In a nuclear war, how much fallout would hit your town? February 23, 2024

Since the 1960s, intercontinental missiles have been based in 400 underground silos spread across thousands of square miles of the Great Plains. If a nuclear war occurred, these silos would be high priority targets at the onset. PSR opposes plans to spend $125 billion to replace these land-based missiles with a new version, called the “Sentinel.” Over the last two years, at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, Sebastien Philippe and his fellow researchers conducted a technical study to assess the radiological consequences of nuclear fallout from such an attack. It’s not a pretty picture. Besides an interactive map that you can use to determine the likely fallout in your own town or zipcode, “The Missiles on our Land” project also produced a set of three articles for the December issue of Scientific American, titled “The New Nuclear Age”, a supportive editorial from the Scientific American editors, a documentary film titled Fallout: The Environmental and Economic Consequences of America’s Nuclear Ambitions, and a 5-part podcast series, The Missiles on our Rez. The Missiles on Our Land has been nominated for a Sigma Award recognizing the best data journalism from around the world. 

As you can see from the map, a “counterforce” nuclear attack upon the missile fields would, in itself, generate a devastating cloud of fallout over much of the heartland.  But if a nuclear attack arrived, the weapons may target cities as well, with 52 to 100 million direct casualties as well as the threat of nuclear famine due to climate disruption. PSR rejects the notion that the “nuclear deterrence system” is providing security for Americans, supports total abolition of all nuclear weapons globally,  and opposes the current plan to replace the current Minuteman missiles with all-new “Sentinel” missiles because this would be an utter waste of public resources that are badly needed to meet human needs. Recently, prime contractor Northrup Grumman increased the estimated per-missile cost by a whopping 37%. Under the Nunn-McCurdy Act, this price increase triggered a requirement for the Secretary of Defense to re-evaluate the Sentinel program. We urge Secretary Austin to take this opportunity to terminate Sentinel altogether.

For more discussion of the relative merits of the nuclear deterrence system, see this January, 2024 article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Ivana Nikolic Hughes, Xanthe Hall, Ira Helfand, and Mays Smithwick, “Nuclear deterrence is the existential threat, not the nuclear ban treaty.”

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