There are no small nuclear weapons

by Moritz Kütt

Only two nuclear weapons have ever been used in wartime - in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Compared to today’s arsenals, both would count as “small nuclear weapons” having less than one-tenth of the current average explosive yield. Still, they had massive, catastrophic consequences. Nevertheless, in recent months, commentators repeatedly discussed scenarios involving the use of one small nuclear weapon. The information on this website is a reminder that even a single nuclear explosion has devastating effects.

Immediate, physical consequences are well known from past experience: A nuclear explosion creates a blast wave, and emits thermal and ionizing radiation, affecting people and the environment nearby. Detonated close to the ground, the explosion produces nuclear fallout - delayed ionizing radiation that spreads beyond the initial zone of destruction. In contrast, the social and political consequences of a nuclear explosion today can only be indirectly inferred. As watched on news and shared through social media, even a single nuclear explosion likely has a social and psychological impact on a global scale. Politically, the explosion bears the risk of being only the first rung of a nuclear escalation ladder. Other states could decide to retaliate, potentially leading to further explosions or, eventually, a global, all-out nuclear war.

Presentation at the
2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Slides in PDF format | Google Slide (for re-use!) | Video
Further information on the meeting

Presentation at the
10th Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (side-event)

Slides in PDF format | Google Slide (for re-use!) |