Jun 232012

Is this a summer picture in Arizona? Or a winter picture in New England? A nuclear winter could make the latter into the former.

One of the risks you probably consider is that of our country being attacked by nuclear weapons.

In scientific terms, that would be termed ‘a helluva bad thing’ and we of course hope it never happens.  But if it does, we also hope that we’re not at any of the ground zeros, and that our preparations will enable us to survive through the difficult times that would inevitably follow.

But what say two other countries get in a nuclear shouting match?  Without wishing to ascribe exact risk levels, it is probably more likely that, say, India and Pakistan, or Israel and Iran might start lobbing nuclear weapons at each other, than we and the Russians will duke it out.

Other than for humanitarian reasons, do we – should we – care at all if two other countries, both far from us, engage in a nuclear exchange?

While in theory a couple of nuclear explosions, half-way round the world, plus or minus, will be no more harmful to us than have been the hundreds we’ve set off ourselves, mainly in Nevada, but also in Alaska, Colorado, Mississippi and New Mexico as well as around the Pacific, there are issues associated with an actual nuclear war, wherever it occurs, that should give us concern.

Our hundreds of tests took place over an extended period of over 45 years from 1945, and in the latter half were underground.  Most were of moderate strength only, in deserted areas, and seldom was there more than one or two a month.

Compare this with what would happen in a nuclear war between two secondary powers.  Although they don’t have the thousands or tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that Russia and the US each has, India, Pakistan and Israel all are thought to have more than 100 devices a piece.  It is not known how many North Korea has (probably less than 10) and probably there are not yet other nuclear powers in the Middle East (although every day brings Iran closer to having nuclear weapons).

It is reasonable to fear that a nuclear war would see the aggressor power send anywhere from 10 to 50 nuclear missiles at the country it was attacking, and it is probable that the attacked country would reciprocate with most of the nuclear weapons it was able to deploy in return.

In other words, within the space of an hour or two, there could be 100 or more nuclear explosions.  Furthermore, it is likely that at least some of the targets will be cities and other areas of concentrated industrial development, meaning that the initial nuclear blasts will be followed up by major secondary effects – massive firestorms as the targeted cities and factories burn.

The side-effect of all of this is thought to be the nuclear winter concept that was first discussed in the mid/late 1980s.  The smoke from the nuclear bombing and subsequent firestorms would darken the upper atmosphere, reflecting away and/or blocking the sun’s rays, causing the surface of the planet to cool.

This effect could last for more than a year, destroying crops, changing weather patterns, and generally destroying our entire food system.  See the discussion on this page from the Scientific American site, for example.

The good news is that the nuclear winter scenario is not without its critics and is far from guaranteed.  The major conventional bombings and firestorms that occurred late in World War 2 did not seem to have significant impacts on the global climate.  But if a nuclear winter effect does happen, either totally or in some reduced but still measurable amount, we have to consider the consequences, which are likely to impact on the entire planet.

There are several implications for us as preppers.

The first is to be aware that the solar power that probably figures prominently in our planning as an energy source in a Level 2/3 scenario would not be as effective as we hope.  If we lose 50% of the sun’s power, we lose – yes – 50% of the energy the solar cells would otherwise generate.

As for wind turbines, and at the risk of making an over-generalization, we’ll guess that if there is less energy from the sun reaching the earth, there will be less wind.  Wind and pretty much all other weather is a byproduct of the sun’s energy and if there is less energy from the sun, there’ll be less strong weather, too.  Wind turbine power production could fall even more dramatically than solar power generation, because wind turbines require a minimum amount of wind before they even start to generate any electricity at all, whereas solar cells will still at least generate a reduced level of power in low light conditions.

The second implication is that our plans to immediately start raising crops and animals if LAWKI ends may need to have a fallback contingency.  If the earth’s overall temperature falls, there could be one or more than one growing season completely lost before things recover back to something sufficiently close to normal again.

So, it would be prudent to lay in another few thousand gallons of propane or diesel as an energy source and a few more buckets of dried food concentrate.

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