What A Nuclear Missile Attack On Hawaii Would Look Like

Friday, January 19, 2018
By Paul Martin

by Patrick Turner via DefenseOne.com,
Fri, 01/19/2018

A blast over Honolulu would be catastrophic. That doesn’t mean the government shouldn’t help the public prepare for one.

Minutes after the people of Hawaii received an emergency alert on their phones last week, they began calling loved ones to issue tearful goodbyes and putting their children in storm drains. This tells you that the government has a long way to go to better educate people about the realities of nuclear attack.

Hawaii, for all its beauty, is a relatively poor location to experience a nuclear strike. Its isolation offers little chance for swift evacuation and would likely complicate government efforts to provide medicine and food relief. Its prevailing high winds could have an unpredictable effect on the dispersal of radiation.

Yet there is much that government officials could do that might reduce panic before a strike and hardship afterwards.

First, how big of a warhead would it be? Jeffrey Lewis, Middlebury professor and noted arms control watcher, says the North Koreans would probably use the largest warhead that they’ve tested, “which exploded with a force equivalent to a few hundred kilotons of TNT. Basically an order of magnitude bigger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Last year, North Korea demonstrated a weapon whose yield was roughly estimated at 200 kilotons, and a missile with enough range to fly the 7,350 miles from Pyongyang to Honolulu.

Plug those variables into Nukemap, a tool from Alex Wellerstein for approximating the devastation of nuclear events, and a terrible picture emerges: such a strike would kill nearly 158,000 people and injure 173,000 more.

These calculations assume a Hiroshima-style blast that occurs some 2,000 feet above the surface, which would increase the amount of pressure and immediate explosive destruction but would also limit fallout. Other factors could intensify the effects. “The mountains will reflect the blast back onto the target. Most homes in Honolulu are wood-frame construction, so there is a significant chance of a firestorm following the blast which was what really devastated Hiroshima, much more so than the blast,” said Lewis.

The question then becomes: what’s the best way to prepare? Seeking shelter is a good start, says Timothy J. Jorgensen, who leads the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Program at Georgetown University. But unless you have something like an underground, air-filtered bomb shelter, your leading concern might be staying someplace where you have access to food or water. You will likely be there for an extended period of time. “The fallout can be worse in terms radioactive exposure than the blast itself because it can come from hundreds of miles away,” Jorgensen said.

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