An atomic bomb would have serious consequences that would reach far beyond the intended target. (File photo)
OPINION: For anyone who has even a superficial knowledge of what the world would be like after a nuclear war, these are unnerving times.
The narrative between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un containing references to pressing nuclear buttons, is cause for concern.
There are several other potential nuclear hotspots, perhaps most worrying is the stand-off between India and Pakistan which has been simmering for over 70 years and which every now and then boils over.
Partition was the division of India in 1947 into two self-governing countries, India and Pakistan; it was a violent process which involved the displacement of 15 million people and in which over one million people were killed.
It is still the source of hostility between the two nations.
Since Partition there have been numerous skirmishes and stand-offs and four full-scale wars between India and Pakistan in which thousands more were killed.
The most recent was a military confrontation in 2016.
Of particular concern is that India and Pakistan each have dozens of nuclear weapons and both countries make no secret of their willingness to use these if provoked.
The extent of the destruction and fatalities caused by an atomic bomb depends on the power of the bomb.
The blast would instantly kill anyone within the impact zone and the powerful shock wave produced by the nuclear explosion would destroy concrete buildings within a few kilometres of the impact zone.
Radiation from the bomb would be so intense that within a radius of several kilometres, people would receive third degree burns, again producing many fatalities.
Over a matter of weeks, thousands of people, hundreds of kilometres from the detonation site would eventually die from radiation poisoning as the mushroom cloud spread.
Brian Toon, Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Colorado University and his team, have computer-modelled the effects of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India.
The immense energy of a nuclear bomb would vapourise rocks which would be blasted into the atmosphere.
Some of the explosion debris would become hot as it fell to the Earth and would cause vegetation to burn, but some about the size of sand grains would remain in the upper atmosphere.
At these altitudes it never rains and the smoke and detritus would remain and spread across the globe.
Within two weeks the entire Earth would be cloaked in a dark cloud, shielding the surface from the Sun, hampering the process of photosynthesis.
It is estimated that the global yield of corn, wheat and rice would remain between 10-40 per cent of current levels for years.
Without production of food the world supply would last for up to 60 days, this means that within a few weeks, billions of people would starve.
Every country on the planet would suffer to some degree.
During the Cold War no one in the US and Europe was left in any doubt about the dire consequences of a nuclear war.
In the US, school children regularly had to practise a hopelessly ineffective but morale boosting drill in preparation for a nuclear attack.
In contrast, today we have become so used to the existence of nuclear weapons that the public and politicians talk about nuclear attacks without appreciating that nuclear bombs dropped on some distant part of the world would have global consequences.
In addition, as Brian Toon points out, any war the US has become involved in, always, without exception, expands beyond its original objective.
The rhetoric between President Trump and Kim Jong-un has undeniably succeeded in bringing the two leaders to the conference table, probably because of punishing economic sanctions imposed on North Korea but also because each of the two leaders is unpredictable enough for the other to believe the threat really could be carried out.
However, the concern is that in the future, flippant remarks about nuclear war made between two more evenly matched and heavily armed adversaries could easily be misinterpreted – that could easily lead to one side initiating a pre-emptive strike.
People in power should realise – loose lips really could launch missiles.