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Nuclear holocaust or nuclear apocalypse refers to a possible complete or nearly complete annihilation of human civilization by nuclear warfare. Under such a scenario, all or most of the Earth is made uninhabitable by nuclear weapons in future world wars.
Nuclear physicists and theorists have speculated that nuclear war could result in an end to human life, or at least to modern civilization on Earth due to the immediate effects of nuclear fallout, the temporary loss of much modern technology due to electromagnetic pulses, or nuclear winter and resulting extinctions.
Importantly however, despite modern high civilization being at risk, assuming weapons stockpiles at the previous cold war heights, analysts and physicists have found that billions of humans would nevertheless survive a global thermonuclear war, but there is much debate about how the planet's environment would be affected by it and its consequences for the surviving population.
The threat of a nuclear holocaust plays an important role in the popular perception of nuclear weapons. It features in the security concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and is a common scenario in survivalism. Nuclear holocaust is a common feature in literature and film, especially in speculative genres such as science fiction, dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction.
Etymology and usage
The English word "holocaust", derived from the Greek term "holokaustos" meaning "completely burnt", is commonly defined as "a great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire."
Possibly the first printed use of the word "holocaust" to describe an imagined nuclear destruction appears in Reginald Glossop's 1926 novel The Orphan of Space: "Moscow ... beneath them ... a crash like a crack of Doom! The echoes of this Holocaust rumbled and rolled ... a distinct smell of sulphur ... atomic destruction." In the novel, an atomic weapon is planted in the office of the Soviet dictator who, with German help and Chinese mercenaries, is preparing the takeover of Western Europe.
In the 1960s, the word principally referred to nuclear destruction. After the mid-1970s, when the word "holocaust" became closely associated with the mass murder of Jews during the Nazi regime, references to nuclear destruction have usually spoken of "atomic holocaust" or "nuclear holocaust".
In a single uranium fission about 0.9×235 MeV(~200 MeV) of energy is liberated. If each nucleus of about 50 kg of 235U undergoes fission the amount of energy involved is about 4×1015J. This energy is equivalent to about 20,000 tons of TNT, enough for a super explosion. Uncontrolled release of large nuclear energy is called an atomic explosion.
High temperature conditions for fusion reactions can be created by exploding a fission bomb. Super-explosions equivalent to 10 megatons of explosive power of TNT were tested in 1954. Such bombs which involve fusion of isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium are called hydrogen bombs. It is estimated that a nuclear arsenal sufficient to destroy every form of life on this planet several times over is in position to be triggered by the press of a button. Such a nuclear holocaust will not only destroy the life that exists now but its radioactive fallout will make this planet unfit for life for all times. Scenarios based on theoretical calculations predict a long nuclear winter, as the radioactive waste will hang like a cloud in the earth's atmosphere and will absorb the sun's radiation.
- Critique of Nuclear Extinction - Brian Martin 1982
- The Effects of a Global Thermonuclear War. Johnstonsarchive.net. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
- the global health effects of nuclear war
- Long-term worldwide effects of multiple nuclear-weapons detonations. Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, National Research Council.
- American Heritage Dictionary definition of "holocaust"
- Reginald Glossop, The Orphan of Space (London: G. MacDonald, 1926), p. 303-306.
- Jon Petrie, The Secular Word "HOLOCAUST": Scholarly Sacralization, Twentieth Century Meanings
- For instance, U.S. President Bush stated in August 2007: “Iran’s pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article2343791.ece
- Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, By Paul Brians, Professor of English, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington