Though it appears North Korea is moving closer toward peace than war, it wasn’t long ago that Kim Jong Un recently in his annual New Year’s Day address that “the entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range,” and that “a nuclear button is always on my desk.” Kim meant this idle threat as an effort to deter the U.S. from ever attacking North Korea.
However, that made us wonder what would actually happen if the U.S. and North Korea went to nuclear war with one another. What would the aftermath be like? How long would it take to have those places go back to normal? As it turns out, a few researchers actually modeled the effects of what 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs would have on the planet. Those answers will terrify you.
Week 1: 100 nuclear warheads are detonated
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There would be 5 megatons of black carbon launched into the air in the immediate fallout of a nuclear war with the detonation of 100 nuclear bombs. That black carbon is from everything burning in the combined blast areas. The upper atmosphere of the entire planet will be filled with black carbon by the end of the first week.
Next: The effects are almost immediately felt across the globe.
Week 2: Blackout
By week two, there is so much carbon in the atmosphere that sunlight can no longer reach the Earth. The Earth begins a rapid spiral of cooling that won’t stop for months. This also starts a chemical reaction inside the Earth’s ozone layer that will effectively eat the ozone layer away.
Next: Enter the deep freeze.
2 months: Nuclear winter
After a two month spiral of cooling, the average temperature of the Earth has fallen well below freezing. The amount of rainfall the planet receives also plummets because of the falling temperatures.
With so much radiation from the initial blasts, plants were adversely affected. By two months plants stop growing and their DNA begins to stabilize. Without crops producing any new food supplies, starvation soon sets in planet-wide.
Next: It will be some time before we see any significant changes from the abyss we’re in.
2 years: A huge portion of the population may be dead or dying
Roughly 2 billion people may have died at this point from starvation alone. With barely any crops being able to produce enough food, stability in any region is tedious at best. On top of that, most areas in the world are frozen wastelands and some are completely unlivable.
Next: The latent effects of nuclear war on humans.
5 years: Latent cancer pandemic
By year five, the ozone has been depleted by about 20-25% since the bombs first dropped. This is when UV light is at its peak intensity. Couple that with significant levels of radiation and you have a wave of latent cancer deaths killing off about 16-18% of the population that survived the blasts. This will trigger the second major die off after the 2 billion that previously died of starvation.
Next: At this point, we will start to see our first signs of improvement.
10 years: The first signs of hope
Ten years after the blasts, the ozone layer will be the first to see significant improvement. The ozone will still be damaged by the black carbon in the atmosphere, but will only be about 8% thinner than it was before the bombs dropped.
Next: Another milestone is reached in our atmosphere
20 years: Gaining warmth, but there is still a long way to go
At this point, the Earth’s temperature is beginning to stabilize. Although, the average temperature of the Earth is still well below modern day. This still affects crops and their growing seasons and they have not returned to levels before the blast.
Next: It will take a lot longer to get relatively comfortable again.
30-50 years: A relatively stabilized planet
Plant growth begins to stabilize but is still pretty slow. Plants also eventually start taking over unpopulated areas, much like Pripyat next to Chernobyl.
Radiation levels are still pretty significant in some areas which make them unlivable and will remain that way for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
This entire model is based on the assumption that 100 nuclear weapons were detonated at the same time. The current stockpile of nuclear weapons is estimated around 15,000 warheads. If the tipping point comes for the U.S. and North Korea, we could see something similar or far worse than this model suggests.
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