Re: Nuclear war is not an existential threat

From: Thomas Buckner (
Date: Tue Sep 27 2005 - 18:26:04 MDT

--- "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <>

> J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> >
> > - The US has ~1500 MT of nuclear weapons.
> The Russians have a fair bit
> > more. Most of these are airburst weapons,
> with the greatly reduced
> > environmental impact implied. This is a
> relatively small aggregate yield in
> > comparison to many things.
> Do we trust the Russian estimates? I've heard
> that their nuclear
> weapons are, perhaps, not quite as reliable as
> the US's - i.e. they may
> have built them and certainly trumpeted that
> fact back in the Cold War
> days, but they wouldn't necessarily launch
> successfully, or go off, or
> go off with the estimated yield.

It's my understanding that fusion weapons, which
get almost all their power from the
deuterium/tritium hydrogen isotopes, go 'stale'
as these isotopes decay after decades of storage.
This is one of the things that keep places like
Hanford open, to make more deuterium/tritium.
Presumably the same applies to the uranium or
plutonium which serves to start the fusion,
though it may take longer (IANAphysicist).
> > Get off the nuclear weapons fixation already.
> It is a relatively minor
> > threat to your survival -- you are far more
> likely to be killed by a nasty
> > virus than a nuke.
> How bad does a virus need to be to have the
> same effect on the world
> economy as a nuclear exchange?

I have long believed that one of the factors
preventing a nuclear exchange in the Cold War was
that, far from being 'unthinkable,' it was
actually very thinkable, very easy to envision.
Your city goes boom, everything is toast. Other
things, just as dangerous in a much slower time
scale, don't get people's attention, because
there's no sudden boom. For instance, there's an
alien sea plant taking over the Mediterranean,
and fish can't eat it.,3604,283242,00.html

As for the economic effects of a nuclear
exchange, there are aspects that are unique to a
nuke attack, especially the electromagnetic
pulse. That alone (even if the people and
buildings were unharmed) would be very disruptive
in such a technologically dependent society as
ours. Multiply Katrina by a hundred cities, and
you have an indication.

Tom Buckner

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