The National Security Archives recently published a declassified list of U.S. nuclear targets from 1956, which spanned 1,100 locations across Eastern Europe, Russia, China, and North Korea. The map below shows all 1,100 nuclear targets from that list, and we’ve partnered with NukeMap to demonstrate how catastrophic a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia could be. If you click detonate from any of the dots, you can see how large an area would be destroyed by the bomb of your choice, as well as how many people could be killed.
[Spoiler (click to open)]Even though today’s nuclear targets list is classified, it probably doesn’t look dramatically different. The United States still has about 1,900 nuclear warheads deployed on missiles and bombers (with thousands more on reserve), ready to be launched at a moment’s notice and able to hit their targets within 30 minutes. This unstable situation is extremely risky and has repeatedly come close to triggering nuclear war by accident. Moreover, many of today’s hydrogen bombs are hundreds of times more powerful than the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If a nuclear war were to break out today, nuclear winter might kill most people on Earth.
This leads to an important question: Just how many nuclear weapons do we actually need? Seven of the nine nuclear nations have determined that deterrence requires fewer than 300 nuclear weapons, and none of them have been attacked. Yet, not only do the United States and Russia each have approximately 7,000 nuclear warheads — accounting for 90% of the world’s arsenal – both countries are currently escalating the situation, making massive investments to enhance their arsenals with more accurate and lethal nuclear weapons. Many military analysts agree that the U.S. and Russia could easily meet their deterrence needs with much fewer nuclear weapons. Even the Pentagon has stated that the U.S. needs no more than 1,000 nukes to deter a nuclear attack. But don’t take their word for it: play with the map yourself and see just how destructive nuclear weapons can be!
1100 Nuclear Targets, Radioactive Fallout, and Weather
While the maps above show a general radius of nuclear destruction, weather patterns would play a role in how many people would be affected by nuclear fallout. Given that weather can change day to day, if we drop a nuclear bomb near a border in one country on the wrong day, innocent people in a neighboring country could also suffer the effects of radioactive fallout. How far and in which direction the radioactive materials travel would depend on the size of the bomb and the local weather. In the following graphics, Alex Wellerstein simulates two terrifying possibilities (We recommend viewing the following slideshows in the full-screen option to more easily see where the radioactive material will travel.):