- A video from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) shows what would happen if a nuclear bomb struck a major city.
- The video predicts that trees would “snap like toothpicks,” people would be “tossed around like a grain of dust,” and houses would “collapse like they’re made of cards.”
- The ICRC expects that there would be no help for hours – perhaps days – after an explosion, since electricity would be cut and medical professionals could be wounded or killed.
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“One moment you’re on your way to work. The next moment, you’re on fire.”
That’s the horrifying scenario outlined in a new animated video from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The organization teamed up with Kurzgesagt, a Munich-based animation studio, to demonstrate what would happen if a city’s downtown were the target of a nuclear attack.
The animation paints a gruesome portrait of the damage, which is divided into three phases: a deadly fireball and flash of light, a powerful shockwave, and the resulting injuries and radiation exposure.
The video hopes to lend some gravitas to our fascination with nuclear weapons, particularly as they’re portrayed in video games. A real-life nuclear explosion, the ICRC says, would be “a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”
A fireball and flash of light, followed by a shockwave
Phase one of the explosion would take place about a millisecond after the bomb hit. A giant fireball hotter than the sun would spread across the sky, accompanied by a flash of light so bright it could temporarily blind anyone looking in its direction.
Anyone located within the fireball’s radius would be “evaporated,” the video says.
The flash would release a pulse of energy that burns everything in its path. The ICRC estimates that anything within 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of the explosion could catch on fire.
Read more: I just nuked Manhattan in a realistic new VR simulation, and the experience changed how I understand the bomb
Phase two would arrive a few seconds later. That would consist of a shockwave that fans out in a circle from the spot the bomb hit.
The shockwave could create winds that the ICRC says would be “stronger than hurricanes and tornadoes.” They’d cause trees to “snap like toothpicks” and humans to get “tossed around like a grain of dust,” the video says.
Major buildings near the explosion would get “ground up,” it adds – the ICRC estimates that houses within 175 square kilometers (68 square miles) would “collapse like they’re made of cards.”
Within minutes, a mushroom cloud made of radioactive dust and ash would darken the sky. It would suck in air, generating more winds that could topple infrastructure and spread fires.
Then comes phase three – the aftermath
The ICRC expects there would be little help for hours – perhaps days – after an explosion, since power would go out, rendering communication nearly impossible.
Read more: If a nuclear bomb is dropped on your city, here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) do to stay alive
On top of that, there’s what the video calls the “silent horror” of radiation. As clouds of radioactive dust rained toward the ground, they could expose people to radiation poisoning, which can damage the body’s cells and prove fatal. In the long term, people who breathe in the dust could develop cancer.
Those who did not perish in the blast could become deaf or blind, or suffer serious burns and injuries. Even those who weren’t severely hurt could find themselves trapped inside a building or unable to wade through rubble. That includes medical professionals who would otherwise be in charge of administering aid. Medical workers outside the city might also have trouble intervening because they, too, would face radiation exposure.
“After a nuclear attack, you’re on your own,” the video states. “There is no serious humanitarian response possible.”
‘Every natural disaster at once’
The ICRC describes itself as “an impartial, neutral, and independent organization,” but it supports the 2017 Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, an international agreement to prohibit, and ultimately eliminate, nukes.
In the video, the group refers to nuclear weapons as “deeply immoral and an existential threat to all of us.”
But before viewers run to build a fallout shelter, it’s important to note that there are ways to protect yourself in the case of a nuclear explosion, such as hiding in the center of a brick or concrete building, away from windows. Plus, the video focuses on one downtown area in danger – those outside an 8-square-mile (21-square-kilometer) radius may not suffer any harm.
“When I think of where I would go for protection from prompt effects, and from the blast wave in particular, I think of the same kinds of things that we do for tornadoes,” Brooke Buddemeier, a radiation and emergency preparedness expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Business Insider last year. “If your house is going to be struck by a wall of air or a tornado or a hurricane, you want to be in a place that is structurally sound.”
But, as the video points out, a nuclear blast is worse than an isolated natural disaster.
“A nuclear explosion is like every natural disaster at once,” the video states. “No nation on earth is prepared to deal with it.”