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New study predicts impact of India-Pakistan nuclear war — over 100 million dead

Research shows an India-Pakistan nuclear war would reduce amount of sunlight reaching Earth, leading to decline in vegetation growth and ocean productivity.

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New Delhi: A new environmental study has revealed that if India and Pakistan wage a nuclear war, over 100 million people would be killed. The study looks at the hypothetical scenario of a India-Pakistan nuclear war in 2025 and shows that its effects would not be limited to South Asia alone.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the study was conducted by Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s distinguished professor Alan Robock and other scientists.

The research shows that such a nuclear war would substantially reduce the amount of sunlight reaching Earth, leading to reduced precipitation and causing a catastrophic decline in vegetation growth and ocean productivity — killing millions of people.

Also read: Nuclear war is still very possible and very scary

Grave environmental effects

The researchers state that India and Pakistan have a combined number of 400-500 nuclear weapons and if these were to be used, the effects would be catastrophic for the global environment.

“Such a war would threaten not only the locations where bombs might be targeted but the entire world,” said Robock.

The study shows that the environmental effects of a South Asian nuclear war would pan out in three stages.

First, the fires ignited by nuclear explosions could release 16 to 36 million tons of soot (which is black carbon) in smoke. This soot can then rise and enter the upper atmosphere, spreading across the world within a few weeks.

Second, this soot in the upper atmosphere would absorb massive quantities of solar radiation — which would heat the air and further lead to rise of smoke. As a consequence, sunlight reaching Earth would decline by 20 to 35 per cent. This would cool Earth’s surface temperature by 2 to 5 degree Celsius and a fall in precipitation by 15 to 20 per cent.

Third, lesser precipitation would have grave effects on vegetation growth and ocean productivity which would decline by 15 to 30 per cent and 5 to 15 per cent respectively.

Furthermore, the study also states that Earth could take at least 10 years to recover from this impact, as smoke would continue to linger in the upper atmosphere.

Also read: Modi shouldn’t trivialise nuclear weapons. His Diwali taunt at Pakistan is loose talk

Kashmir and the possibility of a nuclear war

With the recent India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, discussions about nuclear weapon use have once again surfaced in academic circles.

“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals. Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed nations, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of a nuclear war,” said Robock.

According to researchers, India and Pakistan’s explosive power could potentially range from 15 kilotons to a few hundred by 2025. To put this in perspective, 15 kilotons is almost equal to the size of the nuclear bomb used by the United States in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

Also read: Imran Khan says Pakistan will never ever start a war with India

Towards global nuclear disarmament

The study said that in the probability of a nuclear war, if India and Pakistan use 100 and 150 strategic weapons respectively, the direct effects of it would kill about 50 to 125 million people. And there would be additional deaths from possible global mass starvation.

To prevent such a disastrous scenario, Robock prescribed a complete global nuclear disarmament.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders. The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them,” said Robock.

He also added that the findings of his study support the 2017 United Nations Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of NGOs, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading this campaign for the UN Treaty.

Also read: Tauba Tauba, Imran Khan ministers’ solution for everything is to drop atomic bombs on India


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  1. The referred study used the following scenario for a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. This scenario has Pakistan first launching nuclear weapons and that India will keep 100 nuclear weapons in its arsenal to deter China from entering the war. They assumed that each country would have 250 nuclear weapons in 2025 and adopted a highly simplified scenario in which only urban targets are considered, and these are attacked using airbursts. Many military or strategic targets in rural areas are likely to be attacked as well, but these would involve smaller populations and lower fuel loading, which would not add significantly to the near-term fatalities or smoke emissions. Therefore, they did not specifically track them in that scenario. Likewise, some targets, such as buried military facilities, might attract ground bursts, which would produce significant radioactive fallout and many additional fatalities—effects that are not explicitly considered in that work.

    Columns headed P and I are the number of weapons used on that day by Pakistan or India, respectively. Tactical weapons are assumed to have low yields and to be used on rural, battlefield targets. Strategic weapons have yields of 15, 50 or 100 kt depending on the scenario, and are targeted on urban areas. Totals do not include weapons that failed to detonate, or exploded on rural targets.
    Day number Number of weapons Targets
    P I
    -30 Terrorist attack on Indian parliament
    -2 Indian and Pakistani armies mobilized
    -1 Indian army units deploy along border and cross line of control in Kashmir
    0 Pakistani conventional forces respond, but are overwhelmed
    1 10/0 Pakistan uses tactical weapons inside its own border and in Kashmir against tanks
    2 15/0 0/20 Pakistan continues to use tactical weapons; India attacks 20 military garrisons and airfields
    collocated with urban areas
    3 15/30 0/10 Pakistan continues to use tactical weapons; Pakistan uses ballistic and cruise missiles on garrisons
    in 20 Indian cities, 10 Indian naval bases and airfields in urban areas: India attacks
    10 Pakistani navy, army and air force bases in urban areas
    4-7 0/120 0/70 Remaining arsenals used on cities
    Total 40/150 0/100 An additional 20 Pakistani and 25 Indian weapons are used on military targets in rural areas

    Fatalities and casualties and the percentage of the urban population killed or injured. Fatalities and total casualties, in millions of people, in India and Pakistan for the scenario for different yields, and the percent of the urban population killed or injured.
    Country Size of weapons used
    15 kt 50 kt 100 kt
    India, fatalities/ % urban 36/7 71/13 96/18
    India, casualties/ % urban 58/11 106/20 138/25

    Pakistan, fatalities/ % urban 16/18 26/30 31/35
    Pakistan, casualties/ % urban 25/28 38/43 45/51

    Total fatalities 52 97 127
    Total casualties 83 144 183
    Population densities within the area ignited and estimated fuel loads. Total populations and average population densities within the area ignited by nuclear detonations of different yields, and estimated fuel loadings within those potential mass fire zones, defined as 13 km2 for a 15-kt burst and scaling linearly with yield for larger weapon sizes.
    Location, target # Population within burned area Population density (km-2)/
    for given yield fuel load (g cm-2) for given yield
    15 kt 50 kt 100 kt 15 kt 50 kt 100 kt
    India, 1 860,000 1,600,000 3,200,000 67,000/ 73 37,000/ 41 37,000/ 41
    India, 150 220,000 290,000 420,000 17,000/ 19 6,700/ 7 4,900/ 5
    India, 250 160,000 210,000 290,000 13,000/ 14 4,800/ 5 3,400/ 4

    Pakistan, 1 1,000,000 1,700,000 4,200,000 80,000/ 88 40,000/ 44 49,000/ 54
    Pakistan, 100 110,000 100,000 140,000 8,500/ 9 2,300/ 3 1,600/ 2
    Pakistan, 250 50,000 49,000 78,000 3,900/ 4 1,100/ 1 910/ 1

    Use it to compute your own scenarios!

    • I apologize. The format of tables got messed up after posting. You can export it into a spreadsheet or refer to the source weblink for the supplementary material. They are usually free to access.

  2. American think tanks and academia are well funded and need to justify their own existence by producing such meaningless reports. Nobody needs ‘experts’ to tell them the after effects of nuclear war. Hollywood did a better job in ‘The Day After’. In fact there are greater chances of a nuclear accident in America then nuclear war between India-Pakistan. Just a reading up on the history of American nuclear testing makes it clear who is the greater danger.

  3. It is time to de-nuke Pakistan – It is fast becoming radical and rogue. Good people but terrible evil ruling elite class.

    Perhaps we do need about 100 million people to die and the whole world plunged into diminished sunlight as described in this article.
    A) It will wake the rest of the world to how fragile Mother Earth is.
    B) The world may then demand America and Russia disarm – their nuclear weapons WILL destroy the planet.
    C) Reduced sunlight might galvanise people to take climate change seriously .

  5. The human mind cannot comprehend disaster on this scale. I have seen videos of the arrangements the US government has made to keep functioning from secret, highly fortified locations after suffering a nuclear strike. Nothing will remain to defend and rebuild. Air, water, everything sickened and poisoned for generations. So I feel terrified when responsible people talk about abandoning NFU. 2. India and Pakistan, between them, can reduce the subcontinent to the remains of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. There is a scary build up of tensions, a false machismo. One years for the time veterans – to say nothing of serving generals – were seldom seen on TV.

  6. flase narrative…even if 100 million die it would be of pakistan……lets stop bluffing about nuclear war

    • The Editor is fond of quoting a conversation between a senior Pakistani, who came to deliver a nuclear threat, and Shri I K Gujral, who told him, We drink the waters of the same rivers. Nothing will remain …

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