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Denebola » Article » Living under threat of extinction: Age of the Atom Bomb
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Living under threat of extinction: Age of the Atom Bomb

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Laura Kaufman and Becca Levy,
Volume 21
March 17, 1982

“My God! I have to get involved!” was one student’s reaction after listening to the first guest speaker of Nuclear Education Week, Dr. Helen Caldicott, famous pediatrician and activist against nuclear arms. She began her powerful presentation by showing actual footage of the devastating effects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“Now you can see we’ve literally harnessed the energy of the stars, and now you’ve seen what happens when people are exposed to the heat of the sun—You turn into steam. You vaporize and you just disappear,” commented Dr. Caldicott to the stunned audience. “And those bombs are mere firecrackers compared to what we have today.” She contrasted the events that took place in 1945 with the possibility of what could happen today.
If a 20 megaton bomb (four times the size of all the bombs dropped in World War II) were dropped on Boston, it would dig a hole ¾ mile wide and 800 feet deep; within 6 miles of the center all the people and buildings would be turned into radioactive dust which would float around the hemisphere and drop down as fallout across the globe.
Within 20 miles from the center, every person would be immediately killed or would suffer and die within a few days.
Within 26 miles, every person would be dreadfully burned. The overpressures would be so great that it would popcorn all the windows sending millions of pieces of flying glass into human flesh, causing dreadful lacerations. The heat would be so great that people’s clothes would catch on fire and their eyes would melt. Doctors would be killed and hospitals would be flattened, leaving no one to care for the survivors.
Caldicott thinks that fallout shelters are absolutely ridiculous. She says that those who are inside will most likely die of asphyxiation. “It’s like giving a cancer patient an aspirin tablet and saying, “Here—this will cure your cancer!”
Even those who survived would not be able to come out for two months without getting a high dose of radiation. Most would die within two weeks from vomiting and bleeding. Anyone still alive would come out to find everything gone—buildings, cars, the world as they know it. Decaying bodies would lie everywhere, and because cockroaches have a high tolerance to radiation, they would be crawling all over the bodies. There would be epidemics of tuberculosis, typhoid, polio, and even the black plague—providing a certain death for anyone who was able to escape the radiation.
Caldicott explained that a limited war is not possible. A nuclear war in Europe would spread to other continents within hours; the world would become an “integrated battlefield.” She said that people who say we can recover from a nuclear war are not physicians and are not well informed. The “old men running from Russia and other countries” still think of war as army against army. As Einstein said: “The splitting of an atom has changed everything except the way man thinks.”

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