What can data tell you about the aftereffects of nuclear war?

Answer: a hell of a lot.

by / August 14, 2017

With all the saber rattling out of Washington, D.C., and North Korea lately, the potential for nuclear war is arguably higher than it has been in recent memory — at least that we civilians know about. The idea that a singular act of aggression could trigger a chain reaction of events with devastating consequences led one filmmaker and data visualization artist to embark on a data-driven journey into what a nuclear third-world war could look like. As Gizmodo reported, by crunching the numbers in the multi-part series The Shadow Peace, Neil Halloran shows, via population pyramids, just how devastating an all-out nuclear war could be on humanity. 

He said the size of the nuclear weapons themselves is not the central issue; it is more so the sheer number of weapons in existence. He compares the spike in deaths as a result of World War II, which occurred over a six-year period, to a potential nuclear war, saying the loss of life would be much more immediate and much worse. By the numbers, Halloran said a minority of deaths from a nuclear blast would be immediate, while the majority of deaths would occur within the following three weeks. An even smaller number of people would die past that three-week mark from other complications such as cancer. 

Though the gist of the series’ first installment gives a bleak worst-case-scenario view of the situation, Halloran also cites improvements in achieving peace using relatively simple tools like disarmament, nonproliferation and no-first-strike agreements. Long story short, these efforts are working to decrease the overall risk of a large-scale nuclear war, but must be adhered to in order to be effective.