An air of unreality overcame me as I read David Kramer’s article about evaluation of new nuclear bomb technologies (Physics Today, February 2020, page 23). The only concern mentioned is whether the physics of the new test facility will adequately ensure the reliability of the new designs without actual explosive tests being carried out. It’s a neutral, objective presentation of some interesting physics.

But if ever those warheads were actually used, whether in error or in anger, Physics Today and most or all of its readers would cease to exist. Presumably, about 25% of US residents would be fortunate enough to be vaporized instantly. Maybe another 25% would die in the next week from injuries and radiation sickness. And would any survive the ensuing nuclear winter without public supplies of electricity, fuel, food, and medicine? Russia’s people would suffer the same, assuming they were hit in full retaliation by those well-designed US bombs. And what about the rest of the world? Could all memory of Physics Today be wiped out along with humankind’s accumulated knowledge of physics?

I suggest that Physics Today follow up by publishing a neutral, objective, physics-based analysis of the consequences of full-scale nuclear war. It might, of course, raise the question, Why exactly do the world’s “great powers” need to have thousands of nuclear weapons?

Physics Today