After an emergency alert warning of a ballistic missile was sent to smartphones across Hawaii last week, IFLScience wondered what would happen if a nuclear bomb actually detonated over the island chain.
First things first, US military and intelligence agencies deploy early warning satellites that orbit Earth. Within seconds, they would detect the location of a launch site, the missile’s trajectory, and its potential target using a method called Measurement and Signatures Intelligence.
Infrared sensors, Air Force radars, and instruments capable of detecting heat signatures from missile plumes as they flash against Earth’s background are sensitive enough to detect even short-range missile launches.
Within minutes, information would be sent to US forces in Seoul, who would make a decision on whether to attempt a shoot down – likely from the Korean Peninsula, Japan’s missile defense network, or by American warships – based on the risk to American lives.
If it's a nuclear strike then the decision to counter-strike would have to be made by the President.
A report assumes North Korea would launch its largest missile – an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking US mainland. It has an estimated yield of 200 kilotons, is capable of covering the 11,830 kilometers (7,350 miles) from Pyongyang to Honolulu, and allegedly packs a bigger magnitude than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A force “equivalent to a few hundred kilotons of TNT” would kill around 158,000 people and injure 173,000 more, according to Nuke Map.
The exact damage would depend on how that bomb was detonated, but it’s not just the blast that could kill you.
Take a firestorm, for example. Since many of Hawaii’s structures are made of wood it's likely cities would burst into flames.
Hawaii’s isolation offers little chance for swift evacuation and government efforts to provide medicine and food relief. This is problematic assuming local food and water sources could become contaminated for six to eight weeks.
The spread of radioactivity is unpredictable because of the state's mountainous terrain and high winds. If the bomb exploded at altitude the fallout would be limited, but damaging nonetheless. The primary fallout radioisotopes would be iodine-131 followed by cesium-137, which can cause thyroid cancer.
It's a reminder of the nuclear threat that North Korea poses to the US.
“I just went numb. There’s no logical response to something like that. No logical reason either,” said Hawaii resident Willy Carter in an interview with IFLScience. “I just shrugged... and kept flipping my banana pancakes. If I’m going to die, then I’m going to die as happily as I can.”
[H/T: Defense One]