Just How Likely Is A Global Nuclear War? - Annie Jacobsen

Just How Likely Is A Global Nuclear War? - Annie Jacobsen

How Many Nukes Exist? (00:00:00)

  • There are approximately 12,500 nuclear weapons in existence.
  • The Federation of American Scientists, specifically the Nuclear Notebook group led by Hans Christensen, tracks the number of nuclear weapons for each country.
  • North Korea is the only country that does not provide transparency, so its nuclear arsenal is estimated.
  • The nine nuclear-armed nations are Russia, America, UK, France, India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, and Israel.
  • There are concerns that countries may under-report their nuclear weapons to make it appear they have fewer or have de-escalated.
  • Some treaties require transparency and inspections, but conflicts can hinder these processes.
  • Transparency among nuclear-armed nations could foster communication and prevent misunderstandings.
  • The accuracy of the reported number of nuclear weapons is questionable due to potential incentives for countries to be secretive.
  • North Korea's nuclear arsenal is estimated to be between 50 and 130 warheads, highlighting the uncertainty in these numbers.
  • At the peak in 1986, there were approximately 70,000 nuclear weapons globally.
  • The process of dismantling nuclear weapons and the fate of nuclear material are not widely known.
  • Pantex, a highly classified facility in Texas, is responsible for dismantling nuclear weapons and is likely a target in the event of a nuclear strike.

Where America’s Nukes Are (00:04:42)

  • America's nuclear weapons are part of the Triad, which consists of silos, submarines, and bombers.
  • There are 400 silos across America, each of which is targetable.
  • There are 14 nuclear-armed submarines, each carrying up to 90 nuclear weapons.
  • The bomber force consists of 66 B-2 and B-52 bombers, which are the only part of the Triad that can be recalled after launch.
  • ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles cannot be redirected or recalled once launched.
  • Bombers would likely be sent first, but they may not arrive in time to prevent nuclear war.
  • Nuclear war would likely be a "big giant suicide" with no way to refuel aircraft in the air.

Russian & Chinese Submarines Near America (00:09:33)

  • Russian and Chinese submarines frequently come within a few hundred miles of the US coasts.
  • Submarines are extremely stealthy, making them difficult to detect.
  • A defense department budget request revealed a map showing the pathways of Russian and Chinese submarines near the US coast.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that the world is one misunderstanding or miscalculation away from nuclear apocalypse.
  • There is a possibility of a "madman scenario" where a nuclear-armed nation launches a rogue attack against the US for unknown reasons.
  • Mistakes, misunderstandings, or the actions of a madman could lead to a catastrophic nuclear war.

What Happens When a Nuke is Fired? (00:12:40)

  • The US has invested heavily in satellite systems, such as the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), to detect ballistic missile launches within a fraction of a second.
  • Data from satellites is sent to three command centers: Cheyenne Mountain, the Pentagon, and Stratcom.
  • Within 250 seconds of a missile launch, it becomes clear whether the missile is headed towards Moscow, Honolulu, San Francisco, or the East Coast.
  • The President of the United States is notified within minutes of a missile launch.
  • The launch on warning policy requires the President to launch nuclear weapons in response to a rogue attack before nuclear weapons hit the United States.
  • The decision to launch nuclear weapons is ultimately the President's, and it is not an automated system completely outside of human control.
  • The launch on warning policy is not an executive order but a policy that can be changed by the President.

How American Nuclear Silos Work (00:21:24)

  • There are 400 nuclear silos in the US, each with two operatives who have keys and codes to launch missiles.
  • Alarms go off about 24 times a day, and the operatives must input the codes and turn the keys to launch the missiles.
  • If only one of the 400 operatives inputs the code and turns the key, all of the missiles will fire because they are networked together.
  • There is no system in place between the president and the missile silos to stop a launch once the order has been given.
  • The operatives have no idea whether an alarm is a false alarm or a real-world event.
  • The operatives are under a lot of pressure to follow orders and launch the missiles, even if they don't know what they are targeting or why.

Can We Intercept All Kinds of Missiles? (00:25:12)

  • Hypersonic missiles are not much of a game-changer in terms of defense.
  • The US Interceptor program is not as effective as Israel's Iron Dome.
  • The US has only 44 Interceptor missiles, while Russia has 1,674 deployed nuclear weapons.
  • Interceptor missiles are not subject to the same restrictions as nuclear disarmament.
  • The success rate of Interceptor missiles is between 40% and 55%.
  • It is not feasible to have thousands of Interceptor missiles on ready for launch status.
  • There needs to be a better solution than more weapons.

Most Likely American Targets (00:28:38)

  • The Pentagon is the primary target for an enemy attack on the US.
  • A one Megaton thermonuclear bomb on Washington DC would decapitate leadership and cause a continuity of government crisis.
  • Most major and minor cities in the US, as well as cities with airports or industrial bases, are targetable by nuclear weapons.
  • The president would receive a launch warning and would need to decide on a counterattack order.
  • The Secret Service would want to move the president to Ravenrock, the alternate National Military Command Center, in the event of a nuclear war.
  • Ravenrock and other bunkers built in the 1950s would likely be targeted by multiple smaller nuclear weapons and would not be able to withstand the attacks.
  • Bunkers rely on generators and would eventually become useless without electricity.

The Different Types of Bombs Today (00:34:55)

  • Thermonuclear weapons, such as the Ivy Mike device, have a destructive power far greater than atomic bombs, with yields measured in megatons.
  • Hydrogen bombs and thermonuclear bombs are synonymous, both utilizing fusion reactions and employing atomic bombs as fuses.
  • Detonating a thermonuclear bomb 1,900 feet above the target maximizes casualties, while ground detonation results in long-term radiation poisoning from irradiated dirt.
  • Hiroshima remains habitable due to the above-ground detonation of its bomb, preventing lasting radiation contamination.
  • The potential for a global nuclear war is a complex issue with severe consequences, including widespread radiation poisoning of the Earth and air, the extent of which would depend on atmospheric conditions.

What Happens When Thermo-Nuclear Bombs Drop? (00:41:20)

  • A one Megaton thermonuclear bomb detonating above a city would cause a flash of light, a Fireball, a blast with winds of 200-400 miles per hour, and third-degree burns on people.
  • The mushroom stem would create a sucking motion, drawing everything below it into the mushroom cloud, including the remains of people and civilization.
  • A global nuclear war involving the exchange of 2,000 nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia could result in the deaths of 5 billion people due to nuclear winter.
  • The soot from the explosions would block out the sun for 7 to 10 years, causing widespread crop failures and famine, even in countries not directly involved in the conflict.
  • The number of deaths could be even higher if other nuclear-armed nations become involved in the conflict, but there is no way of knowing if this would happen as there would be no ability to record history after the initial exchange of nuclear weapons.

The Closest We Ever Came to Nuclear War (00:51:23)

  • The closest the world came to nuclear war was in 1979 due to a mistaken insertion of a VHS training tape into a machine at a nuclear bunker, which was initially believed to be a real nuclear launch.
  • North Korea is the only nuclear-armed nation that doesn't inform others when conducting ICBM tests, increasing the risk of accidental nuclear war during times of hostility.
  • North Korea has launched 100 unannounced missile tests since January 2022, causing concern and requiring constant monitoring by experts in bunkers.
  • North Korea's actions are seen as reckless and outside the norms of international behavior, demonstrating their desire for power and disregard for rules.
  • The world went from 70,000 nuclear warheads to the current 12,500 due to de-escalation efforts.
  • De-escalation is possible through communication and diplomacy, as demonstrated by the Reagan reversal.
  • The worst-case scenario of nuclear war is devastating and should be avoided.
  • Open discussion about human existence and existential risks can lead to positive changes.

Where to Find Annie (01:02:35)

  • Annie Jacobsen's books are available everywhere, and she narrates the audiobooks herself.
  • You can find more of her work online.

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