Hiroshima, August 6, 1945
In case you are wondering what a ‘low yield’ nuclear weapon looks like, these are the effects of a single 15 KT bomb landing on the city of Hiroshima in 1945:
- 70,000 dead instantly, including 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses
- All hospitals destroyed or badly damaged
- 70,000 more dead by January 1946 from radiation poisoning, burns and other injuries
- As many as 100,000 more dead over the next 50 years, mainly from cancers and leukemias
- 4.7 square miles of city center flattened
- 69% of all buildings destroyed
President Trump, in his draft Nuclear Posture Review, leaked to the press last week, is calling for the United States to add new ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons to the US arsenal. The US already has more than 7,000 nuclear weapons. By ‘low yield’, the Pentagon apparently means nuclear weapons with a yield of 20 KT or less – in other words, roughly the size of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which by today’s standards are very small.
The smallest nuclear weapon currently in the US arsenal is 100 KT, or over 6 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (1). US Trident submarines, such as the ones currently lurking in the waters off the coast of North Korea, carry 455 KT nuclear warheads. These are more than 25 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There are up to 8 of these warheads on each missile, and 20 missiles on each submarine.
These massive nuclear weapons can do nothing short of destroying an entire city, which makes them rather useless against a specific military target. During the Cold War, the US developed and deployed more than 20,000 ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons – nuclear weapons fired from artillery, nuclear weapons carried onto the battlefield in a backpack, nuclear weapons fired from the back of a jeep or dropped by helicopter. These so-called ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons were found to be so dangerous and de-stabilizing that even the military were happy to get rid of them. Bringing them back now is not going to make the world a safer place…
(1) By removing parts of the warhead, some of the US nuclear weapons can already be configured to have lower yields, down to as ‘small’ as 0.3 KT. This is still 30 times more powerful than the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ that was used last year in Afghanistan, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal. There is no way for an adversary to know, however, that an incoming missile is one with a ‘reduced’ yield, so the assumption has to be made that if a Trident missile is heading their way, it is carrying the full load of 8 warheads of 455 KT each.