Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
So what would actually happen if North Korea used its latest nuclear weapon? We can get a pretty good idea from modeling the impact. Sites such as Nukemap do the work for us.
On 3rd September 2017, North Korea detonated its latest device. There is some dispute about its strength. Estimates range from 50 kilotons to as high as 300 kilotons. The event registered as a 6.1 magnitude earthquake. There is also some argument as regards the exact nature of the device exploded. North Korea claimed it to be a hydrogen bomb, whilst others suggested it may be a boosted fission weapon. This is all rather academic as the yield of the weapon is what deserves consideration.
For the sake of argument, let's assume the device yields 100 kilotons. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons. In terms of impact on the target, the yield alone only tells you so much. The detonation location, on the surface or above ground, plus terrain all have a bearing. To bring home the message, let's make Hong Kong our target. Plus, select an air-burst detonation, say about 150 meters above ground level. It’s 3 pm in the afternoon, on a clear sunny day. The device arrives on a ballistic flight path that took it into low earth orbit. It descends near the junction of Jordan and Nathan Roads, Kowloon.
The detonation occurs. Within a millisecond a massive burst of X-Ray radiation flashes out from the point of detonation. Most of this gets absorbed in the air within a few feet of the device. This massive release of energy generates a fire ball approximately 400 meters across. At a temperature of 5000°C, this vaporizes everything it touches. It incinerates men, women, babies in prams, cars and buildings. It a matter of seconds everything in a 400 meters radius is gone. In the immediate area, an overpressure a million times that of normal surges out.
This wrecking ball of energy topples anything in its path. That’s as far south as Austin Road and as north as Kansu Street. Instant death is now a blessing. Queen Elizabeth and Kwong Wah hospitals are demolished. Fire Service HQ is ablaze and Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station has disappeared. What remains, is on fire.
At a distance of 50 miles, the fireball is visible like a new sun in the sky. Closer in people are blinded. Depending on range from the fireball this may be temporary or permanent blindness.
A cloud of radioactive gunk is now in rapid ascent through 5000 feet. It's spreading out to form the characteristic mushroom shape. Within minutes this monster will reach 10 miles high. Eventually, it will start sucking in air and debris at the base. In the process, the fires at ground level get stoked into one huge conflagration.
The flash and fireball are igniting fires across Kowloon and the north shore of Hong Kong Island. From North Point to Western buildings are alight. People in the open burst into flames, their clothes gone. Tourists on the Peak are on fire. The trees in Victoria Park are ablaze, as are the slopes of the Kowloon Ridge.
The thermal blast extends five kilometers in either direction. Kwun Tong and Cheung Sha Wan feel the impact. Those standing exposed have 3rd-degree burns. These are so deep that their nervous system receptors get destroyed. This is fortunate as they can’t feel the pain. Most will die within hours.
The heat wave is now followed by a shock wave. This has a strength of 20 psi out to 1.5 kilometres. Only reinforced buildings will withstand this blast. Most of Tsim Sha Tsui, Yaumati and Mongkok is demolished. 100% of the occupants are dead, dying or trapped with severe injuries requiring immediate attention. The 108-storey International Commercial Centre on the Kowloon water-front has collapsed. Langham Place is gone. The International Finance Center tower on Hong Kong Island is shattered and alight like a giant candle. Most of its tenants are cut to pieces by the imploding windows.
The air blast continues outwards toppling structures, blasting debris through buildings. Broken gas mains and fuel oil are burning as a huge fire-storm takes hold. Electricity is gone. The blazes in Kowloon and the north side of Hong Kong Island are merging into a huge single entity. Thousands suffocate in MTR stations or on stationary trains trapped in tunnels.
Within 24 hours an estimated 750,000 people are dead. Another 1.3 million are going to die within days. Some 2 million are in various states of incapacity. Burns, blast injuries and shock abound. 146 hospitals and clinics are no more. 165 schools and places of learning wrecked. Five fire stations have evaporated in the blast and fires.
Hong Kong has ceased to exist. Its major infrastructure gone, its seat of government gone; the majority of the hospitals are either demolished or on fire. Of the major hospitals, only three are intact. But with no power or water supplies, none is functioning. The emergency services are beyond helping. The commanders are either dead, dying or so dazed they cannot operate. Fire engines can't pump water to fight fires when there is no water.
Survivors are scrambling to cross into Shenzhen. They are not welcome. The residents of Shenzhen are fleeing, fearful of radiation. Along the whole coast of China, the authorities are struggling to deal with the disorder. Refugees are on the move in their millions. Some survivors have taken to the sea, heading to a hostile reception overseas.
In one sense it's was fortunate the weapon detonated at height. With less debris sucked into the cloud, the radiation impact is more confined. A small concession. The plume of radiation, carried by the east winds, is over the Pearl River Delta. Zhuhai gets a dusting, as does Zhongshan and Jiangmen. The heaviest radiation falls on Lantau across Discovery and Penny’s Bay. The Disneyland fireworks show is cancelled.
Social order has broken down in Hong Kong. The Chinese Government has sought to seal the area. It's left to burn. And all this from a single 100 kiloton device. Have a nice day!
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.