Nuclear attack would set off hurricanes of fire

By AL ROSSITER, UPI Science Editor   |   Sept. 20, 1985

WASHINGTON -- Hurricanes of fire triggered by nuclear explosions could cause two to four times as many deaths in a nuclear war than predicted by government studies of blast effects, a researcher said Friday.

Theodore Postol, a senior associate at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, said an attack of 100 one-megaton nuclear weapons on 100 American urban centers could kill 36 million to 56 million people.

He said standard estimates based on blast effects alone are that 14 million to 15 million people would die.

'This enormous increase in projected fatalities is partly a result of the very large expected range of superfires, which extends well beyond that in which large numbers of blast fatalities would be expected,' Postol said in a report prepared for a conference at the National Academy of Sciences.

He said a one-megaton bomb can produce temperatures of about 100 million degrees at its center -- four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun.

He said the heat is capable of setting numerous simultaneous fires over vast areas of surrounding terrain. As the heated air rises, cool air beyond would rush in at hurricane force and air temperatures could exceed that of boiling water.

He said the fire storm also would be accompanied by the release of large anmounts of toxic smoke and gases, 'creating an environment of extreme heat, high winds and toxic agents in target areas.'

The result would be that these superfires could kill everyone within a six- to eight-mile radius of ground zero.

'So great is the amount of light and heat generated by a megaton air blast that, if one were to occur at high enough altitude over Baltimore, observers in Washington might see it as a ball of fire many times brighter than the noonday sun,' Postol said.