)?

caw

seun
03-11-2012, 02:41 PM
:hi:Seun, I'll take this question as it doesn't appear to be answered.
It depends on the electron density or the ability of electrons to absorb the light/radiation, in regard to materials that we should use. Not many of us keep lead around the house, so putting layers between us and the radiation is the best idea. If you can go underground then do that. If you can go underground under a body of water, even better, as neutrons (initial neutron radiation that goes through almost anything) arenít absorbed by electrons but by some atoms, particularly hydrogen atoms, like those in water, and believe it or not, plastics. Cement uses water, so that it also makes a good barrier.

Thanks for the info. The underground point is particuarly useful.

Kenn
03-11-2012, 05:35 PM
What Cloe S has said is correct, although neutron dose is unlikely to be of importance in practice (neutrons are absorbed by air, so a significant dose is only likely in the blast area). The same is probably true for gamma radiation, or at least its impact will only be of concern if you survive the explosion and thermal blast.

In terms of protection from radiation, it is also true that the electrons are responsible for absorbing gamma-rays. However, the density of material used is of minor importance when compared to the amount of mass between you and the source - obviously a foot of lead of is better than a foot of cardboard, but a wall of cardboard that weighs the same as a wall of lead is only fractionally less effective. The normal advice is, therefore, to put as much between you and the blast as possible (for example, by lying in a ditch if you can find one).

After the initial explosion, there will be problems with fallout and that will vary according to the scenario.

RemusShepherd
03-12-2012, 05:55 AM
Could a nuclear blast set off an earthquake equivalent to the megatons of the Indian Ocean Tsunami?

Your best bet is to have a nuclear bomb set off an existing earthquake threat. There are only a few places on Earth where this might work. The Canary Islands has a shelf that people are worried could fall in an avalanche and create a tsumani on the east coast of America. An atomic bomb might set that off. But it's pushing believability.

BillPatt
03-12-2012, 06:12 AM
Your best bet is to have a nuclear bomb set off an existing earthquake threat. There are only a few places on Earth where this might work. The Canary Islands has a shelf that people are worried could fall in an avalanche and create a tsumani on the east coast of America. An atomic bomb might set that off. But it's pushing believability.

Not at all. I have a story where a nuke is emplaced in the fault in Cumbre Vieja, which has had a history of catastrophic landslides. The tsunami would be about three hundred meters in Portugal, about a hundred in the Thames, and about thirty in the US. It's not so unbelievable. Any time you have a volcanic bulge, which is what Cumbre Vieja is, a nuke could trigger it prematurely.

Imagine what would have occurred if one had been used on Mt. St. Helens. In fact, there might be a time where the authorities would use nukes to prophylactically reduce building stresses before they fail catastrophically. Sort of like how they use artillery shells to set off controlled avalanches before you get the massive shelf failure that kills.

There's one other place where a nuke would make a tsunami, but I have to save ONE plot....

blacbird
03-12-2012, 07:04 AM
Imagine what would have occurred if one had been used on Mt. St. Helens. In fact, there might be a time where the authorities would use nukes to prophylactically reduce building stresses before they fail catastrophically. Sort of like how they use artillery shells to set off controlled avalanches before you get the massive shelf failure that kills.

One of the silliest ideas ever. The St. Helens eruption, which was of a greater scale and directionality than anyone anticipated, killed 57. You're going to set off a nuke to (theoretically) prevent 57 deaths?

And, frankly, it probably wouldn't work. The St. Helens eruption released many many times more energy than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs did, combined. Just to let you know, I'm a working geologist, teach geology to university students, and do in fact know quite a bit about the Mt. St. Helens event and volcanic hazards in general.

caw

DrZoidberg
03-12-2012, 01:07 PM
Here's a good physics lecture on nuclear weapons. It can't hurt to get your basics right

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BHdsjo-NR4

Priene
03-12-2012, 01:50 PM
Here's a good physics lecture on nuclear weapons. It can't hurt to get your basics right

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BHdsjo-NR4

There's nothing you need to know about nuclear attacks that can't be learned from 1970's public information broadcasts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXx5Y2Fr2bk).

BillPatt
03-12-2012, 04:52 PM
One of the silliest ideas ever. The St. Helens eruption, which was of a greater scale and directionality than anyone anticipated, killed 57. You're going to set off a nuke to (theoretically) prevent 57 deaths?

And, frankly, it probably wouldn't work. The St. Helens eruption released many many times more energy than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs did, combined. Just to let you know, I'm a working geologist, teach geology to university students, and do in fact know quite a bit about the Mt. St. Helens event and volcanic hazards in general.

caw

There's a difference between speculating and advocating. I did the former, not the latter.

Would I set off an underground nuke, emplaced to trigger the landslide that was the proximate cause of the 1980 eruption if it would save 57 lives? Well placed underground nuclear weapons do not vent radioactives to the atmosphere. There would be groundwater contamination to consider, so it's not as cut-and-dried as it would appear at first guess.

The real question is: should action be taken to trigger events we know are going to happen anyway? One of the underreported aspects of the MSH eruption was that the authorities were due to allow residents back into the evacuation zone at 9am. The eruption was at ~8:30am. So, it was just dumb luck that there weren't hundreds more killed. That goes to the heart of the question. How pro-active should we be?

There are some things we'll never be able to do, like that incipient landslide in Cumbre Vieja. But at the other end of the scale are the doable, like the degassification of Lake Nyos. MSH falls somewhere in between.

Again, I am speculating. Is it silly to think of nuking a growing bulge on the flank of a volcano? I dunno. Probably no sillier than trying to lance it, something I have seen actually talked about in the papers.

seun
03-12-2012, 05:34 PM
There's nothing you need to know about nuclear attacks that can't be learned from 1970's public information broadcasts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXx5Y2Fr2bk).

That's next on my list. A spot of light viewing. :tongue

Priene
03-12-2012, 05:45 PM
That's next on my list. A spot of light viewing. :tongue

Did you ever see the BBC film about nuclear holocaust in Sheffield? About 1983, if I remember correctly. Were a right bag of laughs.

Edit: Threads (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threads) was the one. Everything is on the interweb.

seun
03-12-2012, 08:41 PM
I think that's the third mention of Threads in this...thread.

I didn't see it until a few years ago. Dated but very effective.

Buffysquirrel
03-13-2012, 01:42 AM
Threads wasn't quite as controversial here as The Day After, which spawned a demand by the govt of the day that they have a right to reply. And they got it, too. A right of reply to a movie.

blacbird
03-14-2012, 07:39 AM
The real question is: should action be taken to trigger events we know are going to happen anyway?

The eruption of St. Helens was predicted with a fair degree of accuracy, regards timing. But everybody thought the thing would blow through the summit vent. Nobody anticipated the size of the eruption, and nobody predicted the landslide that opened the side vent, including U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist David Johnston, who was monitoring the mountain from three miles away, on the north side, and who was never seen again.

These events remain highly unpredictable, in detail. If you want a good look at another, bigger volcanic event, find the excellent Nova documentary In the Path of a Killer Volcano. Cheesy title, to be sure, but a superbly done detailed analysis from the ground on the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. It's narrated by Hal Holbrook, and is about the most informative such program I've ever seen. I use it in my university geology classes.


One of the underreported aspects of the MSH eruption was that the authorities were due to allow residents back into the evacuation zone at 9am.The eruption was at ~8:30am. So, it was just dumb luck that there weren't hundreds more killed. That goes to the heart of the question. How pro-active should we be?

Which, as I understand, was to be a temporary thing to allow them to retrieve important possessions. And, yes, even that was a dumb idea. Lesson learned, lucky and cheap.

As for pro-active? Even if a nuke had worked, which was about as likely as the Cubs winning this year's World Series, all it would have accomplished is to unleash the thing that precisely happened. Oh, yeah, and with radioactive fallout added to the ash cloud.


at the other end of the scale are the doable, like the degassification of Lake Nyos.

Nobody anticipated the Nyos gas event, either. Nothing like it had happened in the historical memory of the people who lived in the area. The degassing apparatus now in place is experimental, appears to be working, some at least, but nobody really knows for sure. It's probably better than nothing.


Is it silly to think of nuking a growing bulge on the flank of a volcano?

Yes. We've never altered a volcanic eruption in the history of humankind, other than to mitigate lava flow directions in a couple of places (Heimaey, Iceland, and Mt. Etna, Sicily). We know damn well, however, what the effects of nuclear blasts both above and below ground are, and we now have in place test-ban treaties based on that extensive knowledge.

Talk to the people in St. George, Utah, about the consequences of nuke testing upwind in the Nevada test sites.

The low death toll at St. Helens was due, in part, to luck of timing, and also, in significant part, to the fact that a major evacuation of the surrounding area had taken place, and the people at risk there were relatively few when the thing went off. Including crusty old Harry Truman, who was told to get out, and refused to leave. Like David Johnston, he disappeared, along with his lakeside lodge.

The death toll in the colossal Pinatubo eruption, which was ten times the scale of St. Helens, was limited to a few hundred, again due to evacuation of the surrounding region as the thing ramped up. That happened in an impoverished heavily-populated agricultural region, where communications were limited and difficult. Nothing either would have prevented the eruption, or triggered it, other than Mom Earth taking care of business at hand when the time was right.

caw

BillPatt
03-14-2012, 06:14 PM
CAW,

I admit to being a tad nettled by having a speculation being called 'silly'. Emotional, I know. I am also not a geologist - I still don't really understand mafic vs ultramafic rocks. I appreciate your detailled responses to my posts.

Just a couple of points, if I might.


The eruption of St. Helens was predicted with a fair degree of accuracy, regards timing. But everybody thought the thing would blow through the summit vent. Nobody anticipated the size of the eruption, and nobody predicted the landslide that opened the side vent, including U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist David Johnston, who was monitoring the mountain from three miles away, on the north side, and who was never seen again.


Small quibble: when I visited MSH during the 2006 eruption, the staff said the Johnston observatory was six miles from the summit, near the place where he was observing. MapPoint measures confirm my memory. The replay of his radio call is chilling - here is a man looking at a wall of rock coming his way, knowing he's dead, but he's still reporting data. Amazing.



Even if a nuke had worked, which was about as likely as the Cubs winning this year's World Series, all it would have accomplished is to unleash the thing that precisely happened. Oh, yeah, and with radioactive fallout added to the ash cloud.

Aw, why beat up on the Cubbies? It COULD happen - I mean, even the Rangers won the Stanley Cup...

Of course it would unleash the same thing that happened. But Johnston wouldn't have been on that ridge. And Harry Truman wouldn't be under 600 feet of steaming ash. BTW, the staff said Harry was ready to leave until some newspuke stuck a mic in his face.

As for fallout, there are nukes that are engineered to significantly reduce fallout, plus underground detonations would reduce the dispersal of fallout substantially. I suspect we'll always disagree on this, however.



We've never altered a volcanic eruption in the history of humankind, other than to mitigate lava flow directions in a couple of places (Heimaey, Iceland, and Mt. Etna, Sicily).

That's because we've never had a concentrated source of energy that could remove the cork before the advent of nuclear weapons.

I suspect that nuclear weapons will never be used on volcanos, substantially in part because of the visceral reactions that the phrase 'nuclear bomb' has on so many people in the general population. As a scientist, I know you are not swayed that way, your objections are more data-related. But the mob will howl.

robjvargas
03-14-2012, 06:52 PM
As for fallout, there are nukes that are engineered to significantly reduce fallout, plus underground detonations would reduce the dispersal of fallout substantially. I suspect we'll always disagree on this, however.

Considering that an eruption is... well... an eruption... Are you certain of this? Those nukes you're talking about are, I believe, airburst weapons, and I don't see where an airburst weapon would be at all effective here.


That's because we've never had a concentrated source of energy that could remove the cork before the advent of nuclear weapons.

We now have conventional weapons (http://www.nd.edu/~techrev/Archive/Spring2002/a8.html) that have more explosive force than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

BillPatt
03-14-2012, 08:05 PM
Considering that an eruption is... well... an eruption... Are you certain of this? Those nukes you're talking about are, I believe, airburst weapons, and I don't see where an airburst weapon would be at all effective here.
We now have conventional weapons (http://www.nd.edu/~techrev/Archive/Spring2002/a8.html) that have more explosive force than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

1. Yes, I am certain, because of work I did for the gov't.

2. The BLU-82 (and its upscaled friends like MOAB) are definitely airburst weapons. But look at the size of that thing! I suspect it would be very difficult to drill a bore hole that wide in the vent plug of choice. On the other hand, the Davy Crocket was fired out of 203mm artillery tubes. Much smaller bore hole.

Remember, the original post that set this off was mere speculation. Not advocacy. I am sure there are many folks who are appalled at the very idea of ever exploding a nuke for whatever reason, anywhere, ever. Granted, nukes are nasty things with many, many side effects. But sometimes, they are the only possible solution for a given problem.

NewKidOldKid
03-15-2012, 07:57 PM
There was also a great TV series called Jericho. It ran for two seasons starting in 2006. Take a look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jericho_(TV_series)

It's available online if you know where to look or who to ask :)

robjvargas
03-15-2012, 09:25 PM
2. The BLU-82 (and its upscaled friends like MOAB) are definitely airburst weapons. But look at the size of that thing! I suspect it would be very difficult to drill a bore hole that wide in the vent plug of choice. On the other hand, the Davy Crocket was fired out of 203mm artillery tubes. Much smaller bore hole.

That's where I keep not seeing your point. The bore hole. I know that your point quoted above is a reply to my point about conventional weapons. But leads me back to why I think opposition to using nukes as "cork poppers" is about more than mere public perception/will.

With a nuclear weapon, you're talking about putting an uncontrolled chain reaction in the immediate vicinity of an event that's likely to spew thousands of tons of ejecta up into the atmosphere and into the path of prevailing winds. I suppose you can design a weapon that produces more or less radioactive byproducts. But as a component of an induced eruption, I don't see any practical difference. That's LOTS of radioactive material riding the Jet Stream (literally or figuratively).

By the way, on another note, I also disagree with others who use the size of the event as a criticism for the more general idea of inducing these events. A forest fire is a massive event that can sometimes result from a simple match. Likewise, the earthquake or volcano may be tens or hundreds of times more force than we can ever muster, but the trigger might only require a few kilotons of explosive force to sort of "break the tension" that's been building to an event.

BillPatt
03-16-2012, 05:08 AM
In the very restricted case of a Davy Crocket-sized nuke vs. the BLU-82, it's the difference between boring an 8 inch shaft for the device, versus a 54 inch wide shaft, not to mention the hassle of getting a 15,000 lb bomb up rough territory to the emplacement site.

The original post of mine that mentioned nukes was in relation to moving the Mount St. Helens bulge. In that particular case, emplacement of a Hiroshima-sized nuke would create a subsidence crater at the toe of the bulge, creating a 'hole' for the bulge to tumble into. The sheer weight of the debris would seal the crater, trapping nearly all of the radioactive debris under hundreds of feet of rock and ash. Meanwhile, the eruptive event is taking place above the crater.

I believe the scenario that many were thinking of is a summit-crater nuke blasting off the cork. Yes, I did allude to that in later posts. I agree that it would spread radioactive debris on the winds over a large area. That's probably a scenario that's not ever going to happen.

But let's say it does. The radioactive fallout will consist of fission and bomb casing debris, as well as neutron-activated tephra. The bomb itself is only a couple of hundred pounds, max. The MSH eruption ejected 0.67 cubic miles of material. That's a lot of material, and it will significantly dilute the really dangerous radioactive fission products. However, the neutron activated tephra is of significant concern.

In the general scheme of things, the ash goes up, the ash comes down, and doesn't travel much more than the area where you'd have to evacuate anyway. The rest, the ash entrained in the jet stream, will be up there for years, like The Year Without A Summer, when Tambora blew up. So, you've got fallout in an area where there are no people anyway, or it's up there and staying up there, being further diluted all the time.

I think this is as far as I am going to go with this thread. It's not a flounce, but this has been taking up more time than I would rather put towards my WIP. Rob and Richard, I appreciate the back-and-forth. Thanks all.

Kenn
03-16-2012, 02:18 PM
That's where I keep not seeing your point. The bore hole. I know that your point quoted above is a reply to my point about conventional weapons. But leads me back to why I think opposition to using nukes as "cork poppers" is about more than mere public perception/will.
There are also tremendous political implications. Most countries are signatories to the Test Ban Treaty. If we are talking about the US, it has yet to ratify this (although it is a signatory). Let a nuke off and it'll all come crumbling down - and the fallout will probably be as bad as anything you could get from a volcano or bomb!

There were ideas of using peaceful nuclear blasts that never came to anything because of the safety concerns (Operation Plowshare). One that springs to mind was the excavation of a harbour in Alaska (Operation Chariot), but I don't think controlling earthquakes/ volcanoes came on to the agenda anywhere.