Tens Of Millions Would Die In The First Few Hours Of A Nuclear War, According To Princeton Researchers


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockSep 18 2019, 19:52 UTC

Screenshot from the simulated nuclear war. SGS/Princeton

The specter of nuclear war was a constant threat for people growing up during the cold war, and the specter is back again given the posturing of several nations with nuclear weapons. For now, most of these weapons are simply gathering dust or occasionally tested.

But what would happen if a nuclear war was declared? Well, researchers at the Science & Global Security group at Princeton have one possible answer. Based on the current US and Russia war plans, 91.5 million people would be either dead (34.1 million) or injured (57.4 million) within just a few hours of the start of the conflict.


In a YouTube video, the team describes Plan A, a likely nuclear war scenario. For the plan, they combined an extensive data set of nuclear weapons currently deployed, their yields, range, and “ideal” targets. They then divided the war into four phases, from nuclear warning shots to widespread destruction of major cities.

The researchers project the beginning of an all-out nuclear war within a wider “conventional conflict” between US-NATO forces and Russia. The simulation starts with a “nuclear warning shot” where a single missile is sent to hit a single military base.

And then things get worse. The next step is the “Tactical Plan”. According to the researchers, once the so-called nuclear threshold is crossed, the warring factions would deploy hundreds more nuclear devices. Russia would send 300 warheads via short-range missiles and airplanes to try to hit NATO bases all over Europe. NATO would, of course, shoot back, with 180 nuclear devices. This phase would last three hours and take the lives or severely injure 2.6 million people.  

Once Europe military forces are destroyed, the Counterforce plan would come into play. Around 600 warheads from US-land and submarine-based missiles would hit Russia, which would respond in kind. And in just 45 minutes, 3.4 million people would be dead or maimed.


You would think that millions of people dead would be enough, but the worst is yet to come. The final phase would be the Countervalue Plan. Crippling the enemy by killing as many people and destroying as many resources as possible. Under the scenario, both Russia and NATO each target the other’s 30 most populated cities using 5-10 warheads on each city, depending on their size. And in another 45 minutes, 85.3 million people would be victims of nuclear weapons.

Each nation would probably still have a few thousand more nuclear weapons left, and this scenario does not consider other countries getting involved.